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Artifact meets avant-garde as Rome museum opens

April 22, 2006|From Reuters

ROME — After years of controversy, Rome on Friday unveiled the first modern building to rise in its ancient center since Benito Mussolini ruled Italy more than half a century ago.

Renowned U.S. architect Richard Meier was on hand for the inauguration of the Ara Pacis museum, a steel, glass and marble structure that has fired Roman passions, with one critic comparing it to a giant petrol station.

"We've made something that is worthwhile," Meier responded to his critics at the gala opening. "To see it filled with people today is a great joy. Rome is a city where people walk and now this will be part of the itinerary."

Meier's building -- the first to be erected in the heart of the city since the 1930s -- was built to house the Ara Pacis, a 2,000-year-old altar commissioned by Roman Emperor Augustus to commemorate the pacification of what is now France and Spain.

Unlike the ancient artists who completed the altar's famous marble friezes in just four years, Meier battled to build the structure for more than a decade amid street protests and budget squabbles.

"Any work of architecture that has with it some discussion, some polemic, I think is good. It shows that people are interested, people are involved," Meier said.

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