The Temple of Fortuna Virilis is one of the historical and religious marvels of the Roman Architecture. It was initially built during the 4th century but was reconstructed around the late 2nd century BC during the Republican Era in Rome, Italy. It is specifically located at the “PiazzaT della Bocca della Verita” wherein at the north side of it is where “Casa dei Crescenzi” is located which is a mansion made out of Roman spoils in 1100 AD. On the southern side of the temple is the Temple of Hercules Victor or Temple of Vesta that was constructed in the 2nd century and turned into a church during the 12th century (Webb 78).
The name of the temple had been recently changed to Temple of Portunus which translates to “god of ports” in honor of the Roman god, Portunus (Italyguides.it). More so, this title is an “an ancient tutelary deity of rivers and harbours” (LivinginRome.com). Furthermore, this temple is located around the Tiber banks which was built for the gods of seaports and rivers. According to mythology, Portunus possessed the power to shield doors. However, when the connotation of the word “portus” changed into harbor, the function of the Roman god also changed into being a guardian of the harbors (Sullivan).
Historically, this architecture was intended to give reverence to Portunus because he was considered as the “god of keys and doors and livestock” who has the ability to protect storage houses of grains which was a very valuable asset back then. Because of the different associations linked to Portus’ name whether it was positive or negative, he was seen as a god who could inflict good fortune or tremendous mishaps.
As a result, the Romans erected this temple in order to obtain all the good things Portunus has to offer and prevent his wrath on them and their town. More so, every 17th of August, Portunus is commemorated wherein keys are melancholically and at the same time devoutly thrown into the fire to attract pleasant vibes (Nationmaster.com).
By 872, the temple was transformed into a pagan temple. Then, after centuries later in the 1800s; it housed a Christian church named the Chiesa di S.Maria Egiziaca which was for a saint who was a former prostitute that converted to Christianity. Prior to this, there was huge dispute on whom the church will be dedicated. Because of this, two names emerged which were “Santa Maria Secundicerri and Santa Maria in Gradellis” that were both given by scholars from “a 12th century list of ecclesiastical foundations in the city of Rome.” In 1560, Pope Pius IV proposed to give the temple as a gift to the Armenians when Saphar Abgaro who was the ambassador of the King of Armenia visited Rome.
Eleven years later, the church was formally received by the Armenians and was presented by Pope Pius V. Moreover, the temple experienced another restoration in the 18th century under the supervision of Pope Clement IX. Then, in 1925, a more extensive and intensive restoration was carried out that was headed by Antonio Muñoz who luckily unearthed the exquisite 9th century frescoes of the temple. The painted artworks illustrated the art style of the Byzantine era.
More so, the theme of the frescoes mostly dwelled on the “apocryphal Pseudo New Testament of the 2nd to 4th centuries AD” and not on the traditional religious themes. The apocrypha was the result of the many and different analysis of the Bible and the Christian oral tradition. The main function of the apocrypha is to support the Christian doctrines. However, it received two different remarks from the public. Some thought of it as immature while others felt that it was a brilliant form of literature (Webb 178-179).
Furthermore, the Temple of Virilis exhibited two distinct cultures which are the Greeks and the Romans that were displayed through the use of Greek and Etruscan designs and forms. The Greek influences were manifested in the Ionic order elements of slender engaged columns on the periphery around the sanctuary and the cella wall was placed outside giving the temple a pseudoperipteral look that gives a semblance of the “marble structures of the eastern Mediterranean”(Tartakov).
Also, the temple is dominated by free-standing columns at the area of the porch (Sullivan). Additionally, the “fluted Ionic columns of the portico” were erected in the 9th century in order to expand and extend the size of the church. But these columns have not become permanent fixtures of the temple because they were taken out in 1925 (Webb 179).
Meanwhile, the Etruscan influences that originated in Italy can be seen in the “ raised on a podium with stairs on one side, with a porch of free standing columns for two bays in the front, and a walled-sanctuary for four bays at the rear” (Tartakov). “In plan, it is like Etruscan temples, with a clear front and rear facade. On a high podium, it has stairs only on the front façade.” More so, the temple was constructed out of “tufa and travertine blocks.” These materials were initially “coated with layer of stucco” which helped in preserving the beauty of the materials even after thousands of years had passed (Sullivan).
Overall, the Temple of Fortuna Virilis had been classified as an Ionic temple because of the “prostyle portico and a pseudo-peripteral cella” which was placed on top of a huge podium (Webb 179). Moreover, the combination of Greek and Roman influences in the temple is not only the defining element that embodies the essence of Fortuna Virilis. This temple has also characterized the innovation of Romans in creating an infrastructure that would fit their aesthetics and needs (Janson and Janson 177). Because of ingenuity and the sensible choice of materials, Temple of Fortuna Virilis had withstood time which will continue to exist for future generations to learn and admire.
- Janson, Woldemar Harst and Janson, Anthony F. History of Art. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003.
- Sullivan, Mary Ann. n.d. “Temple of Fortuna Virilis (Temple of Portunus).” Bluffton.edu. 10 October 2008 <http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/romanvirilis/virilis.html>.
- Tartakov, Gary. n.d. “The Art of Republican Roman.” public.iastate.edu. 10 October 2008 <http://www.public.iastate.edu/~tart/fall2003arth280website/rome1republic.html>.
- “Temple of Fortuna Virilis.” 2008. Nationmaster.com. 10 October 2008 <http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Temple-of-Fortuna-Virilis>.
- “Temple of Fortuna Virilis.” n.d. LivinginRome.com. 10 October 2008 <http://www.livinginrome.com/info/temple-fortuna-virilis-rome.php>.
- “The temple of Portunus.” n.d. (Italyprivatetours.it). 10 October 2008 <http://www.italyprivatetours.it/home/Monument.asp?ids=378&artist=TEMPLE %20OF%20PORTUNUS?>.
- “The temple of Portunus (Fortuna Virilis).” n.d. Italyguides.it. 10 October 2008 <http://www.italyguides.it/us/roma/rome/aventine/temple_forum_boarium/fortuna virilis/temple_of_portunus.htm>.
- Webb, Matilda. The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome. Sussex: Sussex Academic Press, 2001.