quattro Tempietti -3

The Quattro Tempietti

A handful of very ancient temples can be found in Ostia’s landscape. Perhaps the most unassuming are the so-called “Quattro Tempietti”, four identical little temples built upon a single podium. You can find them easily from the Decumanus Maximus. After you have entered Ostia and just after you pass the theatre, you will see a small grass-filled valley to your right. The podium sits at the back of this grassy area, and lies directly in front of the Mithraeum of the Seven Spheres. The temples and the podium were built in the early 1st century BCE, long before the grand theatre of Agrippa was constructed next door. Classical scholar Bertha Tilley was enchanted by the ancient remains of the Quattro Tempietti. In her 1947 book “Vergil’s Latium”, she imagined the poet Vergil drawing inspiration from them: “Vergil himself may have seen the four shrines…standing on the podium, their walls and columns gleaming with white stucco, their roofs covered with revetments of terracotta, and the altars before the steps. An antiquarian as well as a poet, he must have recognized them as simple and holy places of the forefathers of his people.”

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These photos were published by R. Paribeni, “I Quattro Tempietti di Ostia.” in Monumenti Antichi 23, no. 2 (1915).

The Quattro Tempietti endured until the end of Ostia’s very long life, but the area around the temples changed over time. In the early 20th century the excavators who explored the Quattro Tempietti made wonderful discoveries. When they excavated the central corridor dividing the two sets of temples, they found a treasure trove of terracotta decorations and painted plaster. The terracotta decorations included fierce lions and a serene Medusa. It is quite possible that these had adorned the temples at one time. Over the centuries the ground around the podium was raised. After the temples went out of use sometime in late antiquity, the area became a burial ground. Three skeletons were found buried in the area between the temples and the Decumanus Maximus!

Mary Jane Cuyler

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