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Augustus and the Ara Pacis AND Concrete and the Re…

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1) Augustus and the Ara Pacis.
After over 100 years of persistent Civil War, Augustus assumed the role of Emperor and ushered in an era of peace and prosperity labeled The Pax Augusta, Peace of Augustus or the Pax Romana, the
Peace of Rome. Befitting the age his age commissioned to build the Ara Pacis or Altar of Peace to commemorate this achievement as well as provide a site for sacred sacrifice in its honor. Augustus
marks the beginning of the imperial age of Rome as he declared himself the Emperador Pontifex Maximus, head of the Roman religion and the Princeps, its first citizen, thus the leader of the people,
the state, and the religion. In the Altar of Peace, we see how Augustus wanted himself and his reign to be seen. And we also see how it has been used in the 20th and 21st Century to shape ideology.
The altar depicts narrative scenes of allegorical figures, personifications and figures from the historical and mythological Roman past. In one panel, Aeneas the hero in Virgil’s Aeneid is making a
sacrifice of thanks upon arriving on the Italian shore. Virgil wrote the tale of Aeneas as the Roman counterpart to the great Greek epics, the Iliad and Odyssey most likely to gain favor from the
Emperor by glorifying his claimed routes. Aeneas is said to be the son of Unc Ices and Venus, [assumed spelling] thus a moral descendant of the Gods. Lineage was important in Roman culture and
Augustus traced his back to Aeneas, thus descendant from a deity and arguably a God himself. The Altar of Peace is also a tribute to the divinity of Rome’s leader. In another panel, a woman is
seated with two children on her lap with animals on her feet and abundant natural growth around her. She is often interpreted as Tellus, a personification of Mother Earth. Although some see her as
Venus holding Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who were nursed by a wolf and founded the City of Rome. The latter interpretation would be a further link between Augustus and Roman history as
well as his association with the Goddess Venus. Most important is the portrayal of peace and prosperity depicted in the scene. During this time, Rome was experiencing a decline in birth rate
amongst its nobility. The prominence of children on this and other panels may reflect a social and moral message to effect a social change that Augustus also implemented through laws, marriage,
marital fidelity and child-rearing. The procession of the imperial family also is reminiscent of the panaphonic [assumed spelling] depicted on the Greek Parthenon connecting this period in Rome to
the height of classical Greece. Unlike the figures on the Greek Parthenon, the Roman interest in portraiture is reflected in the identifiable features of the individuals as contemporaries in Roman
society. The Ara Pacis was originally located on the Northern edge of Rome amongst other monuments. At some time the Tiber River flooded and buried the work of art until parts of it were discovered
in the 16th Century. A systematic excavation of the site did not occur until the early 20th Century and finally completed under the Fascist rule of Benito Mussolini for the 2,000th anniversary of
the birth of Augustus in 1937. Mussolini moved the entire monument and had it reconstructed in the heart of Rome to be used as part of his political propaganda of ushering in a new era of Italian
power and prominence that Rome would be reborn in his Fascist regime. The Altar was neglected during the war and there was little interest in cleaning it up until the 1970’s when it underwent more
careful archaeological and-or historical restoration. These initial attempts proved insufficient and the monument underwent additional care in the 1990’s. It was decided that the Ara Pacis needed a
new structure to prevent further damage and the contemporary architect, Richard Meyer, was hired to design the building. Meyer is defined as practicing high modernism with geometric ratios and
simplicity reflect in buildings like the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The stark contrast between the ultramodern glass building housing the Altar and the refined classical ideals that the Altar
itself reflected as many conservative critics up in arms. The current Mayor of Rome has vowed to tear the building down as an affront to an Italian sensibility in taste. Others see Meyer’s
structure as eclipsing attention to the Ara Pacis and pandering to spectacle rather than reverence. In fact in 2007 the famed Italian designer Valentino had a retrospective of his contribution to
fashion within the glass tube of Meyer’s architecture thus bridging high art culture with high fashion. This might be the perfect reuse of the Ara Pacis constructed at its time to commemorate the
peace, Garner threw Roman military superiority then used as propaganda by Mussolini for his Fascist cause. And now to promote Italian luxury goods whose export is the staple of their current
2) Concrete and the Revolution of Roman Building Techniques.
