Ceremonial Front
original west front


Back, Front, East, West? This facade is usually described as the "front" because it has been seen and understood as such by the public since the Ara Pacis was first installed in its 1937-38 pavilion. However, here as elsewhere, scholars have proposed different identifications and meanings for aspects of the Ara Pacis.

Many scholars do describe this facade as the "front". However, other scholars have argued, quite persuasively, that the opposite facade was the public front, because it faced the Via Flaminia, the main public avenue on which the Ara Pacis fronted. To make this point, a few scholars have even called the facade shown on this page "the back". However, I consider this term inappropriate for any aspect of the enclosing precinct wall, one of whose formal characteristics is pervasive balance, side-to-side and end-to-end. It is best that we think of and describe the Ara Pacis as having as two opposite fronts.

This facade is also sometimes referred to as the "west". However, I prefer not to rely on this term alone because it is not intuitively obvious to most people and can even be misleading, because what is sometimes  called the "west", its approximate original orientation, faces south as seen today. The doorway of this facade opens directly to the steps of the sacrifical altar. I prefer to describe this as the "Ceremonial Front". Occasionally I use the term "original west front" or even for brevity "west front" (but never "west" alone).

Originally Painted? As with so many ancient monuments, the original surface of the Ara Pacis was not lightly toned marble but instead brightly colored paint. Without this essential aspect of the imagery, interpretations of meaning are necessarily incomplete and in part speculative. In recent years, increasing attempts have been made to suggest the original appearance of various ancient monuments, not only of Greece and Rome but also of India, China, and Pre-Columbian America. The recently proposed reconstructions of the Ara Pacis colors are now impressively demonstrated with color projection directly on the front facades. Based largely on parallels with Roman wall paintings, they are especially to be applauded because they suggest the partly naturalistic appearance of the originals, instead of the flat, cartoon-like treatment of many color reconstructions.