Emperor Augustus frescoes opened to public for first time in Rome


Lavishly frescoed rooms in the houses of the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia opened for the first time to the public on Thursday after years of painstaking restoration.

The buildings on Rome’s Palatine hill, where the emperor lived with his family, are reopening after a 2.5 million euro restoration to mark the 2,000th anniversary of Augustus’ death — with previously off-limit chambers on show for the first time.

From garlands of flowers on Pompeian red backgrounds to majestic temples and scenes of rural bliss, the frescoes are often vividly colored and many are in an exceptional condition.

Restorers said their task had been a complex one, with bad weather during excavation threatening the prized relics of a golden era in the Eternal City.

“We had to tackle a host of problems which were all connected, from underground grottoes to sewers — and I’m talking about a sewer system stretching over 35 hectares,” said Mariarosaria Barbera, Rome’s archaeological superintendent.

To protect the site, only three tour groups will be admitted each day, for guided visits lasting only 15 minutes. Each group will comprise up to 20 people and hopefuls will need to book a place.

Cinzia Conti, head restorer, said the plan was to allow people to enjoy “a more intimate, more attentive exploration of Augustus’ spaces.”

It will also mean “we restorers can keep an eye on and evaluate the consequences of the public walking through, for example the dust on their shoes — and especially their breath,” she said.

Augustus’ decision to build his home near a grotto where Romans worshipped Romulus — one of the twins who legend has it founded Rome — was no coincidence.

The complex was intended to symbolize not only his power but that of his wife and adviser Livia, who is said to have wielded great influence over him and went on to play an important role in Roman politics after his death.

“Looking at the houses, the buildings he had built, we understand he was a man of power, of great strength, who knew what went into making a political man at the head of such a big empire,” Conti said.

The frescoes in Livia’s house in particular are one of the most important examples of the period’s style, said Barbera.

The founder of the Roman Empire was born Caius Octavius in 63 BC on the Palatine hill. The great-nephew of Julius Caesar, he was adopted as Caesar’s son shortly before the emperor’s assassination.

Caius Octavius went on to rule over Rome for 40 years, an era of great wealth and relative peace for the Roman republic.

His beloved Livia was his third wife, whom he married when she was pregnant with her first husband’s child. He adopted the baby, Tiberius, who would succeed him after his death.

Augustus died aged 75, after which the Senate raised him to the status of a god and appointed Livia his chief priestess.

As part of the two-millenial celebrations, the Palatine Museum has dedicated a room to Augustus and has put objects connected to his life on show.