The Ara Pacis: Romans Have Reacted Passionately to the New Presentation of One of the Eternal City's Key Historic Monuments, Charlotte Crow Explains

Article excerpt

ONE OF ROME'S MOST SIGNIFICANT MONUMENTS, the Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Peace), has recently re-opened to the public, after seven years under wraps, following a controversial project to rehouse it in a building designed by the American architect Richard Meier. The new building was constructed around the Altar and is nearly eight times bigger than the one it replaces. It has cost more than 16 million Euros, is supposedly earthquake-proof, and is seen by the Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni as a new civic space in which 'to expand cultural services and provide visitors with the most innovative museum experience in Europe'.

But the re-presentation of Augustus's symbolic shrine has led to squabbles between right and left, officials of Berlusconi's government and the leftist Mayor of Rome over safeguarding the heritage of the city, the role of modern architecture within it, and in particular the granting of the contract for the new building, without open competition, to an American, rather than an Italian, architect. Beneath all this is the Fascist association with the siting of the Ara Pacis: it was Mussolini who, determined to identify himself with the first emperor, reassembled the fragments of the Ara Pacis in the late 1930s, displaying it in a special pavilion, which has now been replaced by Meier's construction.

The immense altar of Luni marble was originally erected in the Campus Martius (field of war) on the orders of Augustus (r. 27 BC to AD 14) to mark his victories on his return from Gaul and Spain in 13 BC: a devotional monument in thanks for peace, but also a magnificent assertion of the Emperor's absolute power and military might. …