Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, June 14, 2021

The Mausoleum of Augustus--You CAN go there, if you can get a ticket


What Emperor Augustus's tomb looked like in ancient Rome (image by 3D Warehouse).

Larry Litman at entrance to the Mausoleum
 of Augustus (there's probably a 
smile under that mask).
     One of the astonishing openings in Rome—as Covid continues to haunt the globe—is the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome’s Piazza Augusto Imperatore. Since World War II, this ancient Roman site--the largest circular tomb of the Roman world, as noted below--has sat, neglected, overrun with weeds, and closed to the public. After fits and starts for the past decade-plus, the Mausoleum was opened to visitors just this Spring (Covid be damned). Our Roman friend and guest blogger, Larry Litman, managed to snag a now-sold-out ticket. Below is his rare first-person account of a visit to this important piece of history (from tomb for Augustus to music hall to proposed tomb for Mussolini – you get the picture).

   Larry Litman wrote eloquently in March 2020 about being in Rome under one of the first lockdowns, and, since we still couldn’t be in Rome for the Christmas holidays, he gave a virtual tour on this blog of the unusual presepi or crèches in Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square).

    Larry grew up in Southern California (unknowingly, we recently visited his old neighborhood) and lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, before moving to Rome in 2007. In the early 1970s he studied at Loyola University of Chicago's Rome Center, now the John Felice Rome Center on Monte Mario. "That was when I fell in love with the city of Rome," Larry writes, "and then I had the dream of making Rome my home."

 Larry is a retired teacher/librarian from Ambrit International School and is active at St. Paul's Within the Walls (the Episcopal Church on via Nazionale).  He also volunteers at the Non-Catholic Cemetery. He has two adult children and two grandchildren living in New York City.​


As one enters the Mausoleum, one can see evidence of many
different construction and rehabilitation efforts
over the centuries, typical of Rome.
The Mausoleum of Augustus (Il Mausoleo di Augusto), constructed in 28 BC, was closed to the public after World War II. In March of this year it was officially reopened to the public after five years of restoration work significantly funded by TIM, the Italian telecommunications company. However, the monument’s opening was cut short by Covid restrictions which closed Italy’s museums and archeological sites. In May the Mausoleum opened again for guided groups of ten visitors at a time. Online reservations were filled almost immediately. We were fortunate to obtain reservations to visit the site on a rainy Wednesday morning at 9:00 a.m.

Our group was met at the entrance by a knowledgeable archeologist who shared the features and history of this monument, the largest circular tomb of the Roman world. After descending a ramp to several meters below the modern street level we stood before the entrance to the tomb. Originally this entry was flanked by two obelisks that now stand in front of the Quirinale Palace and in the Piazza del’Esquilino behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore [the prior post on this blog; obelisk photos below]. 

Our guide points out inscriptions praising Emperor Augustus, inside the tomb.

The Mausoleum had a diameter of 87 meters (almost 300 feet) and a height of around 42 meters (about 140 feet). At the center of the mausoleum were a series of chambers which until 217 AD held the urns of the Julio-Claudio emperors (except Nero) and their families. The innermost chamber held the remains of the Emperor Augustus, and the surrounding chambers held the urns with the ashes of the others.
This future performance space is visible looking out from the
upper level to the center of the Mausoleum.




Many monuments in Rome have been used over the centuries for numerous purposes other than the ones they were built for. The Mausoleum of Augustus is no exception. Our archeologist shared some of these as she led us through the various levels and chambers of the site.

-       In the 12th century the Mausoleum became a fortified castle of the Colonna family.

-       In 1241 Pope Gregory IX expelled the Colonna family and destroyed their castle. Urban gardens started growing on the abandoned Mausoleum.

-       During the 16th - 18th centuries there were hanging gardens with a collection of Roman antiquities displayed inside the Mausoleum, then an arena for bullfights, and eventually a stage for plays and circus performances.

-       Between the years 1907 - 1936 the inner part of the structure was converted into a concert hall holding about 3,500 people, with performances by the National Academy of Santa Cecilia.

-       On May 13, 1936, Mussolini ended the concerts and initiated a plan to turn the Mausoleum of Augustus into a tomb for himself. World War II put an end to those plans.


The Mausoleum as seen from the street (weeds mostly cleared away).                  


The Mausoleum of Augustus then was abandoned until 2007 when studies began to restore and repurpose the ancient site. Today, even as it has been opened to the public, work continues on the Mausoleum’s restoration. A museum, as well as a performance stage, is being developed within the monument. The surrounding area is also being developed as a pedestrian piazza with stairs and ramps to the street level. The Mausoleum of Augustus is now becoming a part of urban life in contemporary Rome, one of the many places in this great city where the past meets the present.

Upward looking views here and below, left.
 Note: The installation of an elevator has not been completed. To tour the Mausoleum a visitor must climb multiple levels of steps.

Larry Litman


A few items of note: More photos follow here and at the end of this post.

The official website, which includes, in English, "Book Here,"  is here:

For now the tickets are sold out through June 30. The last two times they were available, they sold out in 24 hours each time. We are not certain when they will next be made available.

The Mausoleum is in the same piazza as the Ara Pacis, which is one of the most visited sites in Rome (pre-Covid, anyway). And Bulgari is planning a 5-star hotel in the piazza, in a large, interesting (to us) Fascist-era building facing the Mausoleum. Note this piazza was one of RST's "Top 40," even with the Mausoleum in disuse and disrepair; we called it "Rome's most abused piazza."

The two displaced obelisks are pictured below in their current locations. We (RST) had no idea they once graced the Mausoleum. The first is the obelisk at the Quirinale, and the second at Piazza del'Esquilino, in back of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.




1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great write up.
I can't believe those huge obelisks were flanking a door inside the mausoleum!