The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum in Italian) lies between the Capitol and the Palatine Hills in Rome. It is a more or less trapezoid area between the Regia and the Rostra on the short sides and the Basilica Aemilia and the Basilica Giulia on the long sides. The comitium forms an extension of the northern part.
Roman Forum Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
The Roman Forum has two entrances, at the Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6 and at the Via di San Gregorio, 30. Tickets and hours are the same as the ones of the Colosseum. There is an exit at the Via Foro Romano.
It is definitely recommended to see the Forum from one of the vantage points on the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio): This way one has an idea of its structure while, when walking through it, one sometimes has the impression that the chunks of stone and marble that are still there were thrown down rather randomly.
History and description
Constructed on the marshy land between the Capitoline and the Palatine hills, the Roman Forum used to be the center of Roman life (until this role was taken over by the Fori Imperiali).
The valley where the Roman Forum is located is the result of erosion caused by one of the many small streams that used to flow through the part of the city at the time known as Velabro into the Tiber.
It was constructed for both commercial and political purposes. The position was very important since a multiple important roads (the Via Sacra, the Vicus Iugarius and the Vicus Tuscus, the Argiletum and the Clivus Capitolinus) converged there.
Archeological finds in 1902 evidence that this originally marshy ground used to function as a burial place (between the 11th and 7th centuries BC) before people started building huts there. The first sacred monuments date back to the second half of the 6th century BC.
It was only under the Etruscan kings (around 600 BC), that the swamp was drained by the construction of the Cloaca Maxima. The first settlements were built in those days and the first pavements were laid.
The ancient political center of the city was called Comitium (Comizio) and was located in a monumental complex called Lapis Niger, which was situated between the present Basilica Aemilia, the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Curia Iulia and the Santi Luca and Martino Church. This templum was oriented in such a way that it was also used as a sundial. When it was built, in the 6th century B.C., this space was still square, but three centuries later it had become circular, following the Greek model, with a ring of steps around it.
The political and judicial center of Rome was located here from the end of the time of kings until the late Republican period, when the center moved to the Forum.
The first sanctuaries were built during the first years of the Republic (509 BC). These were the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of the Dioscuri.
In 367 BC the victor over the Gauls, Camillo, had the Tempio della Concordia built.
The real development of the Forum took place only after the Punic Wars, when Rome gained undisputed dominion over the western Mediterranean, a hegemony that was extended eastward after the wars against the Greek states.
In the 2nd century BC, four basilicas were built, namely the Porcia, the Basilica Aemilia, the Sempronia and the Opimia.
In the 1st century BC, the Capitol was refurbished, leading to the construction of the Tabularium, which bounded the Forum on the west side. The Tabularium is now the lower part of the Palazzo Senatorio.
After the crisis of the republic, the emperors gave the Forum a different appearance, mainly to increase their prestige. Caesar had the Foro di Cesare constructed (54 BC), which led to the demolition of the Comizio and the Curia Hostilia (formerly the seat of the Senate). The latter building was replaced by the Curia Iulia.
Augustus made further changes, which were only undone by order of Domitian, who, among other things, had a huge equestrian statue of himself placed in the middle of the Forum. By the end of the 3rd century it had been further filled with huge monuments, including the seven columns of honor and another equestrian statue, this time Constantine.
In 608, the Column of Foca was constructed. It turned out to be the last new construction placed in the Roman Forum.
What happened after
Around the beginning of the 7th century AD the Forum was abandoned and turned into a cattle field (Campus Vaccinus). In the following centuries many stone and marble monuments were (at least partially) dismantled in order to be reused for the construction of new buildings.
Before the Forum became the main site of the Empire, it was a marketplace. The name derives from the Latin fero, meaning “to bring,” since the goods sold at the market were brought there.
From the 16th century, the site again became a kind of market. However, this time animals were traded, giving it the name Campo Vaccino (“Cow Field”).
It was not until the time of Napoleon, when excavations began, that the market was abolished. This was done by order of Pius VII and mainly carried out by inmates. Among other things, the Arch of Septimius Severus was excavated under a more than 3 meter high layer of sand.
In 1813, the Column of Foca was excavated.
Pius VII also had the fountain designed by Giacomo della Porta removed. This had been placed on the Forum to water the cattle, but became superfluous when the cattle market was abandoned. It consisted of a large granite basin and a mask enclosed in a shell. The tub was placed near the obelisk in Piazza del Quirinale, while the mask ended up near the Porta Leonina. In 1936, it was moved again , and now decorates the fountain in Piazza d’Illiria.
