Praecipua (Part two)

So how did these marble reliefs that had been scattered around Italy and beyond come to be reassembled and displayed in a custom-built museum off an alley-like stretch of Via di Ripetta?

Mausoleum of Augustus
Mausoleum of Augustus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To be fair, the location is fitting.  The Via di Ripetta (road of the little bank) has followed the Tiber here for about as long as the altar has been in existence, and also gives access to the Mausoleum of Augustus (sadly closed for renovation when I was there) just opposite the Ara Pacis.

Despite this there is controversy surrounding the Ara.  Quite literally in fact.

Those remains of the altar that had not been collected by the most influential remained buried not far away beneath the Cinema Nuova Olimpia just off the Via del Corso until it was suggested in 1937 that they be excavated and restored to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Augustus.  Not a bad reason per se, but of course this was during the regime of a man who saw himself as a modern-day Roman emperor; Benito Mussolini.  The term fascist derives from

Fasces (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

fasces, the bundle of rods that was a symbol of legal authority for the ancient Romans, and before them the Etruscans.  Interestingly it’s a symbol used internationally since to represent justice – and features on the Golden State Coach used by the British Royal Family.  Mussolini sought to inherit that authority and the glories of Rome by association but in doing so created new meanings.  Just as Augustus had built the altar as an act of symbolism, so Il Duce restored it.  Rome had a new Augustus who once again sought to demonstrate power through association with important things.

Aiming to create a park dedicated to ancient Rome (what was wrong with the Forum?) Mussolini commissioned the rationalist architect Vittorio Morpurgo to design a pavilion which was built around the Ara, resulting in the demolition of many buildings to accommodate it.  Damaged by shrapnel and filled with sandbags during the WWII the pavilion was subject to proposals and counter proposals for its future for decades thereafter.  (This is Italy after all!)

Finally the Fascist structure was demolished in 2006 but the controversy wasn’t over.  American architect Richard Meier‘s replacement is seen as unsympathetic to the surrounding buildings (the baroque church of San Rocco for example, and of course the Roman ruins of the mausoleum), but for me it’s just a bad building that isn’t fit for purpose.

In November 2013 the roof leaked!

At its opening protestors filled the fountains with green dye, and though that was long gone when I was there, the spray from those same fountains made the marble of the steps slick and slippery with black ice on a December morning.

I know the light is lower in the sky during the winter months, but is it acceptable that there are some months when your view of the Ara is striated with bands of blinding light contrasting with deep shadows cast by the structure of the building itself?  It’s as if the artefact has been painted in dazzle camouflage, a technique that deliberately makes things hard to see.

In an odd, but nevertheless welcome piece of juxtaposition the building was also hosting a fantastic exhibition of the work of Hokusai, including his iconic Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and so I bought a combined ticket at the entrance.  Once I’d had my fill of Roman art I spent some time looking for the stairway that would take me to the Japanese.  Silly me expecting it to be within the building.  Instead I had to leave and return to the Via di Ripetta where another entrance existed beneath the main structure.

Schoolboy errors or Praecipua?



Blame Game

Emilia-Romagna, the administrative region of Italy of which Bologna is the capital, is the richest, at least going by per capita income.  With Christmas looming large when I visited there was plenty of that income being exchanged,  especially in some of the more exclusive shopping locations.  Capitalism is alive and well.  Hardly surprising since we are in the wealthy north of the country, where the Lega Nord, the alliance of right wing political parties is at its strongest.  This is the north of Berlusconi.  The north of Benito Mussolini.

And yet there’s another side to Bologna.  The city has a different political philosophy to the region.

When here in England we were just coming to terms with the arrival of Norman invaders, Bologna founded the world’s first university in 1088, and it’s still one of the city’s greatest assets, meaning lots of students in the population.  Students who normally harbour more left wing sentiments.

This is a macrocosm of the country as a whole.  Italy is the only European country to have had both Fascist and Communist governments in some literally very violent swings of the political pendulum.  The period from the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s was known as the Anni Piombo, the years of lead, a reference perhaps to the bullets fired during a period of terrorism where both left and right committed atrocities in the pursuit of power.

At 10.35am on the 2nd of August 1980, Bologna railway station was bombed.

Monument for the victims of the neofascist ter...
Monument for the victims of the neofascist terrorist “Bologna massacre” (1980), at the Stazione centrale, Bologna, Italy. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, November 19 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

85 people died in the blast.

200 more were injured.

It was the worst atrocity on Italian soil since the end of the second world war.

The police and courts judged that members of a Neo-Fascist group were responsible, though the legal and extra-legal process of disinformation, trials, appeals, counter appeals and acquittals lasted until 2003 in a typical Italian process of obfuscation.  Not surprisingly there are plenty of alternative theories as to who was responsible including:

  • The Italian Secret Service
  • The CIA
  • Mossad
  • Palestinian terrorists

any of whom may have been acting on behalf of western governments to carry out false-flag terrorist acts it is claimed.

Like so many of the atrocities committed during those years, the inherent corruption at the heart of Italian culture makes it impossible to discover the truth.  There are two terrible ironies though.

When Bologna’s university was founded it was primarily to translate and study the Digest, one of the key texts of Roman Law.  The city that was prominent in the development of medieval law found itself unable to apply the law to the most terrible infringement.

In the same year that the bombing took place this memorial stone was placed in the city’s main public space, Piazza Maggiore.

_PW_3674It commemorates those who died in Nazi internment camps 35 years before.  A generation later and the lessons had already been forgotten.  And now we’re a further generation on.