#34: The Temple of Venus and Roma

Ok, I know I'm boring you to tears with my rambling-on about Nero's Via Sacra :-) . But to me this is a very important site and period in the Roman Forum's history and also for the Rome Empire. Nero and his personal building projects $$$, the 'Golden House' (Domus Aurea) and his new Via Sacra had a lot to do with him getting the Boot. And this land he took in the Forum area after the Fire changed it forever and it will never again be a residential area for the rich elite. And this will be my Last mention of Nero's Via Sacra :-) . Thousands of people will walk through this area today but you will be one of the very, very few that will understand what it is and what it once looked like :-) .

This is a report on what the archaeologists discovered on this straight, wide Via from the Forum to his 'Golden House' (Domus Aurea) Vestibule that later becomes the 'Temple of Venus and Roma'.

THE NERONIAN SACRA VIA, from the 'American Journal of Archaeology', Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec. 1923), pages 383-424 (Text and images are in the public domain): "Beyond the small area in front of the Regia, however, the street assumed its true proportions, being 29.50 to 30 m, that is 100 Roman Feet, in width from building to building. Although the remains of the Via proper are very fragmentary in general, it is clear that it consisted originally of a wide space paved with selce with one or two steps on either side of it leading up to a broad sidewalk, or crepido, from which, in their turn, three or four steps led to the lofty arcades above."

So it's 30 m wide "paved with selce" which is Basalt, a volcanic Lava rock that they pave their Via's with and that you have walked-on in this tour [``````]. (Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Via Appia Antica has in its museum an excavated area that shows how they mined this from the bedrock to pave the Via Appia).

"with one or two steps on either side of it" So this 30 m wide paved section is elevated with one or two steps up to it ||. ||[``````]|| "leading up to broad sidewalk, or crepido,"

And as we will see these are two sidewalks on *each side* of a center higher structure. ||[|*|```|*|]||

"from which, in their turn, three or four steps led to the lofty Arcades above."


So we have a sidewalk on each side with 3-4 steps up to another center sidewalk that is an "Arcade" (an arched or covered passageway). So now try to imagine this 30 m wide Via with the three sidewalks with the central higher one with two rows of columns supporting a roof. _|T|_ That is one beautiful and very cool Via :-) .


Ok walk back over to the front of the 'Santa Francesca Romana' Church next to the Basilica of Maxentius. Now we know this Nero Via Sacra is 30 m wide here and because we found those two sections (one North-South, one East-West) of the Via's foundation walls we know the Via did that 'T' at the Church's Facade and inside the Church's interior {-|````].

So imagine the Church is gone and walk to the 'T' (the Right Via goes to Nero's Palatine Hill and the Left Via goes past the modern Via dei Fori Imperiali to the slope of the Esquiline Hill and then 90° right (east) |___t___[palace]. Now behind that T facing the Colosseum Nero builds a large platform |___[``]___[palace]. He surrounds this platform [``] with a columned portico and in the center :[+]: a Colossal (100-120 feet, about 32+ m) bronze statue of himself facing east (Colossus Neronis).

This is the Vestibule of Nero's Domus Aurea's VAST complex with the elaborate Via Sacra leading right up to it. For its size imagine this. Figure the distance of where you are --> over to the *Center* of the Colosseum ->[---O Now add on the same distance beyond the Colosseum [---O---] and also to the left and right of the Colosseum. This Whole area Nero has taken-over as his own personal private Complex.

Where the Colosseum now stands there was a Huge man-made rectangular Lake (larger than the Colosseum) and around the Lake were fields, pastures, woodland, vineyards with wild and domesticated animals. The effect was a 'countryside setting in the city', surrounded by his overlooking Palace, porticoed walkways, another elaborate two-level palace-like building (about 250 small rooms?, 142 have been excavated) in the opposite NE corner from his SW corner Palace and this Vestibule is centered with HIS Colossal statue high above overlooking all this. [For Suetonius' comments on Nero's 'Golden House' see bottom of page]

Good news for Nero as he stated, "I'm at last beginning to be housed like a human being." Bad news for the Public: His 'Golden House' is off-limits to the THEM, they must now go around this vast area in the center of the city and this end of the Roman Forum is entirely blocked-off. Before this somewhere in this Vestibule area or to the left of it there was an old paved Via that *always* lead into the Roman Forum from the Colosseum area. But that Via is now MIA and the Public isn't too pleased about it and a lot of other things Nero has done!

