Ancient Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia
Palestrina is located on the southern slopes of the Prenestini Mountains and one of the oldest settlements in Lazio. Even from afar you can see the terraced ancient Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia. Nowadas the baroque Palace of Prince Colonna is situated on the top level. Already in the 8th Century B.C., the then place Praeneste was inhabited and had an oracle whose importance was similar to that of the Oracle of Delphi. After the residents of the holy place successfully resisted the Romans for a long time, they were defeated in 82 B.C. in the Roman civil war by Sulla and the city and sanctuary were destroyed. Fearing the wrath of the gods, Sulla decided to rebuild the sanctuary on four terraces far more ostentatious than it was before, and dedicated it to Fortuna Primigenia. Gigantic retaining walls protected the terraces of the sanctuary and even the Roman emperors from that time on came to the oracle of the Fortuna temple to ask for divine advice. In the Middle Ages the shrine fell into obscurity and the place was used for apartment buildings. The noble family of Colonna eventually built their family palace on the top terrace. Only through the serious damage wrought during the 2nd World War was the sanctuary discovered under the rubble and continuously uncovered and opened to the public.
Tour of the sanctuary
It is best to start in the lower districts and climb up to the upper town during the visit. In the lower retaining walls you can find the remains of the former entrance and the vault of the antique shops. On the second terrace you reach the cathedral on the Piazza Regina Margherita, which is dedicated to the martyr Agapitus. It rests on the remains of an early Christian church and was probably erected in the very centre of the former Fortuna sanctuary. The ceiling painting in the main nave displays how Agapitus displaced Fortuna from the throne and represents the impressive victory of Christianity over the pagan cult. The four pillars of the gate next to the cathedral once adorned the auditorium of the oracle. The magnificent floor mosaics of the oracle cave itself can be admired today in the Museum of the Palazzo Colonna. You reach the third terrace via two ramps, which are usually closed. On the top ramp was once a small circular temple. On its foundations is now perched the Palazzo Colonna Barberini. It houses the Museo Nazionale Archeologico Prenestino with many interesting exhibits from Palestrina and its surroundings. In the little church of Santa Rosalia next to the palace the tombs of the family of Prince Barberini can be visited.