Rome. The Forum. Discover the heart of the ancient world
The Roman Forum. A tour in the heart of the ancient world
Rome is the largest city-museum in the world. Its monuments are so many that it’s easy to get confused in your quest to choose the most important, depending on how many days you have at your disposal.
However, if you want to see the most important sights in a sensible sequence that will help you understand the history of this historic city, I advise you to start from ancient Rome. In this case, you should start from the Forum (Forum Romanum).
The Forum is the most important archaeological site in Rome. For centuries it has been the centre of the public life of the capital of the Roman Empire.
Here the triumphal processions, the elections, the political speeches, the trials took place. But it was also the centre of commerce.
They have called it the most famous meeting place in the world. It’s located in the small valley between the hills Palatine and Capitoline.
Since Rome has been constantly inhabited since antiquity, it’s natural that the ancient monuments be mixed with newer ones, mainly churches. This mixing reflects better than anything else the passage from Rome of the Emperors to Rome of the Popes. From the capital of the united and later of the Western Roman State to the capital of Western Christianity.
The Imperial Fora
Before entering the Forum, you’ll see the smaller Fora that several emperors built next to it. Not so much because there was a real need for extra markets. But because each emperor wanted to leave his imprint.
First, we meet the Trajan’s Forum, but this is the last one chronologically. It was built in the 2nd century AD, by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus.
The Trajan Forum also includes the column of Trajan, set up by the Senate to commemorate Trajan’s victories in the wars of Dacia (present-day Romania). The emperor’s statue disappeared in the Middle Ages. In the 16th century, the statue of Saint Peter was set up on the column.
The Forum of Trajan. The Basilica Ulpia. To the left the column of Trajan with the very later statue of Saint Peter
The Forum of Trajan. The shops
Near it, we see the Forum of Augustus, which was inaugurated in 2 BC.
The Forum of Augustus. The Temple of Mars. The medieval building on the left is the seat of the Knights of Rhodes (also known as Knights of Malta)
Next is the Forum that Julius Caesar built in 46 BC.
The Forum of Caesar
Entry in the Forum Romanum
And now we are entering the Forum Romanum. The most important monuments that the visitor encounters are presented in the order that we see them coming from the side of the Capitol. That is, in the following reconstruction, we enter the depth of the image and move towards its front.
Reconstruction of the Forum. Source: a derivative work of a 3D model by Lasha Tskhondia – L.VII.C. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The first impressive monument we encounter is the triumphal arch built by Emperor Septimius Severus in 203 AD to commemorate his victories over the Parthians.
On its left is the Curia. It’s a simple building, but it was of great political importance. It was built by Julius Caesar in 44 BC as the seat of the Senate. It was largely preserved due to its conversion into a church in the 7th century.
The triumphal arch of Septimius Severus. On the left, the Curia
To the right of the arch, we see the impressive ruins of the Temple of Saturn. The original temple is believed to have been built in 497 BC. However, the ruins we see belong to the temple of the end of the 3rd century AD.
The Temple of Saturn. On the right, the few ruins of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, of the end of the 1st century AD.
On the left of the arch of Septimius Severus, we see the church of the Saints Luke and Martina. The current building was built in the 17th century in designs by Pietro da Cortona, but the original church dated from the 7th century, dedicated to the local martyr Martina. The church was also dedicated to Saint Luke in the 16th century when it was given to the Academy of Saint Luke, the academy of painters.
The arch of Septimius Severus and the church of the Saints Luke and Martina
The Temple of Saturn and the church of the Saints Luke and Martina
The arch of Septimius Severus and the church of the Saints Luke and Martina
The church of the Saints Luke and Martina. On the right, we see part of the Curia
The Forum from the Temple of Saturn. To the left, San Lorenzo in Miranda, the circular Temple of Romulus, the Colosseum, Santa Francesca Romana, the Temple of Vesta, the Temple of the Dioscuri and just behind it the triumphal arch of Titus
Then we see two very ruined temples: the Temple of the Dioscuri, and the circular Temple of Vesta. The ruins of the Temple of the Dioscuri belong to the final phase by Tiberius, which was completed in 5 AD. Prior to this, there were older buildings, the first dating back to 484 BC.
