Rome is renowned for its landmarks, from the grand Colosseum to the palatial Pantheon. But these famed attractions aren’t all that the city has to offer: Just north of Castel Sant’Angelo, along the River Tiber, visitors will find the remains of a lesser-known, but still significant, monument: the Mausoleum of Augustus, the final resting place of the first Roman emperor and the largest circular tomb in the world.
For much of the past 80 years, the mausoleum has stood abandoned, crumbling and closed to the public, writes Julia Buckley for CNN Travel. Today, tall trees render the mausoleum invisible from a nearby piazza.
This week, however, city officials announced that a 13-year renovation of the tomb is finally set to draw to a close. The site will open to tourists on March 1, 2021, with free entrance for all through April 21—the anniversary of Rome’s founding in 753 B.C., reports Crispian Balmer of Reuters.
“This is an historic moment,” Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi told reporters during a preview visit to the site, per Reuters. “To reopen a monument like this is a signal of hope as we look with good faith toward the future despite the uncertainties of the pandemic. We need to work for the future and maintain our traditions.”
City residents will receive free admission through the end of 2021, according to a statement. Those looking to book their 50-minute tours in advance can do so through the mausoleum’s website. Armchair travelers eager to learn more about the building’s long history can jump into a virtual interactive tour (available in both English and Italian) featuring 3-D models of what the mausoleum may have looked like when it was built in the first century B.C.
Italian telecommunications company TIM partly financed the €10 million (about $12.25 million USD) renovation, which began in 2007, reports Reuters. During the restoration, archaeologists found that the original structure was not cone-shaped, as previously thought, but rather a cylindrical building similar to Hadrian’s mausoleum (better known as the Castel Sant’Angelo).
Octavian Augustus began constructing his massive tomb in 28 B.C., just after returning from a military campaign in Egypt. With a diameter of about 87 meters (285 feet), the structure is the world’s the largest known circular tomb, according to a separate city statement.
Ultimately, the ashes of Augustus and his heirs, including Emperors Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius, were entombed in the necropolis. The building was originally clad in marble and likely topped by an enormous bronze statue of Augustus, according to the mausoleum’s website.
Augustus designed an enormous tomb befitting his outsized impact on the empire. Over the course of his reign, he transformed Roman infrastructure and established a period of 200 years of peace known as the Pax Romana. Legend holds that on his deathbed in 14 A.D., the then-75-year-old emperor said, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.”
In the centuries following Augustus’ death, the mausoleum served a variety of purposes. Per the statement, it was used as a fortress during the Middle Ages, as a hanging garden in the Renaissance and as an arena for bullfighting starting in the late 18th century.
During the early 20th century, dictator Benito Mussolini ordered the modern auditorium’s dismantling as part of his bid to restore Rome’s ancient monuments. After that, the building remained mostly vacant and fell into decline, with garbage collecting outside and weeds overtaking some parts of the structure.
As Roman superintendent Maria Vittoria Marini Clarelli says in the statement, per Google Translate, “The Mausoleum of Augustus, a key monument in Rome’s passage from a republic to an empire, is perhaps the most eloquent example of reuse, reinterpretation and rediscovery of ancient remains in history of the city.”