The House of Augustus and Livia
When you think of the world’s most significant houses which come to mind? The White House, Buckingham Palace, The Kremlin…how about the Caesar’s Palace? No, not the Las Vegas Casino – the house of Caesar Augustus on the Palatine Hill in Rome. The ruler formerly known as Octavian was the nephew of Julius Caesar and arguably Rome’s most visionary statesman. When his uncle was assassinated he wrested control of Rome from Mark Antony and set about forming its culture and institutions into the most influential empire the western world had ever seen. With a unique mix of ambition and even-handedness he fortified Roman laws, bureaucracy and infrastructure and used them to govern vast swathes of territory. In doing so, he helped create the conditions under which the Empire flourished for some 700 years. He was one of Antiquity’s greatest statesmen and his effect on history cannot be overstated. Visiting his house (which you can only do on a guided tour) gives you an intimate look at the great man’s private life and a unique insight into a mind that was as ruthless and cunning as it was fair and orderly.
Visiting the House of Augustus and Livia: What to See
Many of the Roman Empire’s most powerful men built outlandishly opulent palaces. It’s ironic then that the man who paved the way for their excesses actually lived in what was, by the standards of a day, a humble home. Instead of building a huge villa, Augustus bought a relatively small one on the Palatine Hill. His actions held immense symbolic importance in that they supported his favorite pretense that he was the first among equals (and not an autocratic dictator). They also put him very close to the legendary hut of Romulus, although archeologists have yet to reveal any actual evidence of such a hut. As he consolidated the power of the Roman Empire, along with his own powers, the people told stories of how he slept in the same small, spartan room every night, neglecting to even use much of his own house.
The apartments that Augustus designated for his wife, Livia, were slightly larger and more luxurious, featuring higher arches and more rooms. Livia was actually Augustus’ second wife. They both divorced in order to marry each other, though whether this was because of unquenchable love, or for more political reasons remains a matter of debate. Either way, Augustus lavished a bit more comfort on his wife than he did on himself. Whereas the Casa di Augusto is naked of any marble adornments – another conspicuous modesty – the Casa di Livia features beautiful marble floors. During the excavation of both houses pipes in the walls pointed to the fact that they actually had central heating.
Both houses are immensely well-preserved and taken together form the rarest of archeological sites: ruins that feel like a modern home. Walking through the rooms and corridors it feels as if the inhabitants have simply stepped out for the afternoon and will soon return home to resume life as normal.
One area where Augustus did not skimp was the artwork. He hired the best painters of the day to fresco both his and Livia’s houses with beautiful scenes incorporating realistic (though mathematically incorrect) perspective. They form a proto-trompe l’oeil that turns gray plaster into visions of theatrical shows and country landscapes. Perhaps best of all, they are still in the exact positions in which they were painted. Although they cracked and fell off over time, the pieces were excellently preserved and when the houses were excavated the archeologists were able to simply collect them, clean them off, and put them back together on the walls, piece by piece. Seeing the house today offers you the chance to experience these paintings just as Augustus did over 2,000 years ago.
Tips for Visiting Augustus and Livia’s House
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (on which the Casa di Augusto is located) open at 8:30am every day and always close one hour before sunset. However, you have to book your tickets to the Casa di Augusto separately (see below). They are closed on December 25th and January 1st. Below is the list of closing times according to the time of year as well as special holiday times:
from 8:30am to one hour before sunset (exceptions: Good Friday 8:30am – 2:00pm, June 2 1:30pm – 7:15pm):
8:30am – 4:30pm from January 2 to February 15
8:30am – 5:00pm from February 16 to March 15
8:30am – 5:30pm from March 16 to last Saturday of March
8:30am – 7:15pm from last Sunday of March to August 31
8:30am – 7pm from September 1 to September 30
8:30am – 6:30pm from October 1 to last Sunday of October
8:30am – 4:30pm from the last Sunday of October to December 31
Tickets for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill cost €12.00. However, they do NOT grant you access to the Casa di Augusto. In order to go inside the Casa di Augusto you have to book in advance with specially-accredited tour groups, like Walks of Italy, who can escort you through the house (usually as part of a larger Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill tour).
Like many of the other famous Roman attractions, visitors can enter the Roman Forum and Palatine hill with small bags and medium-sized backpacks. But any luggage, large backpacks or bulky bags are strictly prohibited. In order to enter with a bag you must open it and allow security to inspect it. Because of the security at the entrance you should always arrive 30 minutes before the reservation time specified on your ticket.
There isn’t much in the way of plaques or supplementary info in the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill so if you want to really appreciate what you’re seeing, read up before hand, rent an audio guide, or go with a guided tour.
While the Palatine Hill is (in)famously sun-drenched, the Casa di Augusto can be somewhat cool due to its thick stone walls. If you get chilly easily bring a sweater or cardigan.
The Best Time to Visit the House of Augustus and Livia
Although the best time to visit the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill is the off-season (November – March), Augustus and Livia’s House is slightly different because it requires special access. Even if you go during the middle of the high season, as soon as you walk through the villa’s security gates you will be completely alone with your tour group. This makes the Casa di Augusto the perfect attraction to visit during the high season. Not only can you beat the crowds but you’ll also escape the blazing sun.
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