How to visit the Mausoleum of Augustus and fun and interesting facts about this Rome landmark and archaeological site, recently opened to the public
The Mausoleum of Augustus, the tomb of Rome’s first emperor, is a significant archaeological site in Rome.
However, it is a monument few have visited. Unlike the nearby Mausoleum of Hadrian (Castel Sant’Angelo), Augustus’ Mausoleum only opened to the public in March 2021 and since then it has wooded its lucky visitors with its interesting story, peculiar shape and incredible history.
Getting tickets to visit the Mausoleum of Augustus is not easy: they are highly sought after and you need to book months in advance to get a spot.
If you can, however, the visit is worth it.
The Mausoleum is beautiful and its history taps into the story of Rome in Imperial times, in the Middle Ages, renaissance and even Fascist time. It truly is a symbol of Rome.
I was lucky enough to visit this wonderful Rome monument yesterday with a guide who helped me learn about it.
This is all you need to know to plan a visit.
What is the Mausoleum of Augustus?
The Mausoleum of Augustus is the tomb of Emperor Augustus, who wanted it built as a final resting place for him and his family.
It dates from 28BC and it has a circular shape: its diameter measures 87 meters/ 285.433 and it is 40 meters/ 141 feet high and this makes it one of the biggest circular tombs in the world.
Its shape is somewhat reminiscent to that of Castel Sant’Angelo which was built over a century later however, it is not easy to fully appreciate its might.
At present, the Mausoleum is below street level and while you do catch a sight of its size once you walk in, from the outside there is little to entice the visitors.
Everything changes once you step inside its main gate and you see the drawings of what the place would have been like in ancient times!
The history of the building is complex and interesting: I will try and give a quick overview, hoping it will entice you to visit.
A brief history of the Mausoleum of Augustus
The Mausoleum of Augustus was built in 28BC by Octavianus, the future Augustus.
At the time, Octavianus was about to reach the apex of his career.
After successfully fighting the killers of Caesar first and then winning the civil war against Marcus Antonius, Octavianus was gathering in his hands all the powers of the magistrates of the Roman Republic and was effectively about to become the first Emperor of the Roman Empire.
This passage was sanctioned in 27BC, when he acquired the title of Augustus and in line with this ascent, he started thinking of a grave for him and his family that was suitable for such power and dynasty.
He picked a location with high symbolic power.
Placing his grave in this important religious location, Augustus effectively declared himself New Romulus, founder of a new city, that would prosper under his powers.
The mausoleum was indeed used to host the remains of the Emperor, his family and his closest descendants however, it went through a history of neglect and destruction during the Middle Ages that deprived it of all its statues and decorations.
Several drawings from the time show the urns and the basis of the original statues in use as measuring items and things didn’t improve much in terms of preservation in the Renaissance.
In the xvi century, Pope Leo X decided to embellish the area and this brought several important families to this location, who built beautiful palazzi and churches we still see today.
As part of this urban development, the mausoleum was also put to use.
First architect Soderini turned it into a garden (Giardino delle delizie aka ‘garden of delights’) and later Marquis Correa Silva turned it into an arena. Inspired by the shape of the monument, he turned into an area for bullfights, called giostra delle bufale.
In line with this vocation for entertainment, the mausoleum was than turned into an area for fireworks and then an auditorium.
In 1937, Mussolini also set eyes on the mausoleum.
To mark the 2000 years since the birth of Augustus, he ordered the excavation of the area but with the terrible outcome: the digging was carried out without proper skill and ability to preserve and understand the monument and the lack of riches in it quickly caused disappointment.
Instead of preserving the mausoleum, the monumental Piazza Augusto Imperatore was built around it that, while interesting in its own right in terms of architecture, meant the mausoleum laid there forgotten until recent times, when it was finally preserved, made safe and open to the public.
The area is still under construction so the overall layout of the square is still in progress.
What to expect when visiting the Mausoleum of Augustus
The visit to Augustus’ Mausoleum lasts 50 min.
