Before Rome was an Empire, it was a Republic that had conquered much of Europe and North Africa. Unlike a Christian Church, the ancient Roman temple was not a place of worship, instead, it was the home of a god, represented by a sculpture, and only priests and other high officials could enter.
Looking closer at the Maison Carrée
The Maison Carrée has one room (for the sculpture of the god). It has stairs only in the front that take you to the porch, which is three columns deep. A deep porch and frontal orientation are key features of early Roman temples.
The altar was lost under more than 25 feet of accumulated debris In the middle ages, when ancient Roman monuments were ignored or reused as building material. Most of what we see today was reconstructed from many, many fragments (and much of it remains lost to us).
The front of the Ara Pacis
The Altar is decorated with relief sculptures (once brightly painted). Along the top we see contemporary events, and the history and mythology of Rome, and along the bottom, decorative patterns containing more than 50 species of plants and animals, suggesting the prosperity of Augustus’s reign.
Below we see large acanthus leaves, and vines that swirl in circular shapes, some with flowers in their center. Look closely and you’ll also see birds and grapes.
The procession on the south side of the Ara Pacis
Scholars believe these figures represent Augustus and his family. The hooded figure who faces us is likely Marcus Agrippa—a friend, son-in-law, and lieutenant to Augustus. A small child tugs at Agrippa’s robe —a sweet moment of informality in an otherwise formal and serious procession.
The ancient mosaic on the floor, the paintings on the walls (depicting the history of Rome) from the 16th century, the coffers (recessed panels) on the ceiling that date to the 19th century, and we even have fragments of ancient Roman history on the walls themselves.
Capitoline Wolf (Capitoline Museums, Rome)
The Roman Empire traced its origins back to Romulus and Remus, who according to mythology, were abandoned by their mother and saved by a she-wolf. This image became a symbol of Rome. We see it on early coins and on public monuments today.
The wolf here was long believed to be an ancient sculpture, but recent analysis suggests that the sculpture dates back just to the middle ages. Whatever its date, this sculpture has symbolized Rome for centuries.
Ancient marble tablets,, 27 B.C.E. to 14 C.E.
On the back wall of this gallery, you’ll see fragments of ancient marble tablets listing Roman magistrates and military victors (these are called Fasti). The fragments are two thousand years old and were discovered in the Renaissance — a time when many ancient sculptures were coming to light.
But the stars of this room are two ancient bronze sculptures. Bronze sculptures rarely survived, since bronze is a valuable metal, it was often melted down and repurposed. Let’s start with the oldest one.
Capitoline Brutus, 4th-3rd century B.C.E. (Capitoline Museum
This sculpture got its name, “Brutus” (the founder of the ancient Roman republic) much later, and so we are unsure who this represents. He pushes his eyebrows together (the eyes are made of painted ivory), his jaw is tightly set, and he appears determined—even wise.
Boy Pulling a Thorn from his Foot, 1st century B.C.E.
This beautiful bronze sculpture of a boy pulling a thorn from his foot shows a moment of intense concentration and a complex pose (weight shifted to his right, head down, and one shoulder lifted to twist the foot upward).
There are few sculptures that pack as much of an emotional punch as this one does. This exploration of emotion was typical of art from the Hellenistic period (c. 323-31 B.C.E.).
Dying Gaul, Roman marble copy of a bronze original
This figure has been wounded in battle, and is slowly losing his strength, and dying. Look closely to see the wound in his chest. We admire his athletic body, and imagine that only a very powerful enemy could have wounded a man this strong.
An aqueduct is, essentially, a roadway for water. This aqueduct carried water along 50 kilometers into the city of Nîmes. The water flowed within a covered channel at the top of the aqueduct, and thanks to gravity, it moved downhill toward the city.
Looking closer at the Pont du Gard
The rhythm of the round arches tells us that the Romans were not simply interested in the utility of this aqueduct but also its beauty. The lower level is still used, just as it was in ancient Rome, to cross the river by foot.
In fact you can make out Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. Pompeii was covered in lava, pumice and ash and as a result, largely preserved the way it was on the day of the volcanic eruption.
The basilica in the forum of Pompeii
One of the most important buildings in any forum was the basilica, usually used for administrative business. This was once an impressive building, with tall columns on either side of a large central space covered by a flat roof (the column bases are still standing).