by Tiziana Stupia
In western Sicily, perched high on a steep mountain called Erice, once stood a magnificent and illustrious temple dedicated to the Goddess of Love, known successively as Astarte by the Phoenicians, Aphrodite by the Greeks, and Venus by the Romans. This temple stood for over a thousand years and a sacred fire always burnt from its enclosure, so brightly that sailors used it as a guiding beacon. It was here that the Priestesses of Venus served the Goddess with their bodies through the art of sacred prostitution, a spiritual practice that included the celebration of the sacred marriage rite. Today, sparse remains of this remarkable temple can be found in the Castello di Venere, a twelfth-century Norman castle incorporating some of the original foundations.