Temple of Portunus
The Temple of Portunus, dating to the first century B.C., is a rare survivor of Roman Republican architecture and a reminder of the magnificence of the Forum Boarium in antiquity, once a major commercial area along the banks of the Tiber. The temple was dedicated to Portunus, a youthful god associated with water crossings and seaports. The rectangular building rests on a high podium with a single flight of steps leading to a pronaos, or portico, and a single cella. Although this ground plan is typical of Etruscan temple architecture, the columns are in the Greek Ionic order, a combination characteristic of the architecture of the Roman Republican period. The structure was built out of travertine and tuff, originally plastered to imitate Greek marble. The frieze is decorated with garlands, putti, candelabra, and the popular ancient bucranium, or ox-skull, motif. The building was converted to use as a Christian church in the ninth century, when the interior of the cella was decorated with a fine cycle of frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Mary. This undoubtedly saved the structure from being pulled apart for building materials. In the 1920s, the temple was freed of additions that had been added over time and some conservation measures were taken to protect the structure, which has survived intact for more than two millennia.
How We Helped
The Temple of Portunus was included on the 2006 World Monuments Watch, which called attention to the very poor condition of its exterior. Due to limited resources, local authorities had only been able to carry out an assessment of the building’s condition in 2000. Since 2006, WMF has collaborated with the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma for a complete restoration of the temple. From 2006 to 2008 the four interior walls of the temple were completely restored, and the medieval frescoes were conserved, including fragments that had been become detached from the walls of the temple. A new door was installed at the entrance to the cella and a new wooden roof was constructed, incorporating ancient roof tiles and carefully designed drainage. Starting in 2008, the front pediment, on the north side of the temple, was cleaned and restored. In 2010, the two central columns of the temple front were restored, and the remaining four freestanding columns of the temple are being restored in 2011. The project will be completed in 2012.
Why It Matters
The Temple of Portunus is one of the most important monuments surviving from the period of the Roman Republic. Studied and admired since the Renaissance, it has been used to illustrate many treatises on classical architecture. WMF also helped restore the Temple of Hercules, which lies immediately to the south, and with the completion of this project both ancient temples of the Forum Boarium have been saved. WMF’s project in collaboration with Italian authorities will provide a greater understanding of the importance of the Forum Boarium, its history and evolution, and also highlight the other structures and areas in Rome that once formed part of this important commercial center in antiquity.