Nero commits suicide (68), Emperor Vespasian takes over (69) and reopens this complex to a very Thankful Public. He then fills-in Nero's huge man-made Lake and builds the Colosseum over it for the Peoples' entertainment. He adds a 'Crown of Sunrays' to Nero's statue and renames it 'Colossus Solis' after the Roman Sun God 'Sol Invictus'. The Vestibule and its Colossal Statue were there for about 60 years... Until...


Hadrian becomes Emperor (117-138 AD). In 121 Hadrian vows to build a Temple to the Goddesses Venus and Roma, it's completed in 135 and the finishing touches were possibly completed by Emperor Antoninus after 138. Hadrian is very good architect and designs this massive temple complex and plans to build it where the smaller Nero Vestibule is located and well beyond.

First problem is the 100+ feet Sun God Statue. Roman Gods and Goddesses do not play well together so they *never* share a temple. Just imagine if they did and you gave one a nice Sacrificial Offering but not the other! The other one's going to get really ticked-off and get Vengeance on you :-) . Hadrian is going to have two Goddesses in this complex *but* their Temples are Back-to-Back and completely separated from each other, one facing east and the other facing west {roma][venus} but he still has a 100+ feet Sun God to get rid of!

The Statue is high up on the Velia ridge and Hadrian wants it moved below, next to the Colosseum. They build a ramp down and get the intact *standing* statue off its base, down the ramp and onto its new base (7 m square) just a bit NW of the Colosseum with a team of 24 elephants pulling it. That's hard enough to imagine doing on a level plane and they did it going downhill! And although I find this incredible to believe the 'Blue Guide Rome' says "...it's the largest bronze statue made (it had a CONCRETE core):" Which was then gilded in bronze. Romans move large stone obelisks all the time but they lay them down first, move them and then re-erect them *but* a standing 100+ feet concrete statue... WOW! The statue is later changed to Hercules by Emperor Commodus (180-193) who thinks he's Hercules and even dresses the part sometimes at public events (he's the bad Emperor in the movie 'Gladiator'). After his assassination the statue is changed back to the Sun God.

It seems to have remained there intact into Medieval Times and then either an earthquake (847-55) or people for the metal (bronze) toppled it. One good hint that it survived at least into the seventh Century is a poem by Bede (672-735): "As long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome, when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall, when Rome falls, so falls the World". At some point in Medieval Times Vespasian's (family name is Flavian) 'Amphitheatrum Flavianum' just became known as the Colosseo (Colosseum) because of this Colossal Statue next to it.

So now Hadrian has a very nice spot to build his huge double Temple complex. His second problem is that it's on the ^ Velia's downhill slope. So he constructs a rubble foundation (100 x 145 m) TTT| walled-in with Peperino and Travertine slabs faced in marble to level-off the area ^TTT|.

The EAST END facing the Colosseum now has a very high (useless) foundation wall which they put to good and practical use. They construct large chambers within it to store machinery and apparatus used in the Colosseum's Games. This East end also has two narrow practical staircases in each corner leading down to the Colosseum area's ground level. The WEST END facing the Forum has a long row of about 6 marble steps along this entire 100 m end leading up on to the complex foundation's ground level (you walked on the south end of them between this Church and the Arch of Titus). The Forum and Colosseum ends are wide open and let's forget about the actual double-Temple building *within* this complex for now.

