On this page, I explore 15 Roman Temples that amazingly have survived their 2,000-year journey into the 21st Century. I hope to share my enthusiasm for Roman temple architecture and history with you through photos, drawings, diagrams, and fascinating information.
A few of the Roman Temples explored here have survived almost unscathed, and they look much like they did nearly 2,000 years ago, such as the famous Pantheon in Rome, shown below:
THE PANTHEON - 1,900 YEARS AND COUNTING
Licensed from Alamy
If you ever go to Rome, make sure to visit the 1,900-year-old Pantheon so you can look up at that huge concrete dome above. You will feel wonder and amazement - a gift from the ancient Romans to you in the present, and you will understand my passion for Roman architecture and civilization.
Of the fifteen temples I will discuss here, only the Pantheon and the Maison Carree are still in very good condition despite almost 20 centuries of weather, wars, earthquakes, and pillaging. Because all the other temples shown on this page have some significant damage, I will often provide an image of what those temples looked like when they were pristine.
Though Roman temples resemble Greek temples, they represent a distinct category of Classical order architecture. All Roman temples shared the same feature of being elevated high on a podium with a staircase in front. Also, Roman temples typically had fewer columns, many of which were often connected directly to the temple walls.
Because Roman temples were found in every Roman city, their familiar architecture helped to promote a sense of unity and Roman identity throughout the empire. These temples were also important to the Emperor because their construction showed his devotion to the Roman gods and the welfare of the people, a quality known as pietas, meaning "religious duty or devotion" in Latin. The word "piety" comes from the Latin "pietas."
All the temples shown on this page have had restorative work done in the last centuries. Furthermore, some temples required much time, work, and resources to restore and rebuild parts of them over the last few centuries. Just think how your city or neighbourhood has changed over 25 years and multiply that by 80 - that is 2,000 years. Now imagine what ancient buildings have gone through - it is a miracle they have survived even partially.
Maison Carrée Temple - 2,000 years and counting
- A masterpiece in white marble -
Licensed from Dreamstime
As you look through many photos of Roman temples below, you will notice several common architectural themes and patterns in each temple. You will also see a dynamic system and philosophy of architecture being used. This system, which evolved over many centuries, emphasized beauty, majesty, symmetry, and proportion in architecture. This is the essence of Classical Architecture.
People still marvel at Roman architectural accomplishments that convey to us the impressive engineering skills, creativity, power, and unique culture of the Roman people and their civilization. Most importantly, I believe that their architecture lifted the human spirit and filled their world with beauty and order. The Romans spared no expense when constructing many of their public buildings. Indeed, the sheer scale and financial cost of ancient Roman buildings are rather fantastic, and I cannot imagine anyone doing that today - the cost and amount of labour required would be enormous.
In addition to building beautiful temples, the ancient Romans used their great engineering skill and imagination to build other architectural wonders like vast Roman bathhouses and theatres that could accommodate thousands. They also built the iconic Pantheon domed temple, vast aqueducts and bridges, the Forums of Rome, the enormous Colosseum, and triumphal arches.
I have created a page that explains clearly, through images and diagrams, the basic terms and concepts used when discussing Roman Temples and their architecture. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes, and you will gain a much greater understanding of the terminology I use when describing Roman Temples according to their style, front column number, and column layout.
Corinthian, Hexastyle, Peripteral (?)
The first time I saw a Roman temple was in Evora, Portugal, as a teenager.
One sunny morning in late summer, while my parents slept in their hotel room, I took off on my own and walked down my hotel's street and then another street, turned a corner and ... there it was - my first Roman temple standing in the middle of a wide open space. It was a complete surprise - I had no idea this town even had Roman ruins.
It is interesting to see Roman buildings in books or documentaries - but suddenly finding yourself face-to-face with an actual Roman temple is really amazing. I was astonished and immediately felt drawn towards one of the temple's majestic columns so I could touch it and make contact with something so ancient and connected to the mythical Romans.
That high and ancient column felt rough to the touch, so coarse and pitted in texture, so darkened by time. I had always expected to see and feel smooth and gleaming white marble - but there was no such marble at this temple.
This structure was the very definition of ancient, and it really showed its scars built over so many centuries. And even though so much of the temple was missing, I still thought it was absolutely marvellous. This 2,000-year-old temple in Portugal is where my ongoing fascination with Roman civilization and its architecture began.
The Temple of Evora was dedicated to Roman Emperor Augustus and not to the goddess Diana, as commonly believed. Some people still refer to this temple as the "Templo de Diana" (Temple of Diana), but they are mistaken.
It is also one of the most important surviving Roman structures in Portugal, and it was built in the year 1 AD (Yes, year "one"). Unfortunately, this temple was partially destroyed due to Barbarian invasions in the fifth century AD.
Because of the significant number of missing columns, I cannot say with certainty whether or not this temple had free-standing columns on all four sides (a Peristyle of columns); nevertheless, I am guessing that it did.
Temple of Evora front view of podium and destroyed staircase
Image Courtesy of Kimble Young
The staircase is also missing, as seen in the great photo above. The stairs would have risen to the large podium (foundation) built solidly of granite blocks that have survived the test of time and multiple conversions from temple to some other kind of structure, as explained below.
FROM TEMPLE TO CASTLE TO TOWER TO BUTCHER SHOP AND BACK TO TEMPLE
Starting in the 1300s, this temple was made part of a castle, then it was transformed during the next century into a castle tower, after which it served as a butcher shop for about 400 years until the early 1800s. That is a very interesting series of transformation from temple to castle to butcher shop - however, I am sure the Romans would not be impressed by that.
Around 1790, the first attempts at restoring the temple began. In the 1870s, serious work towards restoring the temple was undertaken while neighbouring structures were demolished.
The Temple of Evora's Corinthian Capitals
Babak Fakhamzadeh 2022 CC BY-SA-2.0
Notice the unusual vertical flutes on the columns above. I have calculated that each column has only twelve flutes instead of the customary twenty-four - giving the columns a rather rugged and robust look. Also, the columns are not monolithic, meaning they are not one long, solid unit of stone; instead, this temple's columns are composed of several stacked "drums" - and I count about seven of them.
As seen in the photo below from 2019, the Temple of Evora is surrounded by asphalt. Yes, this ancient Roman temple rests in the middle of a parking lot. Unfortunately, this does not really enhance the temple's ambiance, and I find this somewhat perplexing.
Temple of Evora in a ... Parking Lot !
Surely, in my opinion, a building of such historical and touristic importance should be provided with more refined landscaping. Why spend so much time and money restoring this temple and then surround it with asphalt? Instead, why not add some hedges, trees, a few sculptures, a fountain, or a few benches for people to sit on? Wouldn't that provide a much nicer setting? Oh well, I suppose they have their reasons.
If you go to Portugal, try to visit the city of Evora and this ancient Roman temple. This city has a lot of Portuguese charm and interesting historical places to visit. At one time, it was the second-largest city in Portugal and also home to a large Jewish community with two synagogues. It also has a museum, a Gothic Cathedral, an aqueduct built in the 1500s, and a large population of young people because of the University of Evora. Many streets are narrow and filled with white houses and a unique architecture that survived the great earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon (130 km / 80 miles west) in 1755.
Ionic, Tetrastyle, Pseudoperipteral
Temple of Portunus, Rome
We are fortunate that this small temple survived in such a remarkable state of preservation. There have been several restorations, the latest occurring from 2000 to 2014.
The continued existence of this ancient structure is essential because it gives us a glimpse of ancient Rome and the many temples that played such an important role in the daily lives of Romans.
