The Temple of Hercules

Image40I recall while as an exchange student in Rome in the summer of 1987 passing by a little tempietto on the shoulder of the Tiber. I seem to have passed by it many times, for it was on a direct route between our apartments in the Palazzo Pio in the Campo de Fiori and the grounds of the Circus Maximus.

At the time I seem to recall the guidebooks identifying the little monument as “The Temple of Vesta”. As it turns out, the tempietto is more properly identified as the Temple of Hercules (179-142 B.C.; Italian: Tempio di Ercole Vincitore, literally “Temple of Hercules Victorious”).

The genuinely rare, circular form of the monument was eye-catching by itself. Just as compelling to a young student of architecture was recognition of it’s essential form within the architectural tradition, for it was readily apparent that the monument’s design followed from that of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, and likely inspired subsequent designs in Rome e.g. Bramante’s Tempietto at San Pietro.

I must admit that I did not, as an exchange student in 1987, give Hercule’s Temple it’s proper due. As students we seemed to be always rushed to get from one place to the next, and besides, we were living-breathing a candy store of beautiful buildings, and there were too many eye-candies for us to take in all at once.

As it turns out, the Temple of Hercules is the only surviving ancient religious structure in Rome built of Greek marble. Presumed to be the work of the Greek architect Hermodoros, it is composed of Pentelic marble, a stone originating in the quarries of Mount Pentelikon on the plains of Attica. The building is also listed as endangered, having been placed on the World Monuments Watch in 1996.

Subsequent efforts by The Watch have resulted in enhancements to the geotechnical stability of the building, structural repair of the foundation system, repair to the podium on which it rests, remediating deterioration of the marble columns, and improved anchorage of the post-classical roof to the perimeter colonnade.

fig. 22 Giuseppe Vasi,  tav.94web

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