The Mausoleum of Augustus, which was built in 28 BCE, is the largest circular tomb in the world. It measures 87 m (285 ft) in diameter and used to consist of a cylindrical body 40 m (131 ft) in height, on the top of which stood a colossal bronze statue of the emperor himself.
A corridor ran from the entrance into the heart of the mausoleum, where there was a chamber which housed the urns containing the ashes of members of the emperor's family. Two pillars flanking the entrance were mounted with bronze plaques inscribed with the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (the achievements of the divine Augustus), the document describing Augustus' accomplishments and victories.
Two Egyptian granite obelisks stood outside the entrance. They now stand, respectively, in the Piazza dell' Esquilino and the Piazza del Quirinale. The mausoleum sat at the centre of a large sacred precinct, which stretched between Via del Corso and the river.
The first figure to be interred in the mausoleum was Augustus' nephew Marcellus, who died in 23 BCE. There followed his close friend and son-in-law Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (12 BCE), his stepson Nero Claudius Drusus (9 BCE), his sister Octavia Minor (9/11 BCE), his grandsons and heirs Lucius Caesar (2 CE) and Gaius Caesar (4 CE), and finally Augustus himself in 14 CE. Four subsequent emperors were interred in the mausoleum: Tiberius (37 CE), Caligula (41 CE), Claudius (54 CE) and Nerva (98 CE).
During the middle-ages the mausoleum was converted into a fortress by the Colonna family and in the 16th century it was bought by the Soderini family and laid out as an ornate garden. In the 18th century it became an arena for bullfights and in the 19th century it was used for circus and theatrical performances. In the 20th century the mausoleum became a concert hall. This was demolished by Mussolini, who embarked on a restoration project, which was cut short by the start of the war.
At the time of writing, the mausoleum is undergoing further restoration.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
Search Walks in Rome: