The Ara Pacis

Updated:

Tel. +39 060608

Official website en.arapacis.it

Opening hours Open 9.30am-19:30pm (last entry 1hr before closing). Closed 1st January, 1st May and Christmas Day. Opens until 2pm on 24th and 31st December.

Ticket prices Entry costs €10,50/€8,50, with a €2 discount for Roman citizens.

One of Rome's more controversial monuments, the Ara Pacis Augustae is an elaborate altar, originally commissioned by the Emperor Augustus to celebrate his victories in Spain and France (the name translates as the Altar of the Peace of Augustus). It was consecrated on July 4th, 13 BC.

The Ara Pacis originally stood a short distance to the southeast of its current position, at the edge of what was then the Campus Martius, where the Roman soldiers trained. It was moved following its rediscovery, and is now housed in a specially built new museum, which replaces a previous pavilion placed there in 1938 by Mussolini.

The Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis

The purpose of the Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis was originally to be used as a sacrificial altar, and the frieze around the exterior wall depicts a group of Romans, led by Augustus himself, complete with his group of lictors, walking in a parade to witness a sacrifice. The simple design inside the exterior wall reflects the sacrifices themselves, with a motif consisting of animal skulls and garlands like those worn around the victims' necks.

The rediscovery and the excavations

Parts of the Ara Pacis began to come to light in the sixteenth century, when Cardinal Andrea Della Valle purchased pieces of an unidentified marble frieze for his art collection. in 1548, these were sold on to the Medici, who built them into a garden wall at the Villa Medici on the Pincio. Over the following centuries, other pieces of this frieze appeared in other places, and the main bulk of the Ara Pacis was finally discovered in 1859 by excavators working under the Palazzo Ottoboni.

Following abortive attempts in 1903 to recover the structure from beneath the unstable palazzo, a team of archaeologists finally succeeded in 1937: in order to drain the soil sufficiently to allow for the recovery operation, the 1937 team injected the ground with frozen carbon dioxide, freezing the earth to a depth of 33 feet and allowing the archaeologists to work without danger of flooding.

The museum today

The current structure was designed by the American architect Richard Meier, and opened in 2006. Its large, white and blocky design has drawn criticism for failing to blend in with the surrounding area.

As well as the Ara Pacis itself, the museum houses a permanent exhibition covering the history and restoration of the altar, as well as several temporary exhibitions. There is also a bookshop.

Visiting the Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis is on the Lungotevere in Augusta, close to the Mausoleum of Augustus. It's central enough to be walkable if you're in the historic centre of Rome.

If using public transport, the simplest route is probably to take the Metro (Linea A) to Flaminio, then cross Piazza Del Popolo and head south along Via di Ripetta, which passes between the Ara Pacis and the Mausoleum. Alternatively, get off the metro at the Spanish Steps (the stop is Spagna on Linea A) and cut west through the side streets.