Since the late Middle Ages, this temple has also been called the Temple of Fortuna Virilis ("Temple of Strong Fortune"). However, there is still conjecture as to what name the Romans actually used for this temple. Unfortunately, precise information is not always available when dealing with ancient history and records simply because they no longer exist.
This temple's architectural style is the Ionic Order. We know this because of the capitals with "scrolls" on top of each column. This type of capital is very different from the leafy and cylindrical capital of the Corinthian Order, for example.
It also has a fair-sized podium foundation below the temple which is reached by a staircase. The stone used to build this temple is primarily tuff (also known as tufa) stone and travertine. It has four columns in front and seven along the side, which follows the Roman system of how many columns a temple should have.
This temple is definitely pseudoperipteral, as evidenced by the freestanding columns in the front portico (porch) area and engaged columns further back along the walls.
Temple of Portunus in 1757 as Church of S. Maria Egiziaca
This temple survived into our age in such a well-preserved state because it was converted into a church, Santa Maria Egiziaca, in the 800s AD, shown above. In this image dated 1757, notice how the temple was also physically changed.
Nearly all Roman temples that survived did so because they were converted into Christian churches. However, a few temples survived because they were located in very remote locations that kept them relatively safe from pillagers and wars, etc.
Almost all Roman temples existing today, which both resemble their ancient original form and also are not attached to other structures, had to be restored to that condition. After the Roman empire fell, temples were damaged, destroyed, or dramatically altered - and all kinds of buildings were built beside them, around them, or even inside them. Once again, the exception to this are all those temples that were located in remote and uninhabited areas.
All too often, during the course of their existence, Roman temples had the gaps between their columns filled in with bricks when they were transformed into churches or incorporated within larger structures such as castles. However, with the coming of the Renaissance era, there began a renewed interest and reverence for all things Roman and Greek.
Therefore, starting in the 1400s and 1500s, Europeans began relearning Roman art, architecture, and literature. Eventually, both Church officials and Government officials began making efforts to restore temples to their former state. And this is what happened to the Temple of Portunus, a pattern that has often been repeated. A Roman temple was converted into a Christian church and then became surrounded by newer buildings. After about 1,000 years or more, the church was then reconverted back into a Roman temple, and the surrounding buildings were demolished. I am sure the Romans would have a good laugh at the irony of it all.
Corinthian, Tetrastyle, Prostyle
Known as the Capitol of Dougga, and dating from the 160s AD, this temple was built by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, who were co-Emperors of the Roman Empire during that period.
This temple was consecrated to Jupiter, the most important god in the Roman pantheon. When referring to Jupiter, Romans often used the whole term "Jupiter Optimus Maximus," which means "Jupiter- the best and biggest" in Latin. Jupiter is the equivalent of Zeus in the Greek pantheon of gods.
This temple is reasonably well-preserved, likely due to its remote location in Dougga, Tunisia.
This temple is of the Corinthian architectural style, with Corinthian capitals and elegant columns in the portico only, thus making this a prostyle temple. There is also a large podium made of blocks, not concrete, with a staircase in good shape.
Side view of The Capitol - Dougga, Tunisia
This is an impressive temple, and when you look through the middle columns, you can see a large niche in the Cella back wall where a statue of Jupiter was placed. I am so glad this temple survived the ages so that we, just like the Romans, can enjoy it.
In a typical Roman architectural practice, this structure was one of three temples beside each other, forming a triad dedicated to the top three Roman gods: Jupiter, Minerva, and Juno. These three gods were considered the protectors of Romans and were thus understandably given much importance, love, and respect. Again and again, you will encounter Roman ruins where there is a grouping of three temples dedicated to those same gods.
Unlike so many other Roman temples that have survived, this temple never had its columns "bricked in," nor was it part of another structure. The temple you see today is pretty much how it has appeared over the centuries due to its remote and primarily uninhabited location - quite remarkable, given the 1,500 years of time this temple had to endure.
Nevertheless, some damage is seen along the top of the wall, and the roof is missing. Earthquakes, weather, and perhaps some pillaging have taken their toll. Because the whole roof structure was made of wood, it was the first part to go. Additionally, the brick walls would have been covered with marble veneer or a white stucco with marble decorations. The wall coverings have all vanished. Thus, this temple was obviously quarried for its resources, but not to the degree that demolished most of the structure, fortunately.
Corinthian, Tetrastyle, Prostyle
Temple of Minerva - Sbeitla
The temple seen on the left, the subject of this section, was consecrated to the important Roman deity, Minerva, goddess of crafts and wisdom. It is situated to the left of Jupiter's temple, seen in the centre of the photo below.
As protector of the Roman state, Jupiter was the most important of the Roman gods. On the other side of his temple was another one dedicated to the Roman goddess Juno, a female counterpart to Jupiter and protector of women and marriage. This triad of temples forms one of the most impressive ruins in North Africa. It is located about 250 km from Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia. Many Roman cities had three temples dedicated to those same three gods in their central forum square.
Judging by the number and style of the columns, the Temple of Minerva is another tetrastyle and Corinthian temple. It was built in the second century AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian.
Furthermore, just like the Capitol temple in Dougga, this is another prostyle temple with columns in the portico area only, as seen in this front and side view image (click to view). Usually, a Roman temple with four columns in front should also have seven columns along the side.
The tall plinths (square bottom column supports) are interesting and a bit different. Of course, because this is a Roman temple, it is built upon a podium base with a wide staircase in front. I do not see much decoration on the entablature (horizontal spans above columns) or the pediment (roof).
I also do not see any inscriptions in the architrave or frieze sections of the entablature. Neither are there any sculptures or reliefs that may have existed in the tympanum (triangular area in front and rear roof). They have been destroyed - either by people or by the elements.
If you would like an explanation of the various architectural terms being used, I have created a page that explains clearly and simply the meaning behind each term.
This temple is a bit bare and plain; nevertheless, it still creates a grand ambiance. In Roman times, such a temple would appear far more decorated and alive, with statues, reliefs, hanging drapes, garlands, and colours painted on various surfaces - very different from what we see today.
I find the yellowish, golden colour of the stone to be quite attractive and well-suited to the north African location. Notice, in the image of the temple below, how there is a little bridge spanning over to the central temple of Jupiter from the two other temples.
Three Temples dedicated to Minerva (left) Jupiter (centre) and Juno (right) - Forum at Sufetula, Tunisia
The larger area of ruins where this temple is located, called Sufetula, has an extensive forum covered in ancient paving stones of the same
colour as the temple. And this forum has a peristyle of columns along the outside, creating a dramatic effect.
Other buildings of note at the site are baths, the triple arch of Antoninus (Emperor), a theatre, and many beautiful floor mosaics.
The area had a tumultuous history. During the late Roman Empire (400s), the barbarian Vandals lived in the area, which certainly could have created trouble and damage. The area was renewed during the Byzantine era, which then changed towards tumult again during the Arab invasions in the late 600s AD. Fortunately, the area around the temples has been relatively unpopulated, which has benefitted Sufetula's preservation.
Corinthian, Hexastyle, Pseudoperipteral
Maison Carrée Roman Temple
This ancient building is also a perfect example of a Roman temple that follows all the rules of architecture as set by Emperor Augustus' architect Vitruvius. The miniature Roman temples I make from wood and shown on this website were inspired by the Maison Carrée. These are two French words meaning "Square House."
The 2,000-year-old temple is located in the city of Nimes, France, which was once the Roman province of Gaul during the Roman Empire. This masterpiece was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus around 20 BC. It was dedicated to his two grandsons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, whose likenesses may have been displayed within the temple's cella room enclosure behind the front portico (porch).
