Restoration of the Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis)
Ancient Symbol and New Center of Rome

    The transformation of Augustus' monument into a museum is among the many public works planned by the City of Rome for the Jubilee Year 2000.

    Two thousand years ago, the Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis) was a living symbol and the architectural hub of Imperial Rome. After the Spanish and Gallic campaigns, the altar was erected - between 13 and 9 B.C. - to commemorate the reestablishment of peace within the borders of the Roman Empire by (Ceasar) Augustus. The monument consists of two parts: in the center stands the altar proper, while encircling it is a marble panel depicting, in a refined bas relief, "the procession of peace" with such figures as Aeneas, the Earth, Italy and Rome.

    In 1568, in the midst of excavations for the construction of Palazzo Peretti, ten marble fragments of the bas relief were discovered in Lucina, and three and a half centuries later, in 1902, enough important pieces were found in the vicinity to reconstruct what remained of the monument's original frame. With the advent of the 1920s, Il Duce (Benito Mussolini) decided to link the Ara Pacis to fascism, rearranging the entire area in 1937 so that Augustus' Mausoleum occupied the center of the plaza bearing his name. The altar, once a symbol of ancient Rome, became a key rhetorical theme of the regime.

    According to some observers, this is why the Mussolini-inspired square, though lying in the heart of the city, never took on "a life of its own" as a meeting place. The Romans have remained indifferent, and for all its important archaeological treasures, the site is visited only by tourists and the occasional scholar on excursion.

    Today, as part of the solemn Jubilee 2000, this historic center's revival is under way. In view of the numerous public works in the capital, the city has made it a top priority to give back the plaza to its citizens. The idea is to transform the Ara Pacis into a small but well-appointed museum, barring traffic on the stretch alongside Via Ripetta and making the street accessible only to pedestrians, while erecting a marble "wing" that lengthens into the corner of Via Tomacelli facing the two churches adjacent to the monument.

    Travertine, glass and plaster are the materials of choice for this project, which will feature a wide gradated entrance, an altar and museum illuminated by the light of day and more than 600 archaeological exhibits. A lower level is expected to serve as an auditorium with a seating capacity of nearly 200. Unchanged, however, will be the Latin inscription on the side of the monument that reads "Res Gestae Augusti."

    Richard Meier, who was introduced this (last) summer in the Campodoglio, is the 61 year-old American architect heading this project. A specialist in museum sites, his credentials are prestigious: building the Getty Center of Los Angeles, planning Barcelona's Museum of Contemporary Art, Frankfurt's Museum of the Arts and the one in Atlanta. In short, he works on both sides of the Atlantic and is so well regarded that the Vatican has entrusted him with the construction of the new church for the Jubilee on the outskirts of Rome, near Tor Tre Teste.

    If the purpose of this refurbishment is to revitalize a vital historic center, then the expected cost of approximately 21 billion dollars will be underwritten by various national and international sposors who want to leave their respective marks on one of the most prominent symbols of Imperial Rome. While the recent proposal will be followed by a definitive agenda within the year (1996), the executive (action) plan must be in place by mid-1997. Therefore, competitive European bids will soon begin on a project that is slated for completion by the end of 1999.

    Fancesco Rutelli (mayor of Rome) appeared satisfied: "Today, a site that has been marginalized and poorly organized is poised for an intelligent, sober and felicitous rebirth in the ancient heart of the city," affirms the mayor. So much for those who say that nothing is ever built in Rome. The day of naysayers is done.

Read this article in Italiano - click here.


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