The Sanctuary of the Fortuna Primigenia is one of the most important roman sanctuaries of ancient times, as the Sanctuary of the Hercules in Tivoli. Cicero wrote extensively about this Hellenic sanctuary (II Century B.C.), telling of the discovery of the "Prenestian Fortunes", wooden tablets indispensable for the interpretation of the oracles of the goddess Fortune, kept in the sacred area of the temple, where there was the Cavern of Fortunes, the cave in which the Fortunes were found in an arc made of olive wood, considered to be miraculous in that it was said to transpire honey. The oracle continued to be consulted down to Christian times, until Constantine.
The goddess was represented suckling two babes (as in the Christian representation of Charity): Jupiter and Juno.
Sanctuary of the Fortuna Primigenia
The Sanctuary is built upon a series of artificial and spectacular terraces, on four levels down the hillside, linked by monumental stairs and ramps, which gives it a pyramidal appearance of great effect crowned on the highest terrace by a round temple.
The sacred area is in the lower sanctuary, the oldest portion of the primitive sanctuary, which is about 16 metres below the upper one, in a grotto in the natural rock where there was a spring.
To the east of this grotto is a large space, now open, but once very possibly roofed, and forming a civil basilica. To the east again is an apsidal hall, often identified with the temple itself, in which was found the famous Nile mosaic.
At the top there is the Palazzo Barberini which, with its exedra shaped facade follows the contours of the staircase below, at the centre of which there is a a XVI Century well with two architraved column.
The sanctuary has been known since the Renaissance, but the town came to largely obscure the temple. The upper sanctuary was only uncovered and brought back to light by the bombings during World War II revealing parts that had been built into modern structures.