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The Roman Mausoleum of Iguvium


[image ALT: Sitting in the middle of a plowed field, the ruins of a small two-story stone and rubble construction, which may once have been cylindrical but is now slightly conical. It is the Roman mausoleum of Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy).]

Facing NE: the front of the Mausoleum.
The hill on your left is the Monte Ingino (the second mountain of the early Ikuvians); perched on the hill to your right, the church of S. Ubaldo.

The frontal view above, despite the inexplicable film problem, is useful since it provides a clear overview of the structure, gives us an idea of the scale — as it stands today, the monument is about 9 meters tall — and shows us the only remaining limestone facing. A walk around the sides shows nothing but the core of opus caementicium (rubble and mortar) to which the facing, now gone, was applied:


[image ALT: Sitting in the middle of a plowed field, the ruins of a small two-story stone and rubble construction, which may once have been cylindrical but is now slightly conical. It is the Roman mausoleum of Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy).]
Facing SE: the right side of the Mausoleum.
In the background, the church of S. Maria del Prato.

[image ALT: Sitting in the middle of a plowed field, with a few low modern apartment buildings in the background, the ruins of a small two-story stone and rubble construction, which may once have been cylindrical but is now slightly conical. It is the Roman mausoleum of Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy).]
Facing NW: the left side of the Mausoleum.

It's hard to say whether this building has survived well or poorly. Archaeologists do date it to the 1c B.C., which is a long time for a fairly small structure to survive — i.e., one in which the surface-to‑volume ratio is high; on the other hand the facing stone looks pretty sturdy:


[image ALT: A detail of the Roman mausoleum of Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy): a few blocks of a wall of stone-faced rubble.]

Next to the door of the tomb, remnants of the thick facing of squared stone, with the rubble-work behind it.


[image ALT: A detail of the Roman mausoleum of Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy): a small vertical rectangular opening serving no doubt as a gas vent.]

The vent over the door. (A bit further on, you'll see why I don't want to call it a window.)

. . . and then again, maybe not quite as sturdy as all that. The stone the Romans used to build the monuments of Iguvium was a highly friable limestone that weathers very poorly. I regret to say that merely in running my hands along a wall of the theatre (about 200 m distant), with of course no intention of damaging it, I dislodged a thumb-sized chunk of the stuff. Here we see fractures and spalling and crumbling, and a bit of modern flashing installed over the opening by archaeologists in the hope of arresting further erosion.


[image ALT: A compositite picture, in two parts left and right, of the interior of the Roman mausoleum of Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy), showing a bathroom-sized cell lined with squared stone.]

I had no wide-angle lens, but thru the magic of PhotoShop, two shots taken from the door, at different angles, are spliced along the vertical line. The visitor may ask for the key to unlock that door, in theory, at the nearby Roman theatre.

Now who was buried here? As usual, no one knows, but everyone will tell you. Some believe Gentius, king of Illyria, who died in 168 or 167 B.C.; others plump for a local man, a Pomponius Graecinus who was praefectus urbi at Rome. Since the more careful authorities tell us that there is little or no evidence for either one, I have a hunch that these names are those of the only two relatively famous people known to have lived in Iguvium at around the right time; and what are the odds this just happens to be the final resting-place of one of them rather than of someone else? My bet is that we're looking at the tomb of some wealthy merchant or other respectable but quite unknown citizen.

The idea is also put forth sometimes that this is no tomb, but rather a temple, or more accurately, a shrine of some kind. I suppose it's possible, but I really don't think so: this small marble-faced square room was no inner cella — the opening over the door disposes of that; I'd expect a round space inside, columns, and steps; and it just looks like so many other tower-type tombs thruout the Roman world. (The opening over the door might give us just the briefest pause, since the dead hardly need windows; but even in similar tombs built today, they do need an opening to vent the buildup of gases.)


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Page updated: 15 Jun 03