Monday, June 1, 2015

Wonders of the Forum Boarium

Today's photos:


1. The Fountain of the Tritons and, in the background, the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

2. The Temple of Hercules has an unusual round shape.

3. A close-up of one of the Corinthian columns on the Temple of Hercules.

4. The Temple of Portunus, god of harbors.

5. The Fountain of the Tritons.

6. A close-up of one of the two tritons on the fountain.

7. The coat of arms of Pope Clement XI between the two tritons.

8. From this angle we see the fountain and, in the background, the Temple of Hercules on the left and a partial view of the rear of the Temple of Portunus.


One of the oldest areas of Rome, perhaps even pre-dating the founding of the city in 753 B.C., is the Forum Boarium, the ancient cattle market of Rome. It is located on the left bank of the Tiber river just downstream from the Tiber Island. This area was once a stagnant marsh caused by the numerous floods of the river. A legend relates that it was here that the shepherd Faustulus found the twins Romulus and Remus.  (See The Sights of Rome, Chapter 22, Romulus and Remus and the She-wolf).


This region of the city, just across the street from the medieval church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, is home to an 18th century fountain and two ancient Roman temples. Although the modern street here is almost always clogged with traffic, a little green space has been created with gravel paths and benches to make the area more inviting to visitors.


The Forum Boarium has a long-standing connection with Hercules and it is believed that the entire area was placed under his protection. The reason for this "Hercules connection" is explained by the following story.


A curiosity


According to the well-known Greek myth, after Hercules had recovered the cattle of Geryon, (one of his legendary Twelve Labors), he rested the animals in the Forum Boarium. During the night, as Hercules lay sleeping, Cacus, a monster who lived on the nearby Aventine hill, stole some of the cattle. Hercules attacked Cacus, killed him and recovered the stolen cattle. An altar, the Ara Maxima, was then set up here in honor of Hercules. Only fragments of the altar have survived, embedded in the wall at the end of a stairway which leads to the crypt in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.


The Temple of Hercules the Victor (photo 2)


This little temple is often erroneously referred to as the Temple of Vesta, probably because it has the same, unusual round shape as the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. It is dated to the 2nd century B.C. and was restored under Tiberius in the 1st century A.D.


The cella, or inner core of the temple is surrounded by 20 columns with Corinthian capitals (photo 3). Several of the original columns were replaced during the restoration of Tiberius. One of them is now missing, but its base survives. The roof we see today is, as in most ancient buildings,  a modern addition. The cult statue of Hercules inside the temple did not survive either, but it's Greek marble base did, at least in part. It contains a partial inscription which mentions the name of the divinity as well as the Greek sculptor of the statue, Skopas. The architect is also believed to have been Greek. The interior can be visited only on rare, special occasions and only with an assigned guide.


The Temple of Portunus (photo 4)


The second temple here is dedicated to Portunus, the Roman god of harbors. Its origins go back to the 6th century B.C., but what survives today is from the 2nd century B.C. Unlike the unusual round Temple of Hercules, this one has the traditional rectangular shape with a flight of steps leading up to the cella. Like the Temple of Hercules, the interior of this one can only be visited by pre-arrangement with an official guide.


The temple is very close to the remains of the Ponte Emilio (Ponte Rotto), the first stone bridge across the Tiber; it is so well preserved because in the Middle Ages it was converted into a church which was subsequently deconsecrated and restored as the original temple. (For more about the Ponte Emilio and its connection with the temple, see Tiber Island and the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, pp. 23-24).


Fountain of the Tritons (photos 1, 5, 8)


The two ancient temples share their space with the beautiful 18th century Fountain of the Tritons. (Be careful not to confuse this with Bernini's Fountain of the Triton in Piazza Barberini). In 1717 Pope Clement XI Albani (1700-1721) commissioned the architect Carlo Bizzaccheri to design and build a fountain in the area across the street from the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The elegant lower basin, octagonal in shape, has eight concave-convex sides;  at the center of it rises a mass of travertine rock.


A curiosity


This particular use of travertine to create the effect of a mass of rocks is modelled on, and obviously inspired by, Bernini's masterpiece: the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, created by the Neapolitan genius about sixty years earlier. The superiority of Bernini's work is evident.


Atop the travertine mass stand two tritons (photo 6) back to back with their tails entwined. They are supporting a small circular basin in the shape of a sea shell. Three small mounds, rise from the middle of the basin and a jet of water shoots out from a small star at the top of them. Water spills down from the sides of this basin onto the rock and then into the larger pool below. The mounds and star reflect the coat of arms of the Pope, which depicts an eight-pointed star above three mounds. The full papal coat of arms is seen in two places on the fountain between the tritons on opposite sides (photo 7).


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