The guided starts leading you thought the dorms, the entrance to the building, and shows the corridors that would have hosted the funeral procession and then lets you enter the main chamber.
This first part of the visit is, in my opinion, the most interesting.
Accessing this area, it is possible to fully appreciate the size of the building and its shape, as well as see some of the original inscriptions from the toms hosted here.
This part of the visit is outdoors, while the inside of the chamber is enclosed. It is advisable to wear walking shoes or runners (at the very least: no heels) as the ground is uneven.
The second part of the visit leads you to the inside of the walls and lets you climb up to the second tier. This area is heavily restored but it is interesting to understand the uses of the mausoleum during the Renaissance and subsequent centuries.
Need to know: the visit requires you to walk up some steps, some uneven terrain and some walkaways. These can pose difficulties if you have mobility problems and make the monument not fully accessible. I recommend you speak with your guide before confirming a visit to discuss specific mobility challenges.
Why is the Mausoleum of Augustus in this location?
The Mausoleum of Augustus is in the northern part of Campo Marzio, a location chosen specifically by Augustus for its significance and symbolism.
The area was connected with the story of Romulus and his ascension to the sky as the Roman God Quirinus and was therefore suited to state a connection between Octavianus Augustus and the founder of Rome.
The mausoleum was part of a larger urban development project of the area which also saw the building of the Pantheon, built in the same era by Agrippa, Augustus’ loyal brother-in-law.
What did the Mausoleum of Augustus look like?
The Mausoleum of Augustus as we see it now doesn’t do justice to what the tomb must have looked like in origin.
We have information about its appearance by several sources of the time.
They record that the mausoleum has a circular shape, it was cladded in travertine and culminated in a suspended garden with poplar trees, laurel trees and a tall statue of Augustus itself.
The laurel trees were secred to the God Apollos and were a Rome symbol of victory.
Nowadays, we do not see much of this.
The travertine covering the walls has been fully stripped, so we see what would have been the inside of the walls, and the garden is a pale remain of a garden, it is now inaccessible and the poplars and laurels have been replaced by cypress trees.
Fun fact! The poplar tree in Latin is called ‘populus’ and, not far from here, you find Piazza del Popolo, one of the most important squares of Rome. Since the word popolo in Italian means ‘people’, it is easy to think the square is named after people but, most likely, it is actually named after poplar trees that several sources, and now the Mausoleum, record as being present in the area!
Where is Augustus Mausoleum and how to get there? Map and info
The Mauseoleum of Augustus is located in Piazza Augusto Imperatore, in Rome city center.
Buses serving the area are: 30, 492, 80, 87, 913, S06, Metro A Spagna (10 min walk)
Nearby attractions are:
- Piazza del Popolo, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome
- Ara Pacis Augustae, another important Rome historical monument from the era of Augustus, in this case, a large altar celebrating the new era of peace inaugurated by the Princeps
- Via del Corso, one of Rome’s most important shopping streets
- Piazza di Spagna, home to the famous Spanish steps
How to visit the Mausoleum of Augustus
Visits to the mausoleum must be booked online at the address: mausoleodiaugusto.it/booking
Each visit lasts 50 minutes and will run from Tuesday to Sunday, between 9 am and 4pm.
Entrance is subject to temperature checks and wearing of face masks is currently compulsory.
Who was Augustus? Why is the Mausoleum of Augustus significant?
Augustus or Ottavianus Augustus to be precise is usually considerd the first emperor of Rome.
Chosen by Julius Caesar as his heir, he fought with and then against Mark Anthony for supreme power over Rome and gathered magistratures and powers that made him the first Princeps of Rome, effectively marking the start of the Roman imperial era.
His mausoleum is significant for the importance of the figure and also as a monument itself, due to the several uses it has served over the course of the century.
The transformation and reuse of ancient buildings is one of the most interesting characteristics of Rome and one of the best ways to understand the uniqueness of a city inhabited consistently for over well over 2000 years.