Here are five reasons I love the Ara Pacis.
Controversial I know but my first reason is the Richard Meier designed structure that surrounds the Ara Pacis - the first modern architectural project to be built in the city centre since World War II. I love the democratic nature of this travertine & glass building - the altar is visible to all, whether you visit the museum or not. It is particularly magnificent at night.
2. The Location
The Ara Pacis originally stood in what is now Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucinda and was positioned near a huge obelisk sundial. On Augustus's birthday the shadow from the sundial fell upon the altar. The sundial now stands in Piazza Montecitorio. A model showing the original site, and its relationship to the Tomb of Augustus, can be seen in the Ara Pacis Museum.
3. The Puzzle
The monument itself is a bit of a puzzle - it has an entrance and an exit but only one set of stairs. Theories are that it was based on an ancient Greek design or that it makes reference to the Temple of Janus (the two headed God) in the Roman Forum. The doors of the Temple of Janus were open in times of war and closed in periods of peace. The doors were closed three times in Augustus's reign as Emperor.
4. The Decoration
The monument is faced with beautiful Luna marble which would have been quarried in Carrara. The decorations of the interior appear to replicate the original wooden altar which was consecrated on 4th July in the year 13BC. The beautiful garlanded swags hang from the skulls of sacrificial bulls .
The small boy in non-Roman costume is believed to be a 'hostage guest' being educated in Rome.
On the back of the altar is a depiction of Lucius & Gaius - Augustus's grandchildren and planned successors. The veiled figure is believed to be their mother, Julia, Augustus's daughter. Both children died young.
Amongst all the acanthus leaves and mythical beasts there is also the simplicity of the egg and dart motif.
The dazzling brightness of the marble is impressive but in its day the altar would have shone with vibrant hues. If you were lucky enough to be in Rome in August/September you may have seen the digital light show that replicated those very colours.
5. The Tribute
I guess I am not the only one who loves the Ara Pacis. Woody Allen used it in his homage to the Eternal City - 'To Rome With Love'. Apparently he wanted to combine images of historic areas alongside a modern architectural look. He chose the Ara Pacis as a setting for a fashion show. A white catwalk was created and the models were dressed in white with white wigs to complement the surroundings.