Exterior decoration of the Temple of Mars Ultor
The Temple of Mars Ultor is generally held to be the first time that the Corinthian order was used in Roman architecture. Supported by an unusually high podium (3.55 m) made out of large blocks of Grottascura tufa stone faced in white Luna marble, the huge external order is anchored to the walls in square blocks and, as in many other buildings in the Forum, the constituent parts of the trabeation are made of several different sections.
The design features eight columns along the front and seven at the sides. They support a trabeation on top of which there is an architrave made up of three fascia (sections) divided lengthwise into two blocks with smooth moulding and a corbelled cornice, also divided into three blocks. The uppermost block comprises the sima (curved edge that acts like guttering) complete with spouts in the shape of lion's heads. The reconstruction displayed in the Museum makes it possible to appreciate the effect of these feline heads, attributed with the ability to ward of evil spirits or bad luck, all in a row and facing the sacred building, the fixed stare of their wide-open, bulging eyes underlining the fact that they are on guard.
The excavations carried out in 1988 and 1996 revealed that the grid pattern (corbels) on the ceiling above the peristyle which featured large central rosettes and other, random decorative elements all bore traces of paint, specifically the same Egyptian blue paint discovered in the Hall of Colossus. Despite the fact that the recycling of building materials used in the Temple began as long ago as the beginning of the 6th century AD, what remains of the structure is sufficient to identify the constituent elements of the order and let to appreciate on the one hand, the sophisticated evolution of the Corinthian capital and on the other, a certain sense that the way in which the lion heads had been carved was somewhat old-fashioned.