The Mausoleum of Rome

Rome’s history may be ancient, but there’s always something new to look forward to. The Mausoleum of Augustus is opening its doors to the public for the first time in decades. Due to this lengthy closure, many tourists and Romans are unsure of what to expect. The Mausoleum has been hidden away behind a wall and virtually forgotten…

So, what exactly is the Mausoleum of Augustus? Read on to find out more about this amazing monument!

The Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome

A mausoleum is a large tomb, usually for an important person such as an emperor or member of the royal family. There are other famous mausoleums in Rome, including the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza, located on the northern edge of the city centre. Also Castel Sant’Angelo is seen as a famous Roman mausoleum since it was originally built as a tomb for Hadrian.

The Mausoleum of Augustus was built on the orders of the Emperor Augustus in 28 BC, designed as a large family tomb. It was one of the emperor’s first important building projects in Rome. The tomb was designed to impress – a vast, multi-layered circular construction, right in the heart of the city. It would have been visible not just from the nearby streets and river. The towering height and the colossal bronze statue of Augustus on the rooftop made the tomb visible from many other parts of the city.

The Mausoleum
A drawing of what the Mausoleum of Augustus did look like in 1851 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The ashes of Augustus, along with his wife and other family members, were interred in the Mausoleum over the following decades. It was designed to be an eternal monument to Augustus and the glory of the Roman Empire. Bronze plaques were erected near entrance, listing Augustus’s achievements.

But over the centuries the Mausoleum was neglected, becoming overgrown with trees and earth. It was fortified as a castle in the Middle Ages, just as Hadrian’s mausoleum was transformed into Castel Sant’Angelo.

The Mausoleum of Augustus later became the site for a variety of venues. A hanging garden, a setting for bullfights and firework displays, a theatre, an auditorium for classical concert – everything was possible. At one point during the 1930s there were even plans to turn the Mausoleum into the tomb of Mussolini.

The Reopening of the Mausoleum of Augustus

During the Second World War the Mausoleum of Augustus was closed and forgotten. For decades, it’s remained invisible and inaccessible despite its enormous size and historical importance.

The lengthy closure and neglect of the archaeological site attracted criticism. Locals, tourists, politicians, and of course expert historians and archaeologists – just about everyone seemed to have an opinion. In a Forbes article from 2017, the historian Sarah Bond contrasted the mausoleum with the nearby Ara Pacis, which had been transformed into a stunning museum:

Today, the stunning Ara Pacis Museum and a modern etching of the Latin version of the Res Gestae still sit just outside the Mausoleum complex. The revamped version of the Ara Pacis Museum opened on Rome’s birthday (April 21) of 2006, although Mussolini had also tried his hand at restoring the area. Since 2006, it has always been a rather sad juxtaposition to look out the glass windows of the museum to a brick complex that most people used as a trash bin until recently and rarely know the history of. 

How could such an important archaeological site fall into neglect? And why did restoration take so long? The reasons are various and complex, but finance and bureaucracy play a large part. Often, this is the case with archaeological projects in Italy.

The mausoleum in 2015
The Mausoleum of Augustus in 2015 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The restoration progress

The first stage of restoration work started in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the real work began, helped by a sizeable donation from the telecommunications company TIM. The total cost was around €11 million, due to the complexity and scale of the work involved.

One of the challenges of the project was consolidating the existing structure of the Mausoleum, and avoiding further damage and collapse. The work involved carefully moving important archaeological remains, removing vegetation, waterproofing, and repairing floors and steps. You can learn more about the complex restoration work on the Mausoleum of Augustus official website.

The Mausoleum of Augustus
The Mausoleum of Augustus during restorations (source: Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali)

On 1 March 2021, the Mausoleum finally opened its doors to its first visitors in a ceremony presided over by Virginia Raggi, the Mayor of Rome. In the words of Raggi, the project is “a dream that becomes reality….We are returning to the whole world a jewel of the heritage of humanity, a symbol of Rome and its history.”

Mausoleum of Augustus tours

The Mausoleum of Augustus is located in Piazza Augusto Imperatore, opposite the Ara Pacis Museum. It’s right in the centre of Rome – a short walk from attractions like Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps.

Visitors can now book tickets for guided tours of the Mausoleum of Augustus, to explore the restored archaeological site in-depth. However, tickets are in such demand that tours are currently sold out until 30 June. If you’re planning to visit this year, keep checking the official website for dates and tickets.

For more information about Mausoleum of Augustus tours and planning your trip to Rome, contact the team at Roads to Rome Private Tours!

Read more: Walk through the 2,000-year-old Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome’s First Emperor (The Art Newspaper)


Written by Alexandra Turney