Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Temple of Venus and Rome

Today's photos


1. Teum of the gigantic Temple of Venus and Rome as seen from the Colosseum.

2. A close-up of the enormous niche which held the statue of the goddess Roma.

3. The columns along one side of the temple with the Colosseum in the background.

4. This stone marker in the ground welcomes you in Latin to the Temple of Venus and Rome.

5. This reproduction shows the Colossus of Nero with part of the Colosseum visible on one side and the Temple of Venus and Rome on the opposite side.

6. Here is a reproduction of the scene as the Romans never saw it . . . from the air.

7. The church of Santa Francesca Roman is in the Roman Forum where the Venus side of the temple was.




One of the main purposes of the Roman Forum was to serve as  religious center of ancient Rome.  It was the site of dozens of temples and shrines, as well as the residence of the Pontifex Maximus (High Priest) and that of the Vestal Virgins.  Of the many temples here which we could discuss, I have chosen the Temple of Venus and Rome. It is the largest temple in the Forum, and it seems even larger because it rises at the top of an artificial ridge at the far eastern end of the Forum, just opposite the Colosseum.  It was closed to the public for thirty years but has now been re-opened to visitors after a lengthy restoration and cleaning.  One of the best views of the temple is from the second level of the Colosseum.


Prior to the existence of the temple, this site was occupied by a 100-foot-tall colossal bronze statue of Nero (54-68).  The statue remained on this spot until the time of the emperor Hadrian (117-138) who had it moved down the ridge a short distance away next to the Flavian Amphitheater (Colosseum) in order to make room for the massive new temple which he intended to build on this site. 


A curiosity


The statue of Nero was called the Colossus of Nero, and over the centuries the name of the statue began to be applied to the amphitheater next to it, hence the Flavian Amphitheater became known as the Colosseum.  The statue is believed to have survived until the seventh or eighth century when its valuable bronze was melted down for other uses. (For more about the Colosseum and the statue of Nero, see The Sights of Rome, Chapter 5, The Colosseum).


Hadrian's temple has a double name, Venus and Rome, because it is really a case of two temples in one.  There was a pre-existing Temple of Venus here and Hadrian added to it a second temple dedicated to the deified Rome.  He did this in such a way that the two cellae (inner sanctuaries) of the temples were back-to-back, creating one enormous structure.  Hadrian himself was a talented architect and he is believed to have personally designed the temple.  Another famous temple believed to have been designed by this emperor is the Pantheon.  (See The Sights of Rome, Chapter 16, The Pantheon).


A curiosity


The story is told that there was a prominent architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, who was very critical of Hadrian's design of the temple.  All further public criticism of the temple ended abruptly when Apollodorus was put to death by order of the emperor!                                   


Enough of the temple survives today to give us a very good idea of its great size, including the gigantic niche which held the statue of the goddess Roma.  There were ten enormous columns across at either end and twenty across on the two sides. In addition, there was a covered walkway along both sides of the temple, a feature which many Roman temples had. 


During the pontificate of Paul I (757-763) a Christian shrine was built onto the portico of the original Temple of Venus.  Eventually this shrine became the Church of Santa Francesca Romana which still exists today.  One of the best ways to visualize the great size of the double temple is to imagine that the temple roof was about the same height as the bell tower of Santa Francesca Romana which we see today.


A curiosity


Venus, in addition to being the goddess of beauty, was worshipped by the Romans as the goddess of fertility and prosperity (Venus Felix).  In 176 an altar was set up in her half of the temple, at which newly married couples were expected to come to make sacrifice to her and to ask for fertility and prosperity in their marriage.  This ancient pagan custom has, in a certain way, carried over to modern Christian times because today the Church of Santa Francesca Romana is one of the most popular churches in Rome for weddings.


This was one of the most durable of the ancient Roman temples.  We know that it continued to play a part in the annual celebration of the birthday of Rome (April 21) as late as the fifth century.  It was only in the eighth century that it began to be dismantled so that its parts could be recycled for use in other buildings, a common  fate of many ancient Roman buildings.  It is truly awe-inspiring today to walk around among the enormous existing columns and to imagine its original grandeur.  And just as you have a great view of the temple from the Colosseum, you now have an equally great view of the Colosseum from the temple!


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