Ancient Roman temple complex, with ruins of building where Caesar was stabbed, opens to tourists

Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin stands Monday in front of the so called 'Sacred Area' where four temples, dating back as far as the 3rd century B.C., stand smack in the middle of one of modern Rome's busiest crossroads. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

ROME — Four temples from ancient Rome, dating back as far as the 3rd century B.C. stand smack in the middle of one of the modern city’s busiest crossroads.

But until Monday, practically the only ones getting a close-up view of the temples were the cats that prowl the so-called “Sacred Area,” on the edge of the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

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With the help of funding from Bulgari, the luxury jeweler, the grouping of temples can now be visited by the public.

For decades, the curious had to gaze down from the bustling sidewalks rimming Largo Argentina (Argentina Square) to admire the temples below. That’s because, over the centuries, the city had been built up, layer by layer, to levels several meters above the area where Caesar masterminded his political strategies and was later fatally stabbed in 44 B.C.

Behind two of the temples is a foundation and part of a wall that archaeologists believe were part of Pompey’s Curia, a large rectangular-shaped hall that temporarily hosted the Roman Senate when Caesar was murdered.

What leads archaeologists to pinpoint the ruins as Pompey’s Curia? “We know it with certainty because latrines were found on the sides” of Pompey’s Curia, and ancient texts mentioned the latrines, said Claudio Parisi Presicce, an archaeologist and Rome’s top official for cultural heritage.

The temples emerged during the demolition of medieval-era buildings in the late 1920s, part of dictator Benito Mussolini’s campaign to remake the urban landscape. A tower at one edge of Largo Argentina once topped a medieval palace.

The temples are designated A, B, C and D, and are believed to have been dedicated to female deities. One of the temples, reached by an imposing staircase and featuring a circular form and with six surviving columns, is believed to have been erected in honor of Fortuna, a goddess of chance associated with fertility.

Taken together, the temples make for “one of the best-preserved remains of the Roman Republic,” Parisi Presicce said after the Mayor of Rome Roberto Gualtieri cut a ceremonial ribbon Monday afternoon.

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