Ara Pacis is a unique museum in Rome. It is the only museum which has on display a single main exhibit, that is, the very altar of peace from which the name of the museum derives. Indeed, Ara Pacis (full name, Ara Pacis Augustae, meaning, the Altar of Augustan Peace), deemed one of the finest examples of Roman architecture and sculpture, is imposing enough and gave rise to plenty of controversies and debates (in particular, in regard to the political and religious symbolism of its decorations) to explain and justify the existence of a museum entirely dedicated to the monument.

Ara Pacis was built between 13 and 9 BC on the decision of the Roman Senate in order to celebrate the peace Augustus, by his military achievements and victories, brought to the Roman world. The altar was built in Campus Martius, nearby Via Flaminia and the Tiber River. In time, it was buried under silt, and it simply vanished from the historical memory, until 1568. 1568 was the year when the first partial vestiges of the altar were excavated. Further excavations carried out in the mid 19th century, and in particular in the early and mid 20th century, brought to light other fragments. The fragments were reintegrated and assembled in the monument (somewhere in the 1930s).

It was under Benito Mussolini that a shelter was first built for the altar. The structure was, however, erected not on the original site of the altar, but in the vicinity of the Mausoleum of Augustus (consistent with Mussolini’s plan of laying out a park praising the glorious past of the Fascist Italian state). The building commissioned by Mussolini was replaced in the early 21st century, but the site remained the same. The museum, thus, reopened in 2006, displaying in its full splendor the ancient Ara Pacis.

Each of the four walls of the altar was – and still is – subject to debate. Some of the panels on these walls have almost miraculously survived in good condition, but others have been reconstructed from the excavated fragments. On top of the discussions on the accuracy of these reconstructions, historians, philosophers and archeologists talk not only about the identity of the figures rendered on the panels, but also of their signification and symbolism. Yet, regardless of such debates, what is certain is the panels roughly depict the figures of the imperial family (Emperor Augustus, his wife, Empress Livia, Tiberius – stepson of Augustus – Julia, the daughter of Augustus), priests, an alleged fertility goddess (probably, Tellus, the Earth), as well as figures of unidentified characters.

Holders of a Roma Pass can enjoy the advantage of entering the Ara Pacis Museum with considerable discounts.

Ara Pacis (Museo dell’Ara Pacis)
Lungotevere in Augusta, 00100, Rome, Italy
0039 06 0608
Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday: 9am to 7pm