So what we have is a 100 x 145 m area with about six 100 m long marble steps leading into this area at one end and two plain old functional staircases leading down at the opposite high end in the corners. Now on each of the two Long 145 m sides (East to West) there is a Colonnaded Portico (columned and roofed sidewalk) from each end of the about-six-step-long staircase (NW and SW) to the two far opposite staircases in the two corners (NE and SE). And the large area between them is wide open to the sky ||`````||. Today on each long side you see some of these porticos columns, in the 1930's these columns were just fragments lying on the ground which were then reconstructed and re-erected along the sides.

Now in the center of this wide open area another but smaller rectangular foundation (podium) was built ||`[```]|| So now the both open ends (East to West) and the porticoed sides (North to South) surround this podium but with a small open to the sky outside space still around that. Let's just say this centered podium takes up about 60% of the wide open area ||`+`||. This low rectangular elevated podium has seven steps leading up to the top that completely surround it.

Then surrounding the top of the podium is a double row ::::: of about 17 m High Fluted Columns, ten double rows at each end and 20 double rows along the sides and on top of all this is a flat massive wood beamed roof covering the entire podium (But in 307 Maxentius rebuilds this with a concrete brick-faced barrel vaulted roof, like in his Basilica, about the same height as the church's bell tower). And within these double rows of surrounding columns the actual two back-to-back Temples are built ::|---|:: So this is what we now have: Portico ||, Open Space `, seven Steps |, Double Rows of columns ::, all surrounding two Back-to-Back Temples |-| with open ends on both short sides. ||`|::|---|::|`||

In the back of the West Forum-facing Temple is a Statue of the Goddess Aeterna Roma (Eternal Roma). She is seated in a curule chair (X shaped with no back, originally it folded up and was carried by military commanders, VIPs, Senators as a temporary seat, now it's an elaborate honorary chair, Julius Caesar will be sitting on one when he is assassinated in the Senate) and holds a spear in her left and a small statue of either a Palladium or Victory in the right hand.

And in the back of the East Colosseum-facing Temple is a seated Statue of Venus Felix (Goddess of Fertility and Prosperity). She is seated on a Throne with a spear in her left hand and a winged Cupid or Amor in the other. In the back of the Venus Temple to one side of the seated Goddess an altar was erected in 176 AD where all newly wedded couples in Rome were expected to Sacrifice to the Goddess. (So if that's YOU make an offering on the Venus side where the Apse is that once held her statue, a little food, a couple of coins but DO PASS on any animal sacrifices PLEASE :-) ).

On the other side of Goddess there were statues of Antoninus and Faustina (Temple and Love story fame) added post-Hadrian.

The floor is of multi-colored marbles.

The original (post 307 AD) walls were either marble blocks or marble faced stone or bricks very likely?

It is the largest and likely the most beautiful Temple in Rome and is called in general conversation the shortened 'Temple of Roma'.

About 100 years later the historian Cassius Dio records what modern scholars believe was just an untrue Urban Legend of the times. The Famous Greek Architect 'Apollodorus of Damascus' who was Emperor Trajan's (Hadrian's adopted Father) Architect, built Trajan's Forum, Trajan's Market, Basilica and Trajan's Column and later possibly(?) the Pantheon under Hadrian. Well Hadrian personally designed his Temple of Venus and Roma. And the legend is Apollodorus criticized Hadrian's Design, you should have done this, you should have done that, the ceilings are too low if the Goddess Statues stand up they'll hit their heads, etc. And Hadrian was so mad he exiled Apollodorus and later had him killed.

Cool story but untrue, Hadrian actually did take some of his advice on the design. Apollodorus died of natural causes but right around the time Hadrian was causing the unnatural deaths of some troublesome Senators. And that is likely when the rumor started which then became an Urban Legend.

More history of the Temple of Venus and Rome includes:

SUETONIUS wrote about NERO: "There was nothing however in which he was more ruinously prodigal than in building. He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House. Its size and splendor will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty roman feet high, and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining rooms with fretted ceils of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulfur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being."

For more information and photos, please see Temple of Venus and Rome in A Tourist in Rome.

Next: #35: Roman Forum Museum (Antiquarium Forense)
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