At the Temple of Vesta burned the holy fire. The priestesses, the Vestals, had the duty to ensure it wouldn’t go out. The ruins belong to the reconstruction of the temple at the end of the 2nd century AD.
On the left, the Temple of Vesta. On the right, the Temple of the Dioscuri
Reconstruction of the Temple of Vesta. Source: a derivative work of a 3D model by Lasha Tskhondia – L.VII.C. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
San Lorenzo in Miranda. One of the strangest monuments of Rome
Then, on the left of the Temple of Vesta, we see the strangest of the Forum monuments.
It’s the church of Saint Lawrence, San Lorenzo in Miranda.
If you learn that the church was built in an ancient temple, you’ll understand why it seems so strange.
It’s the temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The temple was built in 141 AD by Emperor Antoninus Pius. The emperor dedicated it to his wife Faustina, who had died and had been deified, according to the Roman custom.
Antoninus was deified in his turn after his death in 161 AD. At that time the temple was dedicated again together to Antoninus and Faustina, at the initiative of his successor Marcus Aurelius.
The conversion into a Christian church of Saint Lawrence must have taken place early, in the 7th century. The church was dedicated to this specific saint, because, according to tradition, there is the place of his martyrdom (on a grill under which charcoal was lit). The name Miranda is probably due to some donor.
Tintoretto, The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence. Christ Church, University of Oxford
The present form of the church dates from 1602.
San Lorenzo in Miranda, engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 18th century
The eastern part of the Forum
After San Lorenzo in Miranda, on the same side, we meet the Temple of Romulus. It was dedicated to Romulus, the son of Emperor Maxentius. Romulus died at a young age in 309 AD and was deified. The temple’s bronze doors are authentic and therefore most rare. In the 6th century AD, the temple was transformed into a vestibule of the church of the Saints Cosmas and Damian, located behind.
The Temple of Romulus. Today it’s united with the church of the Saints Cosmas and Damian, located behind
The Temple of Romulus. The authentic bronze doors of the 4th century AD
Next to the Temple of Romulus is the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. It began to be built by Maxentius in 308 AD and was completed by Constantine in 312 AD. It was the largest building of the Forum with impressive vaults.
The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
Next to the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine is the church of Santa Francesca Romana. The facade dates from the 17th century, but other parts of the building are from much earlier times, starting from the 10th century.
Here I have the priest of the church to remember, who asked me where I come from and when I told him, he started reciting ancient Greek to me!
The church of Santa Francesca Romana
On the right of Santa Francesca Romana is the triumphal arch of Emperor Titus. It was built in 82 AD by Emperor Domitian, to honour the military victories of his brother and previous Emperor Titus.
The triumphal arch of Titus
Getting out of the Forum, behind Santa Francesca Romana, we meet the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome. It was built by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD and was the largest temple of ancient Rome.
The temple of Venus and Rome
A little further is the triumphal arch of Constantine, built by the Senate in 315 AD to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius. It’s the largest Roman triumphal arch.
The triumphal arch of Constantine
And our tour ends with the most famous ancient monument of Rome: the Colosseum.
The Colosseum doesn’t need any introduction. It’s enough to say that it began being built by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD by his successor Titus. It was officially called Flavian amphitheatre since these emperors belonged to the Flavian dynasty. It’s the largest of all Roman amphitheatres.
In the Middle Ages, most of its material was plundered, as was the case with all the ancient monuments. But what remains is certainly the most impressive ruin of Rome.
1. Don’t go in the area hungry and thirsty, because your only choices will be the street vendors, who charge outrageous prices.
2. If you go in the summer, there is no shade, so take your measures.
3. In the Colosseum, there are probably most of Rome’s pickpockets. Don’t let people pretending to be beggars approach you, especially if they hold papers in their hands because they are in fact thieves and the papers hide the movements of their hands.
The tour of Rome will, of course, continue with many other articles, since the material is enormous. So stay tuned.
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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