The Italian Almanac

vestal virgins

The Vestal Virgins

After twenty years, Rome has reopened the House of the Vestal Virgins, remains of an ancient Roman palace flanking ruins of the imperial seat of government in the Roman Forum. Major renovations to the structure were inaugurated with the opening of a new visitors' route through the ruins called Via Nova, which traverses the northwest slope of the Palatine Hill overlooking the Forum and ends at the Atrium Vestae, or ancient palace.

The Atrium Vestae was once a 50-room palace built around an elegant, rectangular garden, decorated with statues and two pools. It housed the priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, who were entrusted with keeping a flame eternally lit in the Temple of Vesta, located next door. The high priestess selected six initiates between the ages of six and 10 from Roman patrician families. Physical perfection was an important criteria. The girls took vows of chastity and served the Cult of Vesta for 30 years.

Vestal priestesses were revered, lived in luxury and relative independence, and were free from obligations to marry and rear children. At the end of their 30-year service they could choose whether to marry or remain with the cult.

The renovation and reopening of the House of the Vestal Virgins was conducted as part of a larger program for the rehabilitation of the Roman Forum, funded with 19 million euros from private and public funds.