Ancient Rome's biggest temple re-opens

The biggest temple of ancient Rome re-opened to the public on Thursday after more than 20 years amid heavy criticism of Italy's management of its artistic heritage after the collapse of a house in Pompeii.

A ceremony marked the re-opening of the Temple of Venus and Rome in the Roman Forum near the Colosseum.

Designed by the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century, the shrine had dozens of columns flanking an enormous nave and a coffered vaulted ceiling.

It temple site was covered over by a road until the 1980s and has been undergoing intermittent restoration work since then.

Erected on the remnants of Emperor Nero's villa, the temple had two main chambers arranged back to back, each containing a giant statue - one of Venus, the goddess of love, and the other of Roma, the goddess of Rome.

Roma faced west to look out over the Roman Forum while Venus looked out over the Colosseum, with majestic staircases leading down to the ancient arena.

While most of the columns surrounding the temple have disappeared over time, it is still possible to see the detailed carving on the remaining temple wall as well as some of the restored patterned tiles.

The restoration work has included repairs to the temple floor and cleaning up a nearby sewer. Construction of the temple began in AD 121, and it was officially inaugurated by Hadrian in 135.

Though closed to the public until now, the temple has been used since John Paul II's papacy as a platform for Good Friday ceremonies when the pope leads pilgrims in meditations on the Stations of the Cross.

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