May 10, 2015

Vesta, The Goddess Of Family, And The Sacred Virgins Of Rome

Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy — by Roma Experience

The Vestal Priestesses were celebrities in Ancient Rome, and treated almost like… men!

A tour of Rome is never complete without a visit at the Colosseum and Roman Forum, two of the most iconic and history-rich sights in Italy. It’s hard to decide what to see and what to skip in a city so filled with history, religion and art, but a Roman Forum tour should definitely be on your list.

One of the edifices that will surely catch your eye among all the ancient architectural wonders in the Roman Forum is the Temple of Vesta. Located close to the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Regia, The Temple of Vesta impresses with its Greek architecture combining Corinthian columns, a central chamber and marble.  What can be seen now in the Roman Forum is only a part of what it once was a much larger, round construction. All entrances of the temples of Vesta used to face east, symbolizing the link between the temple’s fire and the sun, which was considered the source of life.

The structure seen today is the result of many restorations, as the Temple of Vesta burned twice, according to historical writings. The temple was first destroyed during the Great Fire of Rome, when most of the city we tour today burned down. The temple was restored but then destroyed again in 1549 when it was demolished and its marble was reused in other religious constructions. The remaining section we visit during our Ancient Rome Tours was reconstructed in the 1930s.

The Roman Forum in Rome, Italy — by Roma Experience

Close to the Temple of Vesta, between the Regia and the Palatine Hill lies the House of the Vestal Virgins – home of Vestal Virgins. This was a large, 50-room construction, with a double pool, an elegant atrium and a vaulted hall, discovered in 1883. Some of the rooms had multi-colored floors and marble mosaics, while the courtyard held a statue of Numa Pompilius, the mythological founder of the cult.

In ancient Roman religion, Vestals Virgins were believed to be priestesses of Vesta – the goddess of hearth and home. The virgins’ duty was to guard the fire and keep it burning in the Temple. The fire burning was considered to be the symbol of Rome and as long as it would keep burning, Rome would stand.

The Vestal Virgins were not randomly chosen; they were picked by the high priest since they were children, between the ages of six and ten, and asked to be kept virgins. After 30 years of chastity, the chosen virgins were allowed to get married, but even so, few of them did, as it was considered unlucky since they were the brides of Vesta for more than half of their lives.

For the Vestal Virgins who broke their 30-years vow, the punishment was terrible: some would be beaten severely and buried alive while others would have molten lead poured down their throat. Being a Vestal Virgin was considered to be a great honor so the ones that remained loyal were offered a lot of privileges, such as being allowed to attend political meetings and gladiator games.