One of the most interesting ancient sites in Rome and very little known is the Mausoleum of Augustus, which reopened in 2021 after 14 years of renovation. Restoration works and diggings are still ongoing so more parts will be uncovered soon and I will certainly plan a new visit.
Unlike the more famous Colosseum and Roman Forum, you will barely find a line at the entrance to this important burial chamber, similar to the beautiful Baths of Caracalla, also a major site from ancient Rome but little visited by the tourist crowds.
Our simple guide to visiting the Mausoleum of Augustus will help you decide whether or not you should visit, will tell you what to expect in case you do, and also some practical information about how to reach and where to eat in the area.
IMPORTANT: The Mausoleum of Augustus is temporarily closed from June 6th to continue maintenance and restoration works. At the moment, a reopening date hasn’t been set yet.
Table of Contents
- 1 History of the Mausoleum of Augustus
- 2 Style and architecture of the Augustus Mausoleum
- 3 Location of the Mausoleum of Augustus
- 4 Why visit the Mausoleum of Augustus
- 5 Practical information + tips to enjoy your visit
- 6 What to do around the Mausoleum of Augustus
- 7 Where to eat near the Mausoleum of Augustus
History of the Mausoleum of Augustus
A large funerary mausoleum built as the final resting place of the gens Giulia family, this ancient building in central Rome has been used as the burial chamber of the emperor Augustus and his family for around a century.
Reaching some 45 meters (roughly 148 feet), the Mausoleum of Augustus was as tall as the nearby Pincio Mount. The reason for such heigh was that it could be seen from every corner of the city and to reiterate the divine nature and status of Augustus compared to both his relatives and the rest of the population.
The urn containing his ashes was likely placed in a higher position than those of the rest of his family and, on its top, rising towards the sky was placed his shiny bronze statue.
The idea for a magnificent shrine started taking shape in Octavianus Augustus’ mind in 28 BC, and it certainly was not a coincidence that he had visited the mausoleum of Alexander the Great in Alexandria of Egypt only two years earlier.
After the battle of Actium, where the fleet of Octavianus led by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (yes, the Agrippa of the Pantheon) finally defeated the fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the future emperor had the chance to fully focus on ruling Rome, make it a monumental capital, strengthen the empire, and sponsored new buildings and infrastructure.
The first member of the Gens Julia-Claudia dynasty buried in this mausoleum was Marcello, nephew of Augustus, designed as his successor who prematurely died near Naples, after whom they named the Theater of Marcello in Campo Marzio near the Foro Boario. The mausoleum served the purpose of a burial chamber for more than a century, but when the other emperors started to build their own tombs, this large building was left to decay.
Decay and evolution of the Mausoleum of Augustus
With the end of the Roman Empire, the Mausoleum of Augustus entered a phase of neglect and a state of abandonment. In the 12th century, the powerful Colonna family transformed it into a fortified castle while from the 13th century, it has been looted, its marble stolen to be recycled in the building of other monuments, used by different families as a castle or for different purposes, including one to host a roof garden.
This northern area of the Campo Marzio remained quite isolated from Roman life until the 16th century when Pope Leo X de’ Medici decided to develop it. This is how all around the mausoleum notable palaces and smaller buildings started to rise. The same mausoleum was readapted to different uses. It was around this time that it probably became the property of the Soderini family who lived in the area and built a beautiful roof garden embellished with statues and flowerbeds on the upper part.
Around the 18th century, Augustus Mausoleum was bought by the Portuguese-born Correa family who transformed it into a large amphitheater completing covering the burial chamber to be able to hold tournaments, shows, and fireworks much loved by the Romans.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was bought by the Apostolica Camera of the Roman Curia and assigned to the famous architect Giuseppe Valadier, the same who rearranged Piazza del Popolo, a full restoration of the mausoleum. Used as the city theater until 1888, when it was permanently closed due to structural issues, after the unification of Italy in 1870 the mausoleum was named after King Umberto I.
In 1907 the local municipality bought the Mausoleum of Augustus, the former theater being now in a complete state of decay, and turned it into a large concert hall naming it “Augusteo” in memory of its original function. Its success was so big that the auditorium became famous all over the world and thousands of concerts took place.
All this lasted until 1936 when the concert hall was permanently closed and the surrounding area of Renaissance palaces and buildings was demolished and the current Piazza Augusto Imperatore was built. This happened as part of the campaign promoted by Benito Mussolini to highlight the relics from imperial Rome. It was then that everything inside the Mausoleum of Augustus that didn’t belong to the original construction from the BCs was removed and demolished, in an effort to bring back to life the ancient burial chamber in all its glory.