The large portico contains ten freestanding columns in addition to twenty engaged columns: six across the front and eleven along the sides.
Side of the Maison Carree Roman Temple in Nimes, France
This the best-preserved 2,000 year old Roman temple
The entablature above the columns is splendid. It is filled with carved motifs of cube-like dentils, egg and dart shapes, acanthus leaves, and flowers. These patterns are shown in greater detail in a photo below the next two images.
Maison Carrée, side view
Maison Carrée before restoration
The temple survived because, again and again, it was converted into a consular house, a stable, and a museum. The upper right image shows how the Maison Carrée appeared before its restoration - almost jarring to see the temple in that state.
Like many other surviving Roman temples located in cities, the Maison Carrée would have looked very different two hundred years ago. Before the 1820s, it was not isolated from other buildings in the city core as it is now. Instead, the temple was part of a complex of buildings. Also, the temple's columns were "bricked in" (as shown above, right) - a far cry from its original and beautiful Classical form. In the early 1800s, the temple was an Augustinian Convent church.
Serious restoration of the temple began in 1816 by engineer Stanislas-Victor Grangent (1768-1843). By 1819, the roof was restored, and the next year the podium of the temple was freed from 1,800 years of dirt and debris that had buried it. In 1823, Mr. Lemoine was commissioned to fashion new temple bronze doors that were installed on March 10, 1824. The very next day, on March 11, 1824, the temple reopened as the Nimes Fine Arts Museum (Musee des beaux-arts de Nimes). After 83 years, the museum closed in 1907.
The whole process of restoration was costly. For example, the new doors cost almost 4,000 Francs, which was a great deal of money then. In the 1980s, the area surrounding the temple was thoroughly cleared of other buildings, further revealing the forum that once surrounded the ancient structure. Through the 1980s, a new roof was built. In 1992, new roof tiles that were moulded by hand in the ancient Roman way were added to the roof.
Starting in 2006, this classic example of a Roman Vitruvian temple was restored to much of its former glory in our century. For example, incredibly, the pure whiteness of its marble was restored. Unfortunately, damage to the lower portions of the portico columns has been substantial but also understandable because marble is not a hard stone - time has taken its toll. If you look closely at the middle two front columns, you will see that marble sections are missing on their inside surfaces.
The Maison Carrée, just like the Pantheon in Rome, has profoundly affected the evolution of architecture in the Western World. These two temples strongly inspired the "Neoclassical" style in North America and "Classicism" in Europe, which began in the 1600s with Claude Perrault.
A form of neoclassical style still exists today, and it is called New Classical Architecture. Many buildings of the 1700s and 1800s through to the early 20th century were based on Roman classical Vitruvian architectural principles.
It is said that when American Statesman, Thomas Jefferson, saw the Maison Carrée for the first time, he stood there for hours in awe. When he returned to America, he started building structures resembling what he had seen and incorporated.
Today, in Washington DC, for example, you can see a new Rome in the Capitol building because it is replete with Corinthian columns and entablatures; and the Jefferson Memorial is a version of the Pantheon in Rome. Below I have included several images showing just a few examples of the influence of Roman and Greek architecture in just one city in North America.
Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C.
Corinthian, Octastyle, Prostyle
In the image above, you can see how the splendid Supreme Court building truly is an enormous Roman temple of the Corinthian order with columns that are octastyle and prostyle in number and arrangement. Notice the beautiful sculptures in the triangular tympanum below the roof. This temple reminds me very much of the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus in Rome 2,000 years ago. The only thing missing is a large altar situated on the bottom steps.
Jefferson Memorial - Ionic, Octastyle, Prostyle
The Jefferson Memorial (above) is a magnificent Ionic-style temple that, architecturally, borrows heavily from the Pantheon in Rome, with a portico in front and a domed rotunda in the rear. The white marble, detailing, and overall structure are a superb testament to the architect's skill. Especially striking, in my opinion, is the massive staircase that extends so widely in front of the columns and portico.
Lincoln Memorial - Doric, Dodecastyle, Peripteral
Image courtesy of John Brighenti - CC BY 2.0
The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC is a large temple constructed in the style of the Doric Order. This impressive structure is very unique because its frontal entrance area is an incredible twelve columns in width, a trait known as Dodecastyle. However, this building has only eight columns along each side, as seen in this image. A Roman-styled structure with a wide front and short sides is a dramatic reversal of typical Roman temple architecture that is narrow in the front and longer along the sides.
In 1922, an American Architect by the name of Henry Bacon decided to put the main entrance on the side of the temple, instead of the front. Nevertheless, the overall effect is stunning, and it serves the purpose of honouring the memory of Lincoln in a very classical way. I am sure the Romans would love it.
The Lincoln Memorial has a robust Greek Doric stylization which conveys a noble solemnity of majesty and power. In addition, the temple structure rests upon a Greek stylobate foundation (three steps all around) that further rests upon a large podium. A staircase is required to enter the building; thus, we see a hybrid Greek-Roman foundation at work here that raises the structure high off the ground in the typical Roman way. Another Roman feature is the narrow abutment on either side of the staircase, a feature seen in almost all Roman temples. This structure, completed in 1922, is an excellent example of the Neoclassical style of architecture working well to honour President Lincoln's legacy.
British Museum in London - built 1759
Image courtesy Ham II - CC BY-SA-03
Very charming and classical are two words that perfectly describe the British Museum in London, England. This museum is a perfect example of the Greek Revival Style. This building is basically an Ionic Temple, Octastyle, with two buildings on either side with a peristyle of more Ionic Columns. These side buildings are reminiscent of the columned porticos on either side of the temple in the Forum of Augustus in Rome.
The architecture of this museum complex creates a small and truncated Roman forum sensibility, despite the overall Greek revival style. Typical of classical Greek architecture, these buildings rest upon a stylobate rather than a Roman-style podium. The huge triangular tympanum filled with sculptures below the roof is very grand. And though the museum architecture lacks the elegance and splendour of the Corinthian style, the Ionic architecture nevertheless conveys a feeling of symmetry and quiet majesty.To see further examples of neoclassical buildings, type "neoclassicism architecture examples" into the Google search engine.
Corinthian, Octastyle, Peristyle with Rotunda
Like the Maison Carrée, this is an iconic structure and perhaps the most stunning example of Roman architecture that has survived into the modern age.
The Pantheon - Rome - 2018
After 1,900 years (128 - 2021 AD), this building is still impressive and resonates with the grandeur and brilliance of Roman architecture and engineering at its finest.
This is an octastyle (8 columns wide) Corinthian Order style temple made of bricks, mortar and concrete. It is divided into three sections: a large portico, a large round rotunda behind, and a rectangular section that joins the first two sections.
The portico is large, with 16 granite columns that are 12 metres high (40 feet). Unfortunately, except for three columns on the far left side of the portico (when facing the Pantheon), most of the details of the Corinthian capitals have worn away with time.
The rotunda, the large circular room beyond the front doors, has a large dome with a hole called an oculus at its centre. The combination of a large dome with a hole at the top that lets in light - and even rain - is a dramatic effect that is best seen in person to appreciate fully.
The Pantheon has the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome
The sloped floor below the oculus and an inconspicuous drainage system clear away any rain that falls into the Pantheon.
The Pantheon survived the ravages of time, gravity, vandalism, and earthquakes for two main reasons: First, it was constructed with resilient concrete that resists cracking, erosion, and water damage. Second, in 609 AD, it was converted into the church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs - (Sancta Maria ad Martyres, in Latin).
