I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Saturday, April 16, 2011

House of Augustus

I knew I was feeling more charitable about Rome when, after seeing the Forum, I decided to hike up the Palatine Hill again, wanting a chance to see it in better weather.

And it was a lucky decision, because whatever mysterious alignment of stars rules the schedule of the House of Augustus was in my favor, and it was open.


Only five people are allowed in at a time (at least according to the sign; the woman at the gate seemed to wave through a random number based on how long she could stand to interrupt her conversation with the man sitting outside her booth.) The line was long and, since it was mostly on a steep cobblestoned path with iron railings on both sides, uncomfortable.

So I waited in line over an hour, to spend perhaps ten minutes in three small stone rooms with vivid, fragmented red and blue frescoes. And it was absolutely worth it.

Augustus lived in this house for forty years, and the frescoes were painted the year after the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when he was still Octavian, long before he became emperor and required a palace just to hold all the titles bestowed upon him by an ostensibly grateful Senate. There's nothing very grand about the house or the frescoes, but to stand in rooms where Augustus once stood, where he scratched his nose or rearranged his toga, where he maybe stared at the painted walls and thought about how to handle the latest conspiracy, or whom to appoint to manage some province, or what Livia might be up to now, was -- there's no other word for it -- thrilling. (No flash allowed so the photos aren't great, but I don't think it matters.)

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