The Roman Forum is an archaeological area surrounded by the ruins of the most impressive temples and monuments. Under the empire, it became a centre for performances, religious and secular ceremonies.
Built in: 1900
Built by: Titus
Location: Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6
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The Roman Forum is one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in Rome: “the size of the Forum should adapt to the public, in order to avoid that the space is too small compared
to the use for which it is used … the plant will be rectangular and the layout will be adapted for spectacular purposes”wrote Vitruvius (Marcus Vitruvius Pollio; ca 80 BC – ca 15 BC), Roman architect and writer.
In the ancient times, the Roman Forum was the center of life in Imperial Rome, focused commercial, administrative, legal and religious, as evidenced by the numerous remains of triumphal arches, temples and basilicas. The “Via Sacra” is the road that crosses from east to west the roman city, and here, coming back from their triumphant military campaigns, were celebrated the endless processions of victorious generals.
Until 509 BC, when Rome became a Republic, the city was ruled by the Etruscan dynasty of the Tarquini kings. With the construction of the sewer, ‘Cloaca Massima’, to drain water from the marshes in the valley into the Tiber, the area became a rectangular square, Capitol Hill, paved in tuff and the centre of activity in the political heart of Rome until the fall of the Roman Empire more than a thousand years later.
The Comitium was the centre of all political activity in the Roman Republic. The Senate met at the Curia, which was a part of the Comitium. Almost nothing of what remains of the Comitium is visible in the Roman Forum today. The site of the Comitium was between the Arch of Septimius Severus and the Curia Julia, but most of the Comitium and related monuments were demolished in the late 1st century BC, when Gulius Caesar and Augustus reorganised the entire Roman Forum.
The Comitium changed shape several times during its five centuries of existence. Excavations at the site have revealed no less than eight different layers of pavement, and at least four different arrangements of the Comitium.
The HOSTYLIA CARE
It was the original home of the Senate of Rome, Built by Tullus Hostilius third King of Rome, it was considered to be a very venerable area and therefore oriented to the cardinal points of the compass.
Outside its western wall is the Tabula Valeria, a painting showing the victory of Marco Valerio Messalla over Gerone and Carthaginians in 263 BC. According to Pliny, this wall painting was the first of its kind in Rome, later incorporated into the Porcia Basilica.
ARCHES OF TRIUMPH
Three triumphal arches were built in the Forum. They were used by emperors to commemorate their victories. Of the first, built by Augustus in 29 BC, only a few remains remain.
The Archus of Titus, built in AD 81, commemorates the victory in the Jewish War. It is located at the Sacred Way on the eastern side of the Forum. At the other end, near the Campidoglio, stands the Arco di Settimio Severo. It was built in 203 AD to commemorate the victory over the Partians.
The Curia Julia was the place where the Senate met in assembly. The rectangular brick building could accommodate up to two hundred senators. The Curia burnt down four times, the present building was constructed in 283 AD by Diocletian. In the 7th century the Curia was converted into a church, but fortunately the building has been largely kept intact.
TEMPLE OF SATURN
The first Temple of Saturn was built during the last years of the Etruscan kingdom. It was inaugurated at the beginning of the Republic in 497 BC. The present ruins date back to 42 BC. The temple was used as the state treasury (Aerarium). It also housed the banners of the legions and senatorial decrees. In 20 BC a tall column, the Golden Milliary, was placed in front of the Temple of Augustus. All distances to Rome were measured from this column.
THEME OF VESPASIAN
The construction of this temple was started in the first century AD by Tito honour his father, the deified Vespasian. Domiziano, Titus’s brother and successor, completed the structure, now dedicated to both Titus and Vespasiano. The temple had a hexagonal plan with a large cella (sanctuary) with statues of the two emperors.
THEME OF CASTORE AND POLLUCE
Only three pillars remain of this temple. The original one was built in 484 BC, the present remains date back to its last reconstruction in the 6th century AD. The temple was built by the Roman dictator Postumius, as he had promised if his army defeated King Tarquinius who had previously ruled Rome. According to legend, Castor and Pollux, mythological twin brothers, were said to have helped the Roman army and announced victory in the Forum.
TEMPLE OF ANTONINUS AND FAUSTINE
The Temple was built in 141 AD by Emperor Antoninus Pius to honour his late wife Faustina. Twenty years after the emperor’s death, the temple was re-consecrated to both Antoninus and Faustina. In the 7th century, it was transformed into the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda.