After becoming a church, the Pantheon remained in constant use for almost 2,000 years. Of course, there have been partial restorations and alterations over the years; nevertheless, it is safe to say the Pantheon would still be recognizable to ancient Romans despite some cosmetic architectural changes.
A view of the Pantheon from above showing the overall structure of the temple
The granite columns were imported from the Roman province of Egypt, where these massive columns were quarried, carved into the proper shape, and then transported 100 km (62 miles) over the land to the Nile River. At this point, the columns were placed onto barges and then shipped 1900 km (1200 miles) across the Mediterranean Sea to Rome.
Each column was so massive, I am guessing that an ancient barge could handle only one of them at a time. The amount of work, time, and expense to get those columns from Egypt to Rome must have been enormous. It also shows how powerful and rich the Roman Empire was to have been able to do that.
The rotunda dome, an impressive 43 metres wide (142 ft), is still the world's widest and non-reinforced concrete dome structure. Roman concrete ('opus caementicium') was invented by the Romans and is superior to our modern version because it gets stronger with age and can harden even under water.
Pantheon as it appeared in the 1800s with twin bell towers which were removed in 1883
Roman engineers cleverly built the dome by using heavy concrete at its bottom. However, as they built the dome upwards, they progressively used lighter and lighter concrete to reduce the weight. They also reduced the overall dome weight by making 140 deep impressions called coffers along the whole ceiling of the dome. These coffers are arranged in five horizontal bands of 28 coffers each, totalling 140. All that clever effort paid off because, 2,000 years later and despite numerous earthquakes, the vast dome is still there and looking great.
The concrete is so strong and resilient because the Romans mixed pozzolana, a volcanic ash, into their "Opus Caementicum," from which we get the word cement. The concrete was produced by mixing volcanic ash, seawater and lime. Chemical analysis has shown that these ingredients interact to form crystals that resist the micro-cracking that degrades and weakens modern concrete over time. It is this 'cracking' that plagues our modern concrete that requires iron rebar reinforcement to be strong enough. The Pantheon dome contains no metal reinforcing - just 100% concrete.
Of course, the Pantheon, just like the Maison Carrée, has greatly influenced Western architecture. Examples of buildings mimicking the Pantheon can be found in the Americas and Europe.
This website has a two-page section devoted to the Pantheon, where many aspects of this magnificent structure are explored through beautiful images, photos, diagrams, videos, and some of my own art. You will really enjoy yourself and learn many interesting things.
Corinthian, Hexastyle, Prostyle
Roger Ulrich - CC-BY-NC 2.0
Instead, it was dedicated to Faustina, the deceased wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius. Furthermore, after the emperor died, the temple was also dedicated to him - this is why the romantic name of this structure is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.
The two photos below show this temple in 2019 and 170 AD. Today, this temple is now the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. The model of the original temple on the right shows the structure after both Faustina and her husband passed away. As you can see, the columns and some of the entablature above them are the only parts that have not changed. Everything else, including the roof, stairs, and door, has been altered or removed.
Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda
Model of original temple
Notice how the beautiful corinthian capitals above the columns have deteriorated over the centuries. The door in the 2019 photo is 6 metres (20 ft) above the porch because extensive excavations in the 1800s significantly lowered the ground level of the whole Roman Forum. Thus, you can no longer enter the church through that door and must enter from the rear of the building. Of course, the original tall and wide bronze doors are long gone, replaced by the smaller and higher door we see today.
The photo below shows the church interior within the former Cella of the temple. The elevated doors have been opened, and people are looking out at the forum below. If you visit this church, you will need special permission to have those doors opened. The interior design was by Orazio Torriani in 1602. This church is much bigger inside than you might imagine. Also, there is either a crypt and/or a museum dedicated to pharmacology below the church on the lower level - I cannot remember exactly.
Interior of San Lorenzo di Miranda in 2011
Image - American Academy in Rome
Though this temple was not dedicated to a Roman god, this did not mean it was dedicated to ordinary human beings. After their deaths, both Faustina and her husband were deified by the Roman Senate, meaning they were declared gods. In Roman times, people who were deified were known as a "diva" (female) and a "divus" (male). However, the Roman religion made a clear distinction between an actual god - known as a "Deus" - and deified people - known as a "divus" or "diva." For example, a divine Faustina was definitely not the equal of the iconic Roman goddesses Venus, Diana, or Minerva.
Faustina died at the age of only forty, which devastated her husband, who loved her dearly. After the Roman Senate deified Faustina, her cult was established, and her husband was incorporated into her cult after he died.
Antoninus Pius 86 - 161 AD
Faustina the Elder 100 - 140 AD
Above, you can see images of Emperor Antoninus and his wife, Faustina the Elder.
In addition to having Faustina deified by the Roman Senate, Antoninus had a temple built for her, and coins and statues were made in her image. Faustina thus became the first female diva goddess in the Forum Romanum. Moreover, her cult became widespread, as evidenced by a huge marble head of Faustina discovered far from Rome in present-day Turkey.
Emperors were deified after death only if they had done great things for Roman civilization and they had also governed well. Sometimes, relatives could also be deified, such as in the case of Faustina and Augustus' wife Livia, for example.
In the 600s AD, the temple was converted into the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, which was built into the temple's pronaos (portico area).
After the western Roman empire fell in 476 AD, the ground level surrounding the temple rose as the whole Roman Forum area was filled in by several metres (yards) of dirt, debris, and sediment from floods. Thus, parts of this temple, such as the podium base supporting it, were not seen for hundreds of years until excavations were done.
Many alterations were done to this temple's interior Cella due to church renovations over time, and the original temple roof is gone. Nevertheless, despite losing some features, the temple still retains some pleasing aspects.
The columns, which are made of "onion marble," have a lighter colour than the other parts of the temple - this creates a pleasant contrast with the rest of the structure. The sides of the temple are dark and full of holes now. However, in the past, they covered the walls with marble slabs, with more marble moulding on top. Unfortunately, because nearly all the marble has vanished, this temple's outside walls look rather bare and drab.
Griffin reliefs along the top of the entablature
Image courtesy of Slices of Light - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
In the photo above, carved reliefs of Griffins, garlands, and candelabrums can be seen all along the top of the entablature. The worn and heavily damaged Corinthian capitals on top of the columns resemble the capitals seen in front of the Pantheon - both structures date from the same time period (128 AD and 141 AD). Above the second column from the left, you can see a surviving section of the elaborate Cornice covered with dentils and egg-dart motifs. The Cornice ran all along the top surface of the entablature on all four sides of the building.
Inscription on the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Image courtesy of Slices of Light - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
As shown in the image above, Latin inscriptions on the entablature above the columns clearly indicate that this temple is dedicated to Faustina and her Emperor husband, Antoninus Pius. The inscription is shown below with the English translation after.
DIVO ANTONINO ET DIVAE FAUSTINAE EX S C.
(For the Divine Antoninus and the Divine Faustina by decree of the Senate)
After his death, an Honorific Column was erected in his honour. Though the column itself is gone, the base has survived, and it contains beautiful high-reliefs, as shown below. Emperor Antoninus and his wife Faustina are being carried aloft by a winged entity to become gods. This sculpture is currently located in a courtyard of the Vatican Museum.
Antoninus and his wife Faustina rising to heavens and becoming gods (above left wing)
By Lalupa - Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 - Educational Use
Despite the many changes to this Roman temple over almost 1,900 years, it is still one of the best-preserved structures in the Roman Forum. The columns and architrave of the front portico section have survived, providing the essence of an ancient Roman temple for us to enjoy in the 21st century.
