Sunday, March 16, 2008


House of Augustus opens to public
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

On March 17, following decades of painstaking restoration, the frescoes of the House of Augustus, in vivid shades of blue, red and ochre go on public show for the first time since they were painted in about 30BC.

One large room boasts a theatrical theme, its walls painted to resemble a stage with narrow side-doors. High on the wall a comic mask peers through a small window. Other trompe l'oeil designs include an elegant garden vista, yellow columns and even a meticulously sketched blackbird.

The Rome authorities have spent nearly 2m euros preserving the four Augustus rooms - thought to comprise a dining-room, bedroom, an expansive reception hall at ground-level and a small study on the first floor. Experts say the frescoes are among the most splendid surviving examples of Roman wall paintings, on a par with those found in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

But if the frescoes on the walls are exquisite, their surroundings, though impressive, with vaulted ceilings, are less than palatial. The Roman historian Suetonius described how Augustus lived in a modest house on the Palatine before he assumed supreme power and built a sprawling imperial complex higher up the hill.

The art is so delicate that no more than five visitors at a time will be able to enter the rooms. Nevertheless, they are expected to attract large crowds.

Hereafter, entry to the Roman Forum will no longer be free. Instead, visitors must pay 11 euros ($16; £8) for a combined ticket that will give entry to the Forum, the Palatine Hill where the Augustus house is and the nearby Colosseum.

Officials say the proceeds will fund increased security and restoration work around Rome. "There are exciting new finds every month," said Mr Rutelli, "and we need this money to preserve these treasures for future generations".


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