The church was rebuilt in 1601. The deep grooves in the marble columns are traces of superfetations, probably wooden, that must have occupied this part of the temple after its abandonment.
BASILICA OF MASSENZIUS
The construction of the last of the great basilicas was started by Emperor Maxentius in 308 AD after his defeat by Constantine during the famous Battle of Ponte Milvio in 312 AD. The basilica was later completed by Constantine.
It measured 100 metres by 65, 35 metres high. It consisted of a large central nave with huge Corinthian columns and two smaller side aisles. One column was moved in 1614 to the square of Santa Maria Maggiore. A twelve-metre high statue of Constantine, partly in marble and partly in wood, occupied the western end of the Basilica. Parts of the statue are now in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which is part of the Capitoline Museums.
In 54 BC Julius Caesar began construction of the Basilica Julia, a building used as the seat of the Centumviri, a court of civil jurisdiction specialising in succession disputes.
The large building, 101 metres long and 49 metres wide, was destroyed by fire in the 9th century BC, but rebuilt seven years later. The basilica was sacked after the fall of Rome. It is still possible to see the plan clearly today.
The Basilica Emilia is the oldest in the Forum, originally built in 179 BC by the consuls Marco Emilio Lepido and Marco Fulvio Nobiliore. The purpose was to provide a sheltered place to carry out everything that normally took place outside in bad weather.
It was last modified in 22 A.D.; at that time the large marble hall with four naves incorporated a number of shops that housed public banks and money exchanges (tabernae argentariae). The basilica was destroyed by fire during the Sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 AD.
THEME OF VESTA
The circular temple of Vesta dates back to the 4th century BC. It was one of the most important in Rome as it was dedicated to the patroness of both family and state. Here the Vestal Virgins guarded the eternal sacred flame, symbol of Rome’s eternal life.
Virgins guarding the flame were chosen by Pontifex Maximus, the supreme religious authority of the State. The girls, who had to be aristocrats, were highly valued and enjoyed many advantages. The prestigious service lasted thirty years and during that time they had to remain virgins, otherwise they would be buried alive (this happened to ten of them).
Right next to the Temple of Vesta stood the House of the Vestals. As soon as she was chosen as a vestal (at the age of six), she would move in. Spread over three floors, the large house had about fifty rooms for the six girls and their attendants. The rooms opened onto galleries that surrounded the courtyard.
TEMPLE OF ROMULUS
The circular Temple, built in the 4th century AD, is located opposite the House of the Vestal Virgins. The building is largely intact due to its incorporation into the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. The large, well-preserved bronze door is original. There is still an ongoing debate about who this temple was dedicated to; perhaps it was dedicated to the son of Maxentius, who died young in 307 AD.
TEMPLE OF VENUS
The largest religious structure in ancient Rome was built near the Colosseum. Designed by the emperor Adrian in 135 AD, this temple is of impressive dimensions, 100 metres by 145. The temple was dedicated to Rome, the personification of the city being Venus, mother of Aeneas (the assumed father of Romulus and Remus). The building contained two cellae (shrines) with statues of the goddesses, each located on one side of the temple. Part of the cella dedicated to Rome is still standing today.
At 13.5 metres high, it is the youngest monument in the Forum. It was not part of a temple, but was built in honour of the Byzantine Emperor Foca, on the occasion of his visit to Rome. The Corinthian column was erected in 608 A.D. by the Italian Hesarch Smaragdo, and was crowned by a gilded statue of Phocas.
Originally built in the 4th century BC inside the Comitium, the Rostra was the tribune where consuls and high magistrates performed their eloquences. The name comes from the old rostrums of ships captured in the Battle of Anzio in 338 BC that decorated the tribune.
Caesar had built the Rosters in their present location, but in marble, measuring twenty-four metres wide and twelve metres deep. The height of three metres allowed the orators on the podium to tower above the crowd.
Thanks to Spakespe’s version, the most famous speech from the rostrums was given in 44 BC by March Antony when he addressed the crowd during Julius Caesar’s funeral “Friends, Romans, fellow citizens, lend me your ears …”..
Remains of several other structures can be found on the Roman Forum, including the Sacellum of Venere Cloacina, the Porticus Deorum Consentium, the Arch of Actium, La Regia, the Temple of Divus Julius – built by Augustus in honour of Julius Caesar – and the
Temple of Concordia.
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