I am glad that Antoninus and his wife, Faustina, are still remembered, which was the original purpose of this lovely temple. It is located on the north side of the Roman Forum, between the Basilica Aemilia and the Church of Cosmas and Damian (formerly the Temple of Romulus). You can see it for free from the Via dei Fori Imperiali roadway. However, to see it up close, you will have to purchase a ticket that allows access to the Roman Forum (Forum Romanum).
Ionic, Hexastyle, Peripteral
Temple of Garni - Armenia
I really like its location on top of a hill, making it look like it was built on a small Acropolis. This beautiful setting and backdrop enhance the temple's architecture and ambiance.
It is located in Armenia and was built in the year 77 AD by King Tiridates I.
The temple was devoted to the Sun god Mihr, also known as Mithra, in that part of the world. To the Romans, the god of the Sun was called Sol Invictus ("unconquered Sun").
This temple survived the Christian purges and destruction of Pagan temples because, in the 4th century, the temple was considered a tomb and not a temple. Otherwise, it would have been destroyed.
Instead of marble, this temple was built primarily of basalt stone from nearby quarries. Additionally, its structure is known as a "peripteros," the noun form of "peripteral."
The photo below shows the Temple of Garni in 1947 before it was restored. All the columns have toppled and are lying beyond the podium base. Only partial walls remain standing on the podium, and even the staircase has parts missing. In the foreground, you can see a section of the entablature that existed above the columns.
Temple of Garni in 1947 before restoration
In 1679, an earthquake badly damaged the temple, turning it into the ruin seen in the photo above. That must have been a really devastating earthquake judging by the shattered ruins. It looks like the poor temple was nearly obliterated as if a massive bomb had gone off inside.
After 300 years in a ruined state, work began in 1969 to reconstruct the temple. It took six years to completely rebuild the structure to its former glory, as seen in the photos below. The Temple of Garni is the only example of a Roman-era temple in a country (Armenia) that was a part of the former USSR. Furthermore, it symbolizes the pre-Christian era that existed for so many centuries before Emperor Constantine I Christianized the Roman Empire after his conversion in 312 AD.
Front View of Temple of Garni
Close-up of Temple of Garni Column
Judging by the photos above, the people who restored the temple did a fantastic job. Look at the details in the photo (upper right) of the column and structures above it - such beautiful work.
This temple was located on the far eastern edges of the Roman Empire. Its location shows the extent and influence of Roman Civilization over much of the face of Europe and parts of Asia and North Africa. I am glad they reconstructed this charming and ancient building. I am sure that present-day Armenians are very proud of this ancient and beautiful building.
Corinthian, Hexastyle, Peripteral
Temple of Augustus & Livia - Vienne, France
During Roman times, the City of Vienne was named Colonia Julia Augusta Florentia Viennensium. Typically, when a city outside of Italy was sufficiently romanized, it could officially become a "Colonia," which would then confer Roman Citizenship upon the city's inhabitants.
The Temple of Augustus and Livia was constructed by the fourth Roman Emperor, Claudius (10 BC/BCE - 54 AD). He reigned for thirteen years between the notorious reigns of Emperors Caligula and Nero. He was also the step-grandson of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, who passed away in 14 AD.
By building this temple, Claudius was honouring his grandparents, Augustus and Livia, whom the Roman Senate had deified.
Front View of Temple of Augustus & Livia
Close-Up Detail of Temple of Augustus & Livia
This temple is much like its Maison Carrée counterpart in Nimes, France. Both Roman temples are Julio Claudian temples, both are of the Corinthian order, and both are Hexastyle (6 columns in front).
However, unlike the Maison Carrée, this temple has only six columns along the side, not eleven. Thus, the Temple of Augustus and Livia does not follow a Roman architectural principle regarding the number of side and front columns, as set down by Roman architect Vitruvius.
In an interesting contrast with the Maison Carrée, the Temple of Vienne instead has six freestanding columns along the side in combination with two pilasters at the end. Although flat pilasters may bear some weight, they are not actual columns and are mostly just decorative.
As seen in the left photo above, the temple has damaged columns due to fasteners attached while it was part of other structures, such as a church, a museum and a library. However, beginning in the early 1820s and the 1850s, the temple was restored to the condition we see today in the 21st century. A final point of interest is that, during Roman times, this temple was part of a complex of administrative and commercial buildings that filled the town's forum (town square). I am glad this temple has survived for us to enjoy today.
Corinthian, Tetrastyle, Prostyle
Built sometime during the first decade of the first century - 10 AD, for example - this temple is located in Pula, Croatia. It was dedicated to both Roma (goddess Protector of Rome) and the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, during whose reign it was constructed. You would think this temple should be called the "Temple of Roma and Augustus," but it is referred to as just the "Temple of Augustus."
This temple has only six columns, all located in the front Portico (porch) section. The columns are an impressive 14 metres high (46 feet), and like the rest of the temple, they are of the Corinthian Order with Corinthian capitals above them. However, they are not fluted, which is not unusual.
Close examination of the columns shows they all have horizontal cracks roughly at the same elevations, indicating they were possibly formed from three stacked marble drums. Columns are made from either one single piece of marble or multiple round sections of marble that are stacked on top of each other.
Interestingly, this temple was dedicated to Augustus as Pater Patriae ("Father of the Homeland") and not as Divus Augustus ("The Divine Augustus"). The reason is that he was still alive by the time the temple was completed. Therefore, he could not yet be deified (transformed into a Roman god). Augustus passed away in 14 AD.
The original Roman name of the city where the temple is located was Pola ("Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea"), and not the current name of Pula." In addition, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres, the "Pula Arena," is located in this city. At its height during Roman times, the city's population reached 30,000, making it an important port city on the Adriatic sea.
Unfortunately, this town supported the wrong side during the Roman (Liberators) Civil War (42-43 BC), caused by the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. As a result, the whole town was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. Thus, the temple was constructed during the rebuilding period of the town.
Despite being a relatively small temple, it is still quite elegant and well-proportioned. Furthermore, it has a good entablature and ornate cornice with many surviving modillions giving it a definite Corinthian order style and ornate appearance in addition to the Corinthian Columns.
Temple of Augustus side view
The photo above shows the whole side of the temple. The Cornice along the roof edge ran along all sides as did the entablature and the Frieze with its floral reliefs. You can see that the temple has space around it on all sides, though there is a building close by on the right. In the past, this temple was one of three located beside each other. Unfortunately, the other two temples did not survive.
The photo also shows columns in the front and on the sides of the entrance area only (the portico). Thus, behind the entrance area, there are only walls. Roman architects typically did not emphasize the sides and rear of a temple, instead focusing mainly on the frontal presentation of the structure. In typical Roman fashion, this temple has a projecting structure on either side of the staircase. In the past, these projections often held braziers or sculptures at their front.
From a distance, the Temple of Augustus might seem a bit plain for a Corinthian-style structure. However, if you look closely at the photo above, you will see much detail. While not as elaborate as the Maison Carree temple, for example, the Temple of Augustus has a fair amount of detail in its entablature, especially in its Cornice.
Close inspection shows many running carved "egg-and-dart" motifs, in addition to elaborate modillions interspace with rosettes. Also, while the frieze in the front appears plain, it is decorated with floral reliefs along the sides. The frieze, located at the front of the temple, is unadorned because this is where the Latin inscription was located. Part of the ancient Latin inscription still exists. Experts believe the whole inscription was:
ROMAE ET AVGUSTO CAESARI DIVI FILIO PATRI PATRIAE
To Romans & Augustus, son of divine Caesar, Father of the Homeland
I believe there also are very small dentils present, located along the top of the Cornice and within the triangular tympanum area below the roof. Of course, because this temple was damaged over the centuries, many architectural details were degraded and darkened. I am sure that, 2,000 years ago, this temple was stunning.
