In terms of sheer splendour, it’s hard to find more impressive historic buildings than surviving Roman Temples. Across what was once the Empire, there are many of these incredible ancient places of worship to visit and among the very best are Baalbek, the world famous Pantheon and La Maison Carrée. Other popular sites tend to include the Garni Temple, Sbeitla and Dougga.
Standing in some cases for as much as two thousand years, the best preserved Roman temples remain much as they would have been at the height of Ancient Rome – so unlike many other Roman sites, little imagination is required and you can truly feel as though you are walking in the footsteps of the Romans.
We’ve put together an experts guide to surviving temples from ancient rome, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of ancient temples which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Roman Temples in the world?
Home to the largest Roman temple ever built, Baalbek contains not just the remains of the Temple of Jupiter but also the far better preserved and simply magnificent Temple of Bacchus. Probably the most impressive entry on our list of Roman temples. Today, visitors can see the impressive ruins of these incredible structures including standing in the shadow of six of the original 54 columns of the Temple of Jupiter. Baalbek is also the place to see the stairs of the Temple of Mercury and a ceremonial entryway known as the propylaea.
The most famous Roman temple in the world and one of the very best preserved, the Pantheon in Rome was built during the reign of Hadrian in 125AD. Its vast concrete dome is a monumental engineering feat and remained the largest dome in the world until the 15th century. In 609AD the Pantheon was converted to a Church and this helped preserve the building from the destruction of later times. In the middle ages the Pantheon was also used as a burial chamber for notable figures and even Italian kings. Today, the Pantheon stands as a magnificent site in central Rome, and one of the most popular destinations for tourists. The Pantheon is free to visit and is a must-see for both the general tourist and the history enthusiast.
One of the best preserved ancient temples in the world, the Maison Carree in Nimes largely survived due to its conversion to a church in the fourth century. Simply stunning, it is as close as you’d ever get to the temples which the Romans would have used. The site was lucky to survive the fall of the Empire and this is mostly due to the fact that the building became a church in the fourth century. Through the ages La Maison Carrée has been used as a consul’s house, stables and the town’s archive. It has been partly renovated and restored over the years, but remains true to its Roman origins and is certainly not a recreation. Visitors can view this stunning structure in all its glory as well as watching a multimedia presentation inside the building which brings Roman Nîmes back to life.
Though in fact a reconstruction built from the original remains, the Garni Temple in Armenia is a beautiful site in a picturesque mountain setting and is definitely worth the effort to visit. Likely dedicated to the ancient deity Mithras, today the Garni Temple lies about 30km to the East of Yerevan and the complex hosts a number of buildings including a royal palace, Roman baths, and a 9th Century church.
Visually among the most impressive temples from the Roman Empire, the forum temples at Sbeitla in Tunisia are reasonably well preserved and sit lined-up one alongside the next, making for a picture perfect ancient site. This startling site thrived as a Roman settlement from the 1st century AD before becoming a Christian centre, a Byzantine city and – after a brief period under Prefect Gregory – being taken by the Muslims. Today, Sbeitla’s ruins hint at the great city that once stood here. The highlights include its Temples of Jupiter and Minerva, both located in the beautiful forum. There is also a museum at the site which examines the history of the area and includes an array of finds from Sbeitla.
Dougga boasts a series of impressive Roman ruins including the impressive Temple of Jupiter and the temples of Juno Caelestis and Saturn.The city had a variety of cultural influences, having been a thriving Numidian capital and later being incorporated into the Roman Empire. The incredible state of preservation combined with its mix of cultural influences led UNESCO to list it as a World Heritage site in 1997. Grand and full of fascinating sites, Dougga is one of Tunisia’s most interesting archaeological sites.
One of the best surviving examples of a Roman temple anywhere in the world, the Temple of Augustus and Livia in Vienne, France, is an extremely well-preserved ancient site and definitely one to see. Whilst probably built sometime between 20BC and 10BC, several aspects of the temple date to the first century AD. Yet, the main reason for the great state of preservation is that it was incorporated into a church perhaps as early as the fifth century and restored in the nineteenth century.
The Temples of the Forum Boarium in Rome date back to the second century BC and are considered to be the best-preserved temples of the Republican era. Comprised of two temples, the Temple of Hercules Victor and the Temple of Portunus, they are fascinating to explore. The Forum Boarium was itself originally part of the Roman cattle market before becoming a commercial centre.
An extremely good example of a Roman temple can be found in Djemila, Algeria, with the Temple of Venus Genetrix. This unrestored ruin still has its original walls and columns intact and offers a rare glimpse into the original Roman architecture. Constructed amidst mountainous terrain, Djemila was built to fit in with its surroundings and, as it expanded in the second century, amassed an impressive set of buildings. Like Timgad, Djemila was probably the home of a military base. Today, the site houses a wealth of ancient ruins such as those of the Arch of Caracalla, a well-preserved bath complex and the theatre built by Emperor Antoninus Pius.