The Campo Vaccino came to be the background of fights between the inhabitants of the various neighborhoods (especially Trastevere and Monti) who pelted each other with, in this part of the city not very difficult to find, stones.
After the Pope returned to Rome after the exile to Avignon, many of the monuments buried by a thick layer of earth were looted and stripped of their marble. The materials obtained were then used in the construction of new buildings (especially churches). This lasted until the 17th century, when all the easily accessible material had already been removed.
Most Important Monuments Roman Forum
Basilica of Maxentius
The Basilica of Maxentius (Basilica di Massenzio) is one of the largest monuments in the Roman Forum. This former courthouse was the model for the construction of the first churches in Rome, which thus came to be called basilica‘s.
Arch of Titus
The Arch of Titus was constructed between 81 and 100 AD. It was built in honour of Emperor Titus, who had conquered Jerusalem. The various decorations refer to this exploit, but also to religion and to the life of the Emperor himself.
Via Sacra and Curia
The Roman Forum is cut in two by the ancient Roman Via Sacra. Once inside and walking towards the arch you will find the Curia on your right. This was the seat of the Roman Senate and was built by Julius Caesar. The marble floor dates from the 3rd century.
Arch of Septimius Severus
The triumphal arch of Septimius Severus was built in 203. Carved into this arch are images of Septimius’ victories in wars in present-day Iraq and Iran. It is all very weathered as most of the arch was buried during the Middle Ages due to floods. For a while, the upper part was even used by a barber to ply his trade.
Porticus Deorum Consentium
The Porticus Deorum Consentium (Italian: Portico degli Déi Consenti) is formed by the colonnade located on the far west side of the Forum, almost against the Tabularium. The Porticus Deorum Consentium was also known as the Porticus of the Twelve Gods.
Umbilicus Urbus and Rostra
To the left of the triumphal arch is a cylindrical rock in which marble steps are carved. This was the Umbilicus Urbus and was considered the center of Rome and therefore of the entire Roman Empire. The winding steps went up to the Imperial Rostra from where speeches were made by legislators and other speakers.
Temple of Vespasius and Titus
The three columns with Corinthian capitals with some remains of an architrave on them form the corner of what used to be the Temple of Vespasius and Titus. (After their death, emperors were always elevated to gods).
Temple of Saturn
The eight granite columns formed the front of the Temple of Saturn, which also housed the first tax office of the Roman Empire. It was here that the Saturnalia, a large festival that can be compared to Christmas, took place every year on December 17.
The Basilica Julia was built by Julius Caesar and is also named after him. It was built on the site of the even earlier Basilica Sempronia. Except for a constructed central column, very little remains of it.
Temple of the Dioscuri
Behind the Basilica Julia are the three Corinthian columns of the Temple of the Dioscuri, dedicated to the twins Castor and Pollux. These three columns, dating from the 5th century BCE, also still bear the remains of an architrave.
House of the Vestal Virgins and Temple of Vesta
Behind the remains of what was once the wall of the small circular Temple of Vesta is the partially restored House of the Vestal Virgins. Here lived the young women who kept the Sacred Flame burning. These women were chosen from the wealthier families and then had to serve as priestesses for 30 years. This gave them a lot of power and they could, for example, exonerate criminals, but in return they had to make sure that their virginity remained intact (if they did not do this, they could be buried alive). Around the gardens and lakes with goldfish and lilies are statues of elderly Vestal Virgins on pedestals.
Column of Phocas
The Column of Phocas was built in 608. It is 13.5 meters high and is one of the few columns in the Forum that has never been brought down. Until the year 1816, it was unknown what the column had served for or what significance hj had. It was thanks to the English Lady Elizabeth Foster that the pedestal was unearthed.
Santa Maria Antiqua Church
From here one climbs up the hill towards the entrance to the Palatine. One passes along the way the Santa Maria Antiqua Church, the oldest Christian building in the Roman Forum. After a 36-year restoration, it reopened in 2016.
The Lapis Niger is a black marble-covered piece of ground that was separated from the other monuments by stripes of white marble. Below it was probably a sanctuary dedicated to the God Vulcan, although there are also theories that claim it was the tomb of Romulus.
More Forum Romanum monuments
- Temple of Venus and Rome: Recently restored, back-to-back temples celebrating the goddesses of love (Venus) and war (Roma)
- Temple of Romulus
- Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
- Temple of Caesar (aka Temple of the Divine Julius)
- Horrea Agrippiana
- Basilica Aemilia