The Temple of Augustus is an excellent example of Roman architecture during the early ages of the Empire. Over the many centuries of its existence, it was converted into a Christian church and then later used as a storehouse for grain. Beginning in the 1800s, the temple was then converted into a museum which stood until it was destroyed in 1944 during World War 2. The temple we see today is the restored version from 1947. The only remaining part of the two temples that once stood beside it is a back wall that is now part of Pula's City Hall.
Currently, it is a type of museum for archeological stone fragments from sculptures, reliefs, columns, entablatures, etc. The term for this kind of museum is lapidarium.
This is a really nice temple - I hope it continues to exist for many more centuries.
Corinthian, Hexastyle, Prostyle
Temple of Vic - Spain
Also unknown is what or to whom the temple was dedicated - that information seems to have been lost. Furthermore, because the original structure (entablature) above the front columns was destroyed, any ancient inscriptions with relevant information are long gone.
Today, this temple is located in the heart of the city of Vic in Spain, 70 km (43 miles) northeast of Barcelona. However, in Roman times, this temple was located at the highest elevation in what was then the Roman city of Auso, later renamed Vicus Ausonensis. The current Spanish city of Vic gets its name from "Vicus," meaning "neighbourhood" in Latin.
Incredibly, this temple vanished from view for almost ten centuries because it was part of the Els Montcada Castle, built in the year 897 AD. This castle was used as a headquarters, a granary, and even a prison. While the castle was being demolished in 1882, the ancient Roman temple was finally rediscovered. Fortunately, because it was hidden for so long, many parts of the temple were in good condition, except for the front.
Once again, the history of this temple provides another example of an ancient Roman building surviving centuries of wars and pillaging because it was either converted into a church, part of another structure, or very isolated.
The front of the temple (portico) was damaged when Vicus Ausonensis was destroyed in 826 AD by Arab Moors who invaded Spain in the 9th century. Only the temple's walls survived the general destruction of the city. In the 870s, when the Arab invaders reconstructed the city, the temple walls became part of a courtyard. By the year 1200 or a bit sooner, the temple became part of the Castle of Montcada. This situation lasted until the late 1800s. Over the next century, the process of restoring the temple to its original condition began.
Temple of Vic front Portico at night
Because the temple's front portico and staircase had been destroyed, a whole new front had to be rebuilt, as seen in the photo above. Fortunately, archaeologists found the original columns and capitals lying nearby deep in the ground, covered by centuries of dirt and debris.
Using the discovered parts, they assembled them onto the surviving podium (temple base) and temple walls that formed the Cella room. A new staircase was then built, and missing parts were replaced to create the reborn Roman temple we enjoy today in Vic, Spain. Sometimes, Roman temples are like smashed vases that are glued back together, with a few new pieces added to replace the missing ones.
A big thank you to all the people who brought this temple to its current and good condition.
Ionic, Hexastyle, Pseudoperipteral
Eight columns of Temple of Saturn still standing in the Roman Forum
Dedicated to the Roman god Saturn, this temple was first built around 500 BC, making it one of the oldest temples in Rome. However, this unfortunate temple was plagued by fires. In the 400s BC, 42 BC, and again in 360 AD, the temple was damaged by fire and had to be reconstructed. Thus, the Temple of Saturn ruins we see in Rome today date from the last reconstruction in the late 300s AD.
Fires and earthquakes were usually why Roman temples and other buildings had to be rebuilt. Even the large inscription above the columns (left photo below) of the Temple of Saturn says, in Latin:
Temple of Saturn, Portico, Staircase mostly missing, Inscription visible on Architrave
Temple of Saturn in the 4th Century AD - Columns and above are painted as was commonly done
The image above (right) of a reconstructed Temple of Saturn is very interesting - it is also accurate because it shows a temple with columns and areas above them painted in red. Temples that were painted were more the rule rather than the exception. Furthermore, the concept that Roman temples and statues were all white marble is not correct. Instead, they were often painted and sometimes also decorated with garlands of flowers or even hanging draperies.
Additionally, in the photo reconstruction above, you can also see how the temple has columns along the sides and front. And though you cannot see them, there are also columns in the rear, which you can see by clicking this link. And this link shows a diagram of the whole floorplan of the temple.
Because only the front ten columns are freestanding and the others are all partially embedded in the walls, this is a "pseudoperipteral" temple and not a "peripteral" temple. It was six columns wide and eleven columns long, for a total of thirty columns.
Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus - Rome
In the Roman religion, religious services typically were not held in the actual temple. If there was a public religious event, it would be held in front of the temple, where an altar was usually provided. An example of a Roman religious ceremony taking place in front of a temple can be seen in the image (right) which depicts an ancient high relief sculpture showing Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 - 180 AD) sacrificing in front of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in Rome.
All that remains of the Temple of Saturn today are eight columns believed to be from Egypt, a section of the entablature above those columns, and the podium foundation. Except for the Ionic capitals, which were new at the time of its construction, nearly all the other components of this temple were made from recycled parts (such as the columns) from other temples during its construction.
in the entablature states that the current temple we see was constructed by SPQR - "The People and Senate of Rome"
(Senatus Populusque Romanus).
Roman god Saturn
Actually, Saturn was not a god - he was a Titan, which was a being more powerful and existing earlier than the Roman and Greek gods.
However, for most of the year, if you entered the temple you would see a large statue with its feet bound with wool. The binding was unloosened only for one week beginning December 17th, which marked the festival of Saturnalia.
This festival, dedicated to celebrating the god Saturn for seven days, was a time of merry-making and enhanced freedoms for slaves who switched roles with their masters. It was also a time of gift-giving, eating, drinking, singing, gambling, and free speech.
Ancient writings describe Saturnalia as the "best of times" and the "merriest of times." Long after the Roman empire collapsed in the west, these Saturnalia customs continued for many centuries and still continue today.
There is considerable opinion that Saturnalia evolved into Christmas. I have also read that Saturnalia was a festival of light - burning torches and candles - and of bringing greenery, such as trees, into the home. I am not sure how accurate that is, but it is attractive due to the obvious comparison with Christmas practices.
Romans celebrating Saturnalia at home
John Reinhard Weguelin - 1884
Perhaps, in addition to saying "Merry Christmas," we could also add the occasional "Merry Saturnalia!" as a tribute to the Roman origins of this happy time in December.
Corinthian, Decastyle, Peripteral
Temple of Jupiter - Baalbek, Lebanon
Dedicated to the supreme Roman god Jupiter, this magnificent temple was completed in approximately 60 AD. Its location in Baalbek, Lebanon, was known as "Colonia Julia Augusta Felix Heliopolitana" during Roman times. Because of the temple's location, this version of the god was known to the Romans as Jupiter Heliopolitanus.
The Temple of Jupiter Heliopolis was massive, the largest in the whole Roman Empire. It was ten columns wide in front and 19 columns long along the sides, for a total of 54 huge columns on all four sides (a Peristyle).
Each column was 18 metres high (60 ft) and 2.5 metres wide (8.2 ft). When you add together the height of the columns and all the structures above them (entablature and roof), this temple stood 46 metres (150 ft) high. This height is the same as the Statue of Liberty.
This temple and the whole complex it stands on took almost three centuries to build. It was also the location of an important Roman Oracle, which is discussed at the end of this section.
