Wandering around Rome you’ll never get bored with history. On every corner there is something new to discover, or old, depending on how you look at it. If you are in the heart of the historical center near the Pantheon go to Via Santo Stefano del Cacco turn around the corner to enter and there it is. The gigantic marble foot resting on a pedestal, which gave Via Piè di Marmo (in English: marble foot street) its name. The foot was restored in 2011. Now largely ignored by most of the modern Romans, the picture could not have been more different in ancient times.
The foot is all that remains of a colossal statue in front of or inside a large temple complex dedicated to the Egyptian fertility goddess Isis and her consort Serapis. Isis was highly revered in Rome as a nurturing, life-giving protector and was especially popular with women. The complex stretched from Via del Seminario in the north to Via di Santo Stefano del Cacco in the south. The northern area contained the Temple of Isis, and the southern area the Serapeum. A public square surrounded by archways connected both parts.
The worship of Isis and Serapis reveals a long and complex history in the whole Mediterranean well before a temple was devoted to them on the Campense Iseo (Isis) in Rome. Augustus, Tiberius, and the Senate made attempts to repress the cult as it was “being insufficiently subordinate to official control”, but later emperors, like Vespasian and Hadrian, were enthusiastic devotees.
The marble foot is only one of numerous Egyptian decorations found in or around the temple complex. The statue of a baboon or “(ma)cacco,” is presumed to be the name giver of the church where it stands today, Santo Stefano del Cacco and of all the small obelisks known to have come from this temple-complex, only two survived: one on Bernini’s elephant in Piazza della Minerva and the other in front of the Pantheon.
To get an impression of what the statue of Isis might have looked like go to the Capitoline museum and try to find Isis. The goddess wears a tunic with long sleeves and a mantle that covers the head and ends crossed between her breasts, forming the so-called “knot of Isis”. In her right hand she has the sistrum, a typical instrument of the religion.