On February 4, the House of the Vestal Virgins at the foot of the Palatine Hill in the Roman Forum was reopened after 20 years of archaeological restoration. Six Vestals and three Senators strolled through the remains of the former three-story 50-room palace, eyeing the mostly headless statues of the Vestals, the gardens and the fountains in the Atrium, the space that is now open to the public.
The Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, the virgin Goddess of Hearth, Home and Family, responsible for keeping the sacred fire burning in her temple. The Pontifex Maximus, the High Priest in ancient Rome, chose the Vestals from young girl candidates from Roman patrician families.
In exchange for their duties, they were freed of any social obligations to marry and raise children, making them some of the most privileged and liberated women in ancient Rome. They lived in luxury and were not under the thumb of an oppressive male head of household (father, husband, or brother) who could do what he wanted to his women.