The Temple of Vesta - History and Facts | History Hit

The Temple of Vesta

Rome, Lazio, Italy

The Temple of Vesta was an Ancient Roman shrine now found on the Roman Forum.

Peta Stamper

14 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Temple of Vesta

The Temple of Vesta was an ancient Roman shrine dedicated to the goddess of the hearth, the remains of which are found in the southeast of the Roman Forum beside the Atrium Vestae.

Serving as the temple of the Vestal Virgins, the priestesses dedicated to Vesta, the Temple of Vesta housed an eternal flame which represented the everlasting nature of the Roman state. If the flame were extinguished, this would indicate doom for Rome.

The Temple of Vesta history

The Temple of Vesta was first built by Numa Pompilius – Rome’s second king – who also built the original Regia and Atrium Vestae within the Roman Forum, where the Vestal Virgins lived. Pompilius founded the order of Vestals, dedicated to the patron goddess of the domestic hearth and as such, the Virgins were charged with growing sacred grain to burn at the temple hearth.

The Vestal Virgins were freeborn, aristocratic women who were sworn to celibacy in an oath lasting 30 years. Other Roman women would remain chaste until marriage but were then expected to have children. If a Vestal Virgin were to have sex (punishable by death) or the hearth flame go out, it would upset the relationship between Rome and the gods, leading to disaster.

Unlike other temples, the Temple of Vesta would have been a circular structure facing east (towards the sun, another hearth) rather than rectangular. The shape was meant to reflect the simple early huts. The Temple of Vesta burned down several times, including in the Great Fire of Rome.

Theodosius I finally extinguished the sacred flame in 394 AD. By this time Christianity had become prominent in the empire.

In 1549, the Temple of Vesta was destroyed and its marble was used to build churches and papal palaces. We know what the temple looked like from coins and art, and it was not until the 1930s that what remained was partially reconstructed.

The Temple of Vesta today

Today, the remains of the Temple of Vesta hint at its former grandeur, made up of 3 main standing columns and part of a fourth with steps leading up to it. However, while little remains of the temple there is a detailed floor plan at the forum, and it is not hard to picture the central flame under an open roof to allow smoke out (and spread fire).

Getting to The Temple of Vesta

Easily found by foot within the forum, via public transport take Metro line B to Colosseo. From Termini it is about a 5 minute journey. Or via the bus, plenty of lines stop at Piazza del Colosseo including 40, 51, 60, 75, 81, 175 and 204.

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