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Rome Restores Trajan’s Basilica With Russian Oligarch’s Funds

View of Rome's Basilica Ulpia and Trajan's Column, recently restored using money from a now-sanctioned Russian oligarch.
View of Rome’s Basilica Ulpia and Trajan’s Column. Credit: profzucker. CC BY 2.0/flickr

A portion of Rome’s Basilica Ulpia, the magnificent columns built under Roman Emperor Trajan, has been reconstructed using funds from a now-sanctioned Russian oligarch.

Recovering some of the monument’s former glory, the new reconstruction of Basilica Ulpia extends the Corinthian colonnade from ground floor to two-story height, which is more than 23 meters to be precise.

“If visitors can’t sense the height of the monuments, they won’t understand the meaning of the architecture,” Claudio Parisi Presicce, Rome’s top official for cultural heritage, told AFP on a tour of the site.


The Basilica Ulpia was the centerpiece of Roman Emperor Trajan’s forum, and happens to be the largest and final of the imperial forums. It is named after Marcus Ulpius Traianus, emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 AD.

The forum was inaugurated in the 2nd century with the majority of it collapsing in the Middle Ages. However, it was unearthed in archaeological excavations in the early 19th century and the 1930s.

The current project began in 2021 with the identification of three green marble columns that had been abandoned for almost a hundred years. These had been “propped up in a corner with no connection with the floor plan,” Presicce said.

Engineers placed the columns back in their original spot on top of the four granite pillars that mark the outer perimeter of the basilica’s first nave. Between the two levels of columns, researchers and technicians have reproduced the entablature with its decorative frieze depicting winged victories sacrificing bulls.


Trajan’s Basilica Ulpia in Rome Partially Restored With Russian Money

The restoration project was financed with a 1.5 million euro donation from Uzbekistan-born oligarch Alisher Usmanov in 2015. He was later sanctioned by the European Union and the US when Russia invaded Ukraine, being accused by the US Treasury of close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The oligarch was estimated by Forbes last year to be worth 14.4 billion dollars. It is money made from the metals and mining industries. Usmanov is reportedly a lover of Italy and had previously donated money for Rome restoration projects.

He was named the “most generous charity donor” by The Sunday Times‘ Rich List in 2021, having given 4.2 billion dollars to charity over twenty years. Presicce avoided questions about the donation, stating it was made before the oligarch was sanctioned and noting that Rome’s ancient heritage was “universal,” as reported by France24.

Roman Emperor Trajan’s extensive military campaigns, which included an almost complete wipe-out of the Dacians in modern day Romania, took Rome’s boundaries to their farthest limits. His two Dacian wars are depicted in a spiral bas relief on Trajan’s Column, situated just north of the basilica. The monument was built in commemoration of the emperor’s victories and spoils of war.

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