#8.1: Curia Julia (Senate Building) - Exterior

Ok now still standing by the Niger Lapis look at the tall intact brick building (25.2 m x 17.6 m and 31.6 m high), that is the Curia Julia. It was the new Senate Building in a new location (replacing the Curia Hostilia whose remains are beneath the church on the left) that was being built by Julius Caesar before his murder in 44 BC.

It doesn't get finished for 15 more years, Rome's kind-of shaky then with the Civil Wars, untrusting internal alliances and that whole Anthony and Cleopatra thing :-) . Octavian (Caesar's great-nephew, adopted son and legal heir) finally becomes Emperor Augustus in 31 BC. In August 29 BC the finished building is inaugurated by Augustus, along with the Temple of Julius Caesar and an extended Rostra that incorporated Caesar's smaller Rostra within it.


Ok we'll now try and picture what this building looked like, use this modern picture to see the areas I mention www.livius.org/a/italy/rome/curia_julia/curia02.JPG in the front of the building, and this for reconstructed photos of the Curia dlib.etc.ucla.edu:8080/projects/Forum/reconstructions/CuriaIulia_1/history. See the square holes below the windows in the facade, they supported a roof that was part of and over the columned portico by Augustus.

The upper row of holes probably supported a low pitched roof that was over the actual flat portico roof which was supported by the bottom row of holes.

Whether the original roof was just flat and this additional low pitched roof was added-on by Diocletian or it was always there I don't know. I mention this because the roof is often said to be flat in the original building. If it was flat it *might* have been used by Senators and VIPs to stand/sit on like a grandstand to watch events in the Forum or the Comitium below (a common practice in other buildings for Forum events)? The Curia Building on an ancient coin (28 BC) shows that the portico extended past both sides of the building. Perhaps the portico turned and extended down the right side of the building? The left side portico probably connected to the Chalcidicum Building that was beside the Curia? A sixteenth Century drawing shows a shortened six columned portico (eight columns stood *directly* in front of the building but the end two are gone because the stairs are now also shortened and angled in at the ends \____/ where they once stood. Also now the portico's roof has a peak /\ which I assume is a later addition (Diocletian?) or an early church replacement? The portico was finally destroyed when the columns were taken by Cardinal Bellaio in the sixteenth Century but the nice door frame survived.

The stairs are a modern (1930's) construction, the original stairs went up from the present day ground level to the portico and probably ran the full front length of the Curia and possibly beyond for the portico.

The large bronze doors (5.9 m) are just modern copies of the originals. The originals were moved to the St. John Lateran Church (where you can see them today ) in 1660 by Pope Alexander VII using the architect Borromini. The Curia is now a church and was partially below street level, when the doors were removed the inside was filled with dirt and refloored to bring it up to the 1660 street level. About 20 feet higher than the pavement you're standing on, before that over the years you had to sometimes walk down steps to the doors and twice these doors were raised up, once by 3 m in 1654 and the windows were blocked-off at that time. When the doors were being fitted to the Lateran Church a coin of Domitian (81-96 AD) was found within the door. The Curia had been restored by Domitian after a fire. Most sources claim these doors were from the Diocletian rebuild after the 283 AD fire but this coin seems to disprove that in my opinion. Perhaps these *are* the original 29 BC doors that have just been restored after each fire? If not, they at least seem to date back to Domitian? By Law the doors were always open when the Senate was in session.

The remains of the door frame is just the basic structure, it was a lot more elaborate.

Each side of the door had a column with a capital holding up a domed pediment, like this TT with a sideways D on top of it. This beautiful frame is gone today but I'm using a 1560 AD sketch which I believe shows the original door frame? Although it is often shown with a triangular /\ pediment in reconstruction drawings? The three windows are original with a southern exposure for the light but they are not on the same level as the side and rear windows. The bottom part of the building was marble-faced meaning marble slabs were attached (riveted) to the brick to make the building look like it was a marble block structure and making it a lot cheaper to build. The marble facing only went as high as the portico. 2 m to the left of the door and about waist to eye level is a small piece (like this [] ) of this original marble facing. It's blocked in the photo by the two people standing in front of it. Above the portico the brick was faced in fine white stucco with lines incised deep into it to make it look just like the marble slab facing, this was even cheaper than marble-facing. If you look to the very top center of the building just below the pediment you will see a short row of this incised stucco (in photo).

Now look up at the Pediment (triangular roof peak, those brackets below the pediments overhanging parts are called corbels and are travertine). I've read the actual roof was flat (it was wooden) so this is probably just a facade (false front). It is original though as this coin, also shown here, of the Curia from 27-8 BC shows. Also the portico had more columns (ten should be shown) but it would have been harder to engrave all of them.

[In the coin photos] At the peak of the pediment is a statue of Victory standing on a globe (she has wings and a Military-type Standard? in one hand and a Laurel Wreath in the other) and two warrior statues at each end. And as you can see some kind of decorative pole-like objects between them IIIIIII. And within the pediment some kind of scene with a single figure, either statues or perhaps a carved scene in painted stone panels or stucco? Whatever was up there you can bet it was very beautiful! The statues were probably a shiny bronze and the pediment was brightly painted.

The Frieze below the Pediment is also shown on that coin photo, it reads IMP • CAESAR for 'Imperator Caesar' which is Augustus' title, like 'Leader of the military and Ruler'. This also lets the Senators know "Who's the Boss" :-) .

To the left of the Curia was the Chalcidicum built by Augustus and later called the Atrium Minerva (after Emperor Domitian's post-fire rebuild he renames it and puts in a statue of Minerva). It was courtyard with a colonnade on each side possibly used as a records repository and where public notices were posted and some also read aloud. The 'Tribune of the People' stood outside the Curia's open doors listening in and would announce the proceeding to the public from the Chalcidicum. It's remains disappeared when a street (Via Bonella) was put through there about 1585.

And to the left of the Chalcidicum was the 'Secretarium Senatus', it was a hall (18 x 9 m) with an apse at one end. It was used for smaller Senate committee meetings (I wonder, SECRETarium = closed door Senate meetings?).

It was possibly built by Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD), it lies in-between the ruins of the Curia Hostila and that present day Church (Santi Luca e Martina). An inscription showed it was restored in 311 AD and repaired after the (410) fire in 412.

Now look to the right of the Curia's door and about 4 m up from the ground. See the group of three shallow but long niches (two side by side and one below their center).

Now look to the left of the door, two side by side and one below the farthest niche on the left. *[You can see all of them in this photo]* Those niches were dug out of the wall for Medieval burial tombs. Notice that would have been just above the ground-level of that time. Also on the right notice about 2 m below those three niches a single earlier burial niche?

On the left notice the niche below the farthest one. It has these three large (about the size of a coffee table book) brick-tiles in this niche. Later look closer at these brick-tiles and you can see a 'brick stamp' on them (a 'brick stamp' usually tells by who and when that brick was made).

These niches have been filled in with cement during the excavation, I assume for structural reasons. And I also assume the one with the brick-tiles was put back to how it originally looked after that niche was cemented in. So a niche was hacked out of the wall, the body placed within and then large brick-tiles sealed up this tomb. Actually just like the earlier Christian Catacomb burials. These niches today contain no human remains.

There were also Medieval burials in the concrete core of the front steps and in the Comitium (both were then below ground level).

For more information and photos, please see Curia in A Tourist in Rome.

Next: #8.2: Curia Julia (Senate Building) - Interior
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