Who was buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus
Which members of the Gens Julia-Claudia dynasty were buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus? There were 16 urns:
- Marcello, buried here in 23 BC, nephew of Augustus, son of Octavia, the emperor’s sister, and first husband of Giulia, Augustus’ daughter;
- Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa buried here in 12 BC, Giulia’s second husband and Augustus’ friend and general. He was also a statesman and architect who first commissioned the building of the Pantheon devoted to all gods;
- Octavia, Augustus’ sister, died in 11 BC. The monumental portico we can see in the Jewish Ghetto was named after her;
- Druso, son of Livia (Augustus’ wife), in 9 BC;
- Lucius and Caius, sons of Agrippa and Giulia;
- Augustus himself, who was the first Roman emperor, buried here in 14 AD;
- Germanico in 19 AD, the father of Caligula;
- Livia, wife of Augustus, in 29 AD;
- Agrippina, mother of Caligula, buried here in 37 AD, the first owner of the Circus of Caligula on the site of which was built the ancient necropolis underneath St. Peter’s Basilica;
- Tiberium, the second Roman emperor, son of Livia, buried in 37 AD;
- Caligula, the third Roman emperor, buried in 41 AD;
- Claudius, fourth Roman emperor, buried here in 54 AD;
- Vespasianus, the ninth Roman emperor, buried here in 79 AD only temporarily because not a member of the Gens Julia-Claudia but the founder of the Flavia dynasty;
- Nerva in 98 AD, the twelfth Roman emperor, also from the Flavia dynasty
- Giulia Domna, wife of the 21st Roman emperor, Settimio Severo, buried here in 217 DC only temporarily.
Augustus died in Nola in his family’s house on the 19th of August 14 AD at the age of 77 years old. This is where he went after getting sick during a trip to Naples, even though according to Cassius Dio, his own wife Livia poisoned his food to ensure the throne would go to Tiberium, who was her son, but not Augustus’.
It took 14 days to bring the remains of Augustus to Rome to be cremated and buried. The funerary celebrations and rituals started on the 4th of September. After he was cremated, his wife Livia placed his ashes in the Mausoleum on the 11th of September. On the 17th, not even a week later, he was declared a god.
Who’s the big missing name? Nero, of course. Even though belonging to the Giulia-Claudia dynasty, he wasn’t buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus but in the Sepulchre of the Domitis at the foot of the Pincio Hill under the site where now is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. After his death, the Senate proclaimed the damnatio memoriae, a complete annulment of a citizen’s civil rights, of his actions in the collective memory and in history, as well as his rights to pass on his family name. In fact, the Giulia-Claudia dynasty ended with him.
Apart from Nero, also Giulia, the daughter of Augustus, was banned from being buried in the dynasty’s mausoleum by her own father because not deserving of it due to her inappropriate behavior.
Style and architecture of the Augustus Mausoleum
The world’s largest round-shaped tomb, the Mausoleum of Augustus has a diameter of 87 meters (285 feet). It’s no doubt that its style and decoration remind of Greek and oriental tombs, but its circular form was by all means inspired by the tombs found in the Etruscan necropolis.
In origin, the mausoleum consisted of a central cylinder coated with marble blocks inside which was the burial chamber that housed the urns with the ashes of Augustus’ relatives, while his ashes were kept in the central cylinder right below the gilded bronze statue that dominated the top of the mausoleum.
Towards the south was a staircase with a door, while the entrance of the funerary complex was decorated with plates with the inscriptions of the Res Gestae, a sort of memoir written by the same Octavianus once back from the war campaigns. From the Mausoleum of Augustus, it was even possible to see the Pantheon located south of it.
In front of the mausoleum were two obelisks that now we can see in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele near the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in the Esquilino neighborhood and on the fountain of the Dioscuri in Piazza del Quirinale.
Augustus always made it a strong point of his ruling to enrich the city with important monuments and to make them at the people’s disposal to give everyone the chance to enjoy them. His mausoleum was not an exception: its backyard was a beautiful garden left for the population to enjoy and relax.
What is to see inside the Mausoleum of Augustus
From the gate of the complex, you will walk along a round-shaped path leading to the entrance of the mausoleum. Stepping over the threshold, you will cross the dromos, a long corridor leading to the interior of the burial chamber.
The first area that you will visit inside the mausoleum is below the modern street level and corresponds to the original entrance. Right after the dromos is the large cylindrical structure surrounded by concentric, barrel-vaulted corridors. The circular plan housed three rectangular nooks where the urns of the imperial family were kept.
