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White in technicolor. The Ara Pacis with Augmented Reality.

Only few monuments of the ancient world have become a symbol. The Ara Pacis, the altar built for the Emperor Augustus to celebrate the finally achieved peace, is one of those works that became the emblem of its own era.

From its realization in 9 B.C. to the final discovery and exploitation between 1930 and 1940, its status was able to re-establish itself in recent years through several initiatives aimed at give back a timeless image.

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Questo articolo è disponibile anche in italiano.

Cet article est disponible en français.

  • Where: Museo dell’Ara Pacis, Lungotevere in Augusta.
  • When: Friday – Saturday from 19 to 24 (for more information and opening hours click here)
  • Why: “L’Ara com’era” (The Ara as it were) is an interactive journey made possible by Augmented Reality. Thanks to technology, the monument comes to life and begins to tell its history. The use of AR viewers (Samsung Gear VR) helps make the museum and art most fun and pleasant for those who usually prefer not to attend museums.

The Ara Pacis is a monument with high historical and artistic value. Often, however, his understanding is hard. Every single visitor is able to clearly perceive its enormous aesthetic value, but the deeper sense remains blocked by the hardness of marble.

Ara Pacis: what, why.

The reasons of realization of the Ara Pacis is not limited to the altar; it is the result of a relationship between the message expressed, the age when it has been built, the place, the propaganda. Symbolic meanings and real scenes, historical and mythical figures, all this give life to a story. For us this story is hard to grasp. “L’Ara com’era” (The Ara as it were) is an help for the visitor, because it give a voice to the people connected to the monument; it also track down some of the meanings associated with images that are carved.

Best work of Roman art at its prime, as someone tells. Instrument of propaganda and assertion of imperial power. No doubt: the Ara Pacis is carved in marble, Augustus’ political ideology.

The reasons that led to its realization are clear, and is Augustus himself who tell us about:

TRANSLATION: When I returned to Rome from Spain and Gaul, having successfully accomplished matters in those provinces, when Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilius were consuls (13 B.C.E.), the senate voted to consegìcrate the altar of August Peace in the field of Mars for my return, on which it ordered the magistrates and priests and Vestal virgins to offer annual sacrifices.

(Res Gestae Divi Augusti 12-2)

An altar dedicated to peace after decades of infighting. A peace that Augustus finally brought in the Empire. A monument to the eternal memory of the first emperor of Rome. A celebration of the new golden age, sung by Virgil and interpreted as a foreshadowing of the victories of Augustus.

A figurative statement of the Augustan policy.

L’Ara com’era (The Ara as it were).

The cutting-edge technology takes visitors on a correct interpretation of the remains. The virtual reconstruction of the fragments allows the understanding of the scenes, in some cases almost unrecognizable.

The greatness of this initiative, is having been able to give new life to the large white marble altar, by giving back the original color scheme. The voices illistrate the pictures that are revealed before our eyes; all this is done in perfect sync, and provides an immersive experience. One feels becoming part of the monument, to live in Campus Martius, in 9 B.C., to hear the voices of the characters that populate the lateral friezes.

The technology has also enabled the virtual reconstruction of fragmented panels. The scenes come alive to tell the story of Rome.

Augustus, Agrippa, Julia, Livia, Octavia, Tiberius, the young Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar along with the priests and high-ranking figures of the empire, parading on the outside walls of the large marble enclosure. A confused mass of heads and robes, as it couls seem. The greatness of AR viewers is also to animate the characters, creating the largest family history saga.

The colors of nature.

And what about the vegetal frieze in the lower band? Whether one watch carefully at, one discover animals, bugs and a large variety of vegetals.

Is it simply a symbol of abundance, reached with the peace? Not so easy.

Picture of the pacification of the divine forces made possible by Augustus. But it also matches with the characters in the upper register, which give way to a symbolic and dynastic message.

The AR viewers give the natural effect of the frieze, which was originally to be painted. And this seems to be the most spectacular section of the entire reconstruction.

The Ara Pacis and Campus Martius.

The sculpted nature was directly connected to the natural environment in which the altar was placed; the area of Campus Martius was, in fact, not very urbanized, and therefore intended primarily for military exercises.

With Augustus this large part of the city was invested with symbolic meanings and placed at the center of its propaganda program.

In the Campus Martius stood the Ara Pacis, but also the dynastic mausoleum wanted by the emperor himself (still what remains is visible, not far from the Ara Pacis), and the large square with the Horologium Augusti. These three construcions were to form a unique complex completed, in a wider vision, with the Pantheon, the temple built by Agrippa, son in law and faithful collaborator of Augustus.

In the “Ara com’era” journey a complete introduction perfectly illustrates the Ara Pacis placement in the context of Campus Martius, and the interconnections between the monuments connected to.

History of the recovery.

The current appearance of the Ara Pacis could, however, deceive the first look of a careless visitor. If we approach the white marble reliefs, and carefully observe the finely sculpted surface, some inconsistencies strike our attention.

What seems like an incredibly well-preserved monument is actually the result of a reconstruction. The fragments were discovered from the Ara Pacis original location since the Renaissance. For nearly four hundred years, periodically, pieces of carved white marble were taken out. The recovery operation was completed in the 1930s during the Fascist era, in a more extensive propaganda operation. The following reconstruction, tried to shape and place all the fragments extracted from the foundations of the Palazzo Fiano; large areas of the marble enclosure were rebuilt.

Ph. credit: guiaderoma.blogspot.com

After the realization of the new Ara Pacis Museum designed by architect Richard Meier, several initiatives have been taken for the enhancement of the ancient monument. Because of the exceptional nature of the marble altar, it was hit by a series of very strong symbolic meanings.

In the last few years, several initiatives were undertaken to make the Ara Pacis closer and more understandable to the general public.

From 2009 periodically the event “I colori dell’Ara” (The colors of the Ara) were promoted, as a new lighting system which temporarily restored the original color scheme of the marbles.

Today, “L’Ara com’era” (The Ara as it were) offers a new sight on the monument, taking it back to the original aspect, virtually.

Ph. credit: guiaderoma.blogspot.com



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