Roman architecture incorporated the Greek architectural styles of the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian orders with vaults and arches first putting use by the Egyptians and Mesopotamian cultures. More
than any previous culture, Roman architecture was for public use and acted as emblems of power as seen in the grandeur of massive civic buildings like the sanctuary of Fortuna Palestrina and the
Colosseum. Although these structures were made possible by the perfection of the arch and its Roman application to create vaults, this alone does not account for the prolific diffusion of
architecture throughout the empire. They were also dependent upon the new material of concrete which allowed Roman arches and vaults to be larger and span greater distances. Concrete is a
ubiquitous material in the 21st Century. We hardly notice the sidewalks and buildings that are made with the material. After all, what else would you use? Although invented much earlier, the Romans
in the 1st Century BCE were the first to perfect and implement the widespread use of concrete as a primary building material. Roman concrete was made from mixing pozzolana, a volcanic ash prevalent
on the Italian peninsula with lime and water to fix sand and rock into solid stone. This concrete was durable and strong and allowed structures to go up faster with less expense as it did not
require the specialized labor of stone cutting. Solid stone could now take the shape of its mold providing more flexibility and design, especially in the creation of structures that did not have
right angles. The rough and relatively unattractive concrete would also be given a facing of marble, tile or stone to mimic the look of masonry in brick buildings and create a more esthetically
pleasing exterior appearance. In the sanctuary of Fortuna Palestrina, we see the ordering of the world from the Roman perspective with the use of concrete. The entire hill is literally transformed
into an enormous civic religious structure with temples, theatres, shops and governmental offices. The creation of these interior and exterior spaces was essential to Roman civic life as the
concrete barrel-vaulted interiors provided the spaces for citizens to interact and participate in their culture. These large scale projects had a political function as well. The complex is more
than homage to the Goddess of Good Fortune as it also acted to glorify those in power at the time of its construction and was symbolic of the increasing Roman dominance over the entire
Mediterranean. It reflected the Roman belief of framing the landscape from a particular point of view. A man made in the position of order that could improve upon nature. These architects and
engineers were able the sculpt their buildings and transform their environment by means unprecedented in previous cultures. The Colosseum may be the most identifiable monument in Rome bringing to
mind gladiator matches and battles with the wild beasts in front of jeering masses. 50,000 spectators could crowd in to watch the spectacles a form of public entertainment that only finds a
counterpart in modern sports arenas. Like the sanctuary to the Goddess of Fortune, it too is made possible with concrete. Instead of sculpting a hill, these builders bent their barrel vaults into
an ellipse and stacked them so that the outer wall is over 150 feet tall, an impossibility without the use of poured concrete into forms. The arena floor and seating area stood over a complex web
of vaults which housed all of the support materials like the animals and slaves necessary for the contests that took place above. There are even accounts of flooding the arena to simulate naval
battles between Rome and its historical enemy, Carthage. Although many doubt that the floor could be made water tight and not flood the passages beneath, at issue is not whether the structure could
hold up the weight of the water, the flexibility and durability of concrete gave the world its largest amphitheater and one of the most iconic monuments of the ancient world. Examples of
architecture were but one use of Roman concrete. The ability of concrete to cure in water led to its use in harbor pile-ons which still stand some 2,000 years later. Roman aqueducts and bridges
were able to span wide distance linking the empire together and providing fresh sources of water to the population. With the decline of the Roman Empire also came the decline in the use of
concrete. The Byzantine interiors of the empire attempted to outdo their predecessors with buildings like Hagia Sophia. But they built the massive structure primarily out of brick. The fast nation
with Ancient Rome and its architecture prevailed in Europe. Yet, until the 19th Century, their buildings were made of stone. Today, the art of working on a monumental scale with brick and stone is
lost and our use of concrete in architecture is combined with iron and steel. Future civilizations may look to the buildings of commerce that reach to the sky as the emblems of our age. Just as
Roman developments in architecture were influenced by and depended on concrete, the architecture of today is in dialogue with new materials of interior steel structures with skins of glass.

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