Augustus’ tomb in Rome to be “indispensable” tourist stop after renovation

The newest chapter in the long and varied history of the Mausoleum of Augustus is set to open this spring.

The tomb holds the mortal remains of at least 20 Roman leaders and other dignitaries but it was planned by and built for one of the greatest Roman emperors, Augustus, who died in the year 14.

Since then, the hulking structure on the banks of the Tiber River on the northern edge of Rome’s historical center has been sacked, abandoned, used as a fortress, transformed into a concert hall, and, since the 1940s, abandoned once again after plans for it to serve as a final resting place for Italian strongman leader Benito Mussolini were scrapped during World War II.

But in the coming months, the historic edifice will take its place alongside the Colosseum, the Imperial Forum, and the Pantheon as parts of ancient Rome open to the public.

“This is a structure that has been through a great deal during its long history,” Eugenio La Rocca, an author and historian specializing in Roman art and culture and a member of the National Institute for Archeology and Art History, told Xinhua. “It has seen the city change all around it.”

La Rocca said the piazza that surrounds the Mausoleum of Augustus on three sides was built during Mussolini’s time as homage to Roman history. On the fourth side, a massive first-century alter called the Ara Pacis is housed in a modern glass-and-steel building designed by architect Richard Meier.

“Everything was built in the area right around the mausoleum so that the mausoleum itself would be the centerpiece, and yet it has remained mostly untouched since Mussolini’s plans were abandoned,” La Rocca said.

A decade ago, plans were unveiled to restore the Mausoleum of Augustus in time to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Augustus’ death in 2014 but those plans failed for budgetary reasons.

But two years ago, telecommunications giant Telecom Italia provided 6 million euros (6.6 million U.S. dollars) and work was started, with another 4 million euros added from the city of Rome’s coffers and the Ministry of Culture.

According to organizers, the mausoleum should be open to the public for the first time in generations starting in the spring.

According to Giorgio Piras, head of the Science of Antiquity Department at Rome’s La Sapienza University, restoration of the Mausoleum of Augustus is the largest historic renovation project yet to be completed in the historical center of the Italian capital.

“This is a project that has great value both from a historical and from a symbolic perspective,” Piras said in an interview.

“For most visitors to the city, it is all but forgotten … it is just some walls covered in trees. But once the renovation is complete, the Mausoleum of Augustus will take its place with the indispensable places to see in Rome.”