During your tour, led by a local expert, you will go all around the burial chamber, the central pillar and you will see where the members of the imperial family were buried. Once you are done visiting the ground floor, you will climb the stairs to see where and how it was possible for the mausoleum to become an amphitheater, a theater, and a concert hall.
You are going to see the traces of these overlapping constructions, even where the restrooms of the amphitheater were set up and where the shows used to take place.
Location of the Mausoleum of Augustus
The monumental burial chamber of emperor Augustus is located in Campo Marzio, the area devoted to Mars, the god of war. Originally, it was built outside of the city’s walls where the army could stay, because it was forbidden to enter Rome carrying weapons.
Founded as a public space, it became the private property of Pompeo first and then Mark Antony, to be acquired by Marcus Agrippa after the battle of Actium. This is when the monuments to celebrate the power and the person of Augustus were built, including the same mausoleum and the Pantheon, that Agrippa initially wanted to devote to the emperor and later named after all gods but placing a statue of himself and one of Augustus in the exterior.
After Agrippa’s death, Augustus inherited the area but instead of keeping it as private property, he made it a public space again.
Why visit the Mausoleum of Augustus
Are you still wondering whether or not the Mausoleum of Augustus is worth your time? Let me give you some help with some of the reasons why you should visit this beautiful monument of ancient Rome.
- It’s central. Situated close to the river and Rome’s Centro Storico, the mausoleum is easy to reach by walking or via public transport, and is easy to include on your bucket list.
- It’s cheap. Only 5€ the single ticket for a major historical site in Rome is quite affordable.
- It’s eternal. Just like most of the places in Rome, also the Mausoleum of Augustus has covered different functions and
- It doesn’t take long. In less than an hour, you will have visited an archaeological site linked to one of the most important leaders of imperial Rome. I think it’s worth it.
Make sure you read our complete guide to Rome public transport.
Practical information + tips to enjoy your visit
- Address: Piazza Augusto Imperatore.
- How to reach: by bus (119, 628, C3), metro (Spagna).
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9 am-7 pm (in winter until 5 pm, in October until 6.15 pm). Monday closed.
- Entrance fee: 5€.
- Official website.
- What to wear: make sure you wear comfortable shoes, even though you are not going to walk a lot, there are stairs and some parts can be slippery or rough.
- How to book: You are not going to find a big line at the entrance of the Mausoleum of Augustus so ideally, you can buy your ticket right there. However, when I went, there was some kind of glitch and the clerk at the entrance didn’t have the tickets to sell, so I had to buy the tickets online right there really on the fly because there are scheduled entries/tours included in the ticket and I wanted to join the one starting immediately. So just to avoid glitches and disorganization, I suggest you buy your ticket online beforehand from the official website, it’s very easy, just follow the instructions.
What to do around the Mausoleum of Augustus
Being in the city center, there are plenty of things to see and do around the Mausoleum of Augustus. Here are some.
- Ara Pacis Museum. This is a monumental altar to peace dating back to imperial Rome. It’s located inside a museum that always hosts interesting temporary exhibitions.
- Piazza Navona. The famous elliptical square built on the ruins of Domitian’s Stadium, Piazza Navona is decorated with three monumental fountains including Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain.
- Piazza di Spagna. The beautiful square and monumental Spanish Steps to reach the Trinità dei Monti church.
- Piazza del Popolo. Majestic square that from Flaminio opens up to the Tridente roads and the city center.
- Villa Borghese. You can access the beautiful Villa Borghese park from Flaminio and enjoy a walk in the nature and stunning views of the city from the Pincio Hill.
- Castel Sant’Angelo. The Hadrian Mausoleum located on the other side of the river esy to reach by crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo, Bernini’s masterpiece.
- Prati. Crossing Ponte Cavour bridge, you will easily reach Piazza Cavour and the lovely residential Prati neighborhood close to the Vatican and Borgo area.
Make sure you read my article on where to see Bernini’s work in Rome.
Where to eat near the Mausoleum of Augustus
Being the city center, there are plenty of restaurants, and this is why you should pay attention to where you eat to avoid the “tourist-menu quality”. Here are some suggestions.
- Cul de Sac. Cozy wine bar serving delicious Roman and Italian meals right behind Piazza Navona.
- Coromandel. Open for breakfast, brunch and lunch, Coromandel serves scrumptious casual meals. Hands-down one of our favorite breakfasts in Rome.
- Vega Food. Simple Indian-style vegan restaurant behind Piazza Navona.
- Ginger. In Via Borgognona off Via del Corso, Ginger serves healthy casual meals.
Don’t miss my guide to the best restaurants in Rome.
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