So much history around every corner
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 want to see something unusual walk via the narrow streets near the Pantheon to Via Santo Stefano del Cacco. Turn around the corner to enter and there it is, on a pedestal. The gigantic marble sandaled left foot of a huge Isis, 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.
Temple of Isis and Serapis
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. 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. Isis was highly revered in Rome as a nurturing, life-giving protector and was especially popular with women. 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 complex dedicated to Isis and Serapis 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. Unfortunately the three-vaulted arch, known as of Camilloor of Camigliano, which formed the entranceway to the Iseo Campense, was destroyed sometime between 1585 and 1597.
Ancient Egypt in Rome
The marble foot is only one of numerous Egyptian decorations found in or around the temple complex. Further evidence of the existence of the temple was the presence of a statue of Egyptian origin depicting a baboon called “il Cacco” (coming from macacco or macaque monkey), which was moved to the Capitol in 1562 and later on in 1838 to the Egyptian collection of the Vatican Museums. The statue of a baboon or “(ma)cacco,” is presumed to be the name giver of the church, Santo Stefano del Cacco, on Via di San Stefano del Cacco 26. Moreover of all the small obelisks known to have originated 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.