Sadly, after suffering severe earthquakes, pillaging, and the ravages of 17 centuries of time, this once huge and magnificent temple has been reduced to just six columns - just a shadow of its former glory.
Even though over 90% of this temple was destroyed, its overall height can still be calculated based on the diameter of its columns and the properties of its Corinthian Order of architecture. A Classical Roman order of architecture spells out all the proportions of a building based on the width of its column at its bottom.
This huge temple was built on a massive podium foundation that was built on an even wider platform housing other temples. The temple podium is composed of huge, heavy blocks from a quarry that was fortunately nearby.
With so many massive columns, imagine the tremendous amount of effort that went into their creation and placement. A point to consider is that these columns were not made from one solid piece of stone - known as "monolithic columns." Instead, the Temple of Jupiter's columns were made by stacking three stone "drums."
To lift very heavy weights, up to 100 tons, Roman engineers used a human-powered treadmill crane called a Polyspaton. This crane was so efficient each person in the treadmill generated over 6,000 pounds (3000 kg) of lifting force. These types of cranes were also employed during the Medieval Age to lift heavy weights during the construction of castles and enormous Gothic cathedrals, for example.
If you would like to read an excellent and thorough article (written in 2013) about Roman Engineering and how they were able to lift and move enormous weights, then follow this link. I really learned a lot from this article and it was really interesting.
Temple of Jupiter Heliopolis and staircase
After most of the temple had been destroyed and removed, a basilica was built from the remains of temples at the site. The basilica, in a twist of irony, no longer exists. As you can see in the image above, this truly was a huge temple. It must have been a marvellous sight to behold many centuries ago. Although much of the temple of Jupiter Heliopolis is gone, many other temples in Baalbek have substantial ruins still standing that make this area worthwhile seeing.
This temple also served as the location of an Oracle which, history tell us, most famously made a prediction regarding Emperor Trajan, prophesizing that he would not return from a campaign against the Arsacid Empire. The writings of Theodosius, a Roman writer of the late 4th century, tell us how the oracle worked which I describe below:
A statue of Jupiter Heliopolitanus was placed on a kind of stretcher supported by several attendants of Jupiter (Flamines). Apparently, these attendants were then inspired by their god to move the statue around the inside of the temple in certain directions that were interpreted by the Flamen Dialis, a high priest of Jupiter. And, thus, movements of the statue around the temple floor corresponded to a prediction - somewhat like the movements of a "ouija" board - and that was how the oracle worked, apparently.
Corinthian, Tetrastyle, Prostyle Portico with Peristyle Rotunda
Temple of Venus - Baalbek, Lebanon
This temple is unique and relatively small compared to many of the much larger temples in Baalbek. As seen in the images below, it had a high and varied staircase leading up to the temple entrance.
This beautiful Roman temple resembles the Pantheon in Rome because it has a portico entrance in front and a rotunda in the rear that is covered with a dome. The small rotunda has four freestanding columns along its outside circumference, with five niches built into the round outside wall in which statues were housed.
This elegant temple exemplifies how Roman architects were imaginative in their design and always willing to construct temples that wandered rather far from conventional Classical Greek temple architecture.
Below (left) is an image of the Temple of Venus in Baalbek, which I created by remastering an old black and white line sketch by adding colour, textures, people, and landscaping.
Next to the colour image are two other drawings of a reconstructed Temple of Venus; the lower image is a floor plan diagram that clearly shows the uniqueness of this temple's simple yet elegant design and layout.
Temple of Venus Recreation - Top View
Temple of Venus, Reconstruction View of Front and Side
Temple of Venus Floor plan
It is interesting to note a significant difference between the two reconstructed images: the pediment above the front columns in the colour recreation does not match the pediment shown in the black and white image. The likely reason is that the pediment did not survive; thus, people have to guess what the actual pediment looked like.
I prefer the first design shown in the colour reproduction as it is very elegant and so different from the typical Roman pediment and tympanum structures found in typical Roman temples. The gap in the middle is brilliant, adding a unique stylization to the whole structure.
Notice, in the lower part of the floor plan diagram, the large and varied staircase, incorporating three tiers of stairs - this is remarkable considering the rather small size of the overall temple structure. Notice also the contrast between the size of the portico in relation to the small rotunda. The five concave indentations on the outer rotunda base, matched by the five niche spaces for statues, are very sophisticated and create a pleasant symmetry.
Romans were inventive and daring in their use of domes, arches, high podiums and concrete. Their architectural skill reached its zenith in the construction of the Pantheon, the Colosseum, huge bathing facilities such as the Baths of Caracalla and the Baths of Diocletian, in addition to extensive aqueducts and bridges.
The Romans were undoubtedly and primarily inspired by Greek temple design. However, Roman temple architecture evolved to be unique and distinct because of the Etruscan influence, imaginative ideas, and Roman societal and religious needs. When I look at the Maison Carree temple, for example, I see classical architecture that is uniquely Roman, majestic, beautiful and very durable. The Roman practice of building their temples on a high podium with abutments on either side of a wide and high staircase was a brilliant idea. Elevating their temples added grandeur and authority to the structure.
This beautiful little temple is a perfect example of Roman design at its finest - it is one of my favourites.
Temple of Venus Reconstruction - Rear and Side View
The combined effect of its overall layout and delicate Corinthian detailing must have created a charming sight to behold when the Temple of Venus was newly built.  This temple is more than just a structure - it is a work of art and a tribute to its architect.
Of course, this beautiful and delicate temple was dedicated to Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty, prosperity and fertility. She was highly regarded by the Romans, who considered her a mother of Rome because they believed that her son, Aeneas, was the ancestor of Remus and Romulus, the founders of Rome.
It is said that Venus was born of sea foam and was closely associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. These two goddesses were both represented by shared symbols such as the dove, pearls, seashells, and dolphins.
Every year, on April the first, the Romans celebrated Veneralia, the festival of Venus in her role as "Mater Venus Verticordia" (Mother Venus the Changer of Hearts)."
Veneralia is the Latin word from which we derive the English word "venerate." The meaning we associate with this word comes from the Romans' great care and attention to the goddess. They lavished much love and care on the statue that represented Venus by dressing it, bathing it, and putting garlands of flowers around it. Afterwards, they would elevate the statue and carry it through the city with great fanfare, music, chants, and singing.
Obviously, when looking at a photo of this temple today, you can see it has suffered severe degradation - but it still exists. Very likely, the main reason it survived was that it was converted into the church of Saint Barbara, the saint of protection against lightning.
There is a tradition that says several Christians were martyred very near this temple by angry pagans who fed them to swine because the Christians banished the practice of religious prostitution. However, it is hard to ascertain whether there is any actual truth to that story, which is a common occurrence when looking far back in history.
Corinthian, Rotunda (Thalos), Peristyle
Temple of Hercules Victor - Rome
This temple has a peristyle of twenty tall Corinthian columns all along the outside perimeter of the temple. However, one of the columns is partially missing, as is the original roof and entablature above the columns.
The circle of columns surrounds a round cella room with walls made from the original travertine stones. In the middle of this room, a statue of Hercules Victor or Hercules Oliviarius would have stood.
The temple does not sit on top of a podium like most Roman temples; instead, it rests on a three-step stylobate made of volcanic stones.
Once again, this is a temple that survived because it was converted into a church, the name changing three times from Santo Stefano Rotondo, then Santo Stefano alla Carozze in the 1100s, and finally to Santa Maria del Sole in the mid-1700s.
The columns are 33 feet high (11 metres), and the temple width is about 50 feet (15 metres).
It is located in the port and marketplace area of Rome called the Forum Boarium, near the Tiber River.
The temple is also very close to the Temple of Portunus. It was built by either a merchant named Marus Octavius Herrunus or a Roman politician Lucius Mummius Achaicus.
Temple in 1700s before ground lowered in 1810
Temple Floor plan Showing Circular Arrangement of 20 Columns
Notice, in the above image (left), how the ground was level with the door, and the stylobate foundation cannot be seen at all - this was the case until about 1810, when the ground around the temple was lowered.
In the late 1800s, the church of Santa Maria del Sole was deconsecrated, and the temple was restored to its present condition in 1996.
Interestingly, the columns are made of Pentelic marble, the same marble found at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
The temple is dedicated to Hercules Victor, god of Commerce and Victory, related to the Greek Heracles, and also known as Hercules Oliviarus, the god of Olives.
Olives were very important to the Roman way of life at that time. Not only were olives eaten, but they also used the oil from olives for cooking, lighting their homes, cleaning the skin, massage, religious practices, lubrication, and perfumes. So naturally, the olive was a vital food and resource in Roman civilization.
DIVERGENCE FROM VITRUVIAN ARCHITECTRUAL PRINCIPLES
The details and height of the columns in this temple are both beautiful and also extraordinarily high. As a rule, the total height of a Corinthian column, which includes the bottom plinth (pedestal), shaft, astragal, capital and abacus, should be ten times the width of a column at its bottom, a proportion of 10 to 1.
This temple has a proportion of over 11 to 1, which is bending the rules, but the effect is still very good - it creates an elegance and grace which complements the beautiful round structure.
Roman architects, again and again, were willing to break the rules here and there to achieve specific goals and effects, and our architectural history is richer for it.
Below, I look at the changing attitudes towards Roman Temples since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD.
CHANGING ATTITUDES TOWARDS ROMAN TEMPLES
It is great to see how attitudes towards Roman temples have dramatically changed over the centuries. These temples were built by the Romans at great expense, with great effort, and with dedication and purpose. These beautiful structures dedicated to Roman gods were treated with great respect and care for many centuries.
However, Roman temples and what they represented came into disfavour after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD. Then, for almost seven decades, both Christians and people who followed the ancient Roman religion coexisted, though with much friction.
Roman Emperor Constantine - 300s AD
The final blow to Roman temples and what they represented were the edicts issued by Roman Emperor Constantius II in the 350s AD. Worhsip of idols and making sacrifices to them was prohibited. Temples were closed. It is at this time that we hear of Christians attacking and desecrating Roman temples.
In 380 AD, Roman Emperor Theodosius I issued the Edict of Thessalonica which made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. He effectively used the might of the Roman state to empower the Christian religion. After that proclamation, any tolerance for those still practicing paganism was ended and the Roman religion then slowly faded from history. I suppose that the vast gulf between the Religio Romana (Roman religion) and Christianity led to a regrettable but understandable conflict.
What the temples represented, of course, was the polytheistic nature of the ancient Roman religion, which came under increasing attack. Unfortunately, the architectural and historical value of Roman temples was disregarded due to increasing hostility from Christians, who saw these buildings as symbols of idolatry and paganism.
Indeed, towards the end of the fourth century, temples came under physical attack. Sometimes, only the statue of a Roman god inside the temple was destroyed. However, other times, the whole temple itself was seriously damaged or destroyed. Certain Roman Emperors, such as Theodosius in 381 AD, actually ordered the destruction of several temples, such as the massive Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus in Baalbek, Lebanon.
Ten years later, in 391 AD, Emperor Valentinian II made it illegal for people to go to pagan temples to make sacrifices. This prohibition was followed a few years later by a decree that closed all Pagan temples. This decree marked the end of the polytheistic and ancient religion of Rome. Surrounded by hostile Christians and a law that closed all their temples, Roman people who still believed in the old gods became increasingly isolated and persecuted.
After all the Roman temples were closed and abandoned, only those temples that were either converted into Christian churches or geographically isolated had a chance to survive into the 21st century. Fortunately, with hard work and some luck, over a dozen Roman temples still exist for us to enjoy.
Just as a side note, I would like to mention that Emperor Julian, during the years of his reign (361 to 363 AD), tried to save the temples and make the Christians pay for all the damage done to the temples.
Emperor Julian - the Apostate
Photo credit JR P - CC BY-NC 2.0
He also attempted to restore the ancient and polytheistic Religio Romana (Roman religion). As an example of his efforts, he fired all Christian teachers and issued an edict proclaiming the freedom of religion. However, he did not get far in his efforts because he was assassinated on January 26, 363 AD, just two years after his reign began. A great novel about this historical figure and period in Roman history is "Julian" written by Gore Vidal in 1964.
Despite Emperor Julian's efforts, it was a case of "too little, too late" - he could not control or prevent the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman empire. Right after his death, repressive government policies regarding the ancient religion of Rome were put back in force. From this point on, all Roman temples where Venus, Jupiter, Diana, and other gods were worshipped had no future. After all the Roman temples were closed, some destroyed by hostile mobs and many others were severly damaged by weather, earthquakes, and the long passage of time.
Fortunately, with the arrival of the Renaissance in the 14th century, a renewed respect for Roman civilization, art, literature, and architecture began. From this point in history, attitudes became much more favourable toward Roman temples that survived. Starting in the 1500s, a serious effort was made to restore Roman temples, clear away other buildings near them, and lower the ground level in the area surrounding a Roman temple.
Happily, after a few centuries of effort, Roman temples now have a fresh start and are again revered and appreciated. Great effort and expense have been afforded to their physical and geographical restoration.
Maison Carrée at the centre of town square, Nimes, France
Image produced using Google Earth
A prime example is the Maison Carrée Roman temple in the south of France, shown in the photo above. Not only was this temple closely surrounded by buildings, but its structure was considerably altered. Fortunately, in the 21st century, this iconic Roman temple now stands alone in the middle of a city square, as shown above. Furthermore, its whole structure has been carefully restored and cleaned so that it looks much like it did when it opened in 2 BC. Also, you can see stairs along the edges of the square, which shows how they had to lower the ground level surrounding the temple.
Of course, nowadays, all Roman temple structures are considered "national and historical treasures" that draw many tourists. So naturally, many people want to see and appreciate these ancient and amazing architectural links to the great Roman past.
A big thank you to the original architects and labourers who built these temples, and tremendous respect and gratitude to all those involved in their restoration and preservation. What an incredible ride through history these temples have had, and I hope they have a long and wonderful future.
Although I have now completed my look at fifteen Roman temples that still exist, I invite you to explore other great Roman architectural wonders here at atouchofrome.com which you can access in the section below. I have created pages filled with photos and much of my own artwork that tell the story of the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the six great Forums of Rome, and the two largest Roman Baths in whole Roman Empire.
MORE TO EXPLORE
To continue your journey through some of Roman civilization's greatest achievements, please click one of the images below. Both the Colosseum and the Pantheon sections are spread over two pages. The Roman Baths section is spread over three pages - the Introduction - the Baths of Diocletian - the Baths of Caracalla. The Roman Forums section takes you to a portal where the six great forums of Rome can be selected.
With two pages of photos, videos, and diagrams, I look at the history and events of this enormous building that still impresses people 2,000 years after it opened.
I look at all the fascinating details and history of this iconic building and temple. The Pantheon still stands as an example of Roman architecture at its finest.
Just choose which of the six Forums you wish to explore from the opening menu. There is also a page that explains the basics and long history of Roman Forums.
I look at the huge Roman Baths of Diocletian and the Baths of Caracalla with great "Then & Now" transformations showing how the baths looked in the past and then today.