In the center of Rome, you’ll find the Roman Forum, situated between the Palatine and Capitoline hills. Known also by its Latin name Forum Romanum, it is a rectangular forum or plaza surrounded by the ruins of the ancient city. For centuries it was the center of day-to-day life in Rome. The site of processions, elections, public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches. As well as the center of commercial affairs and a marketplace for the Roman citizens. The Roman Forum has been called the “most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history.”
Visiting the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
After visiting the Colosseum, I headed over to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. It’s right next door so it made perfect sense to head there next. Be warned, there was a load of walking to do at the Forum. I didn’t even walk the whole thing because I was getting tired. I had the most amount of steps on my FitBit I have ever had the day I went here. The size of the Roman Forum was 820 feet x 558 feet (250 meters x 170 meters). It is on multiple levels so there is some uphill walking. Because there is a fair amount of walking. It would advise to bring water with you. It was summer when I went so it was hot. Stay hydrated! This was another place the Omnia card was useful as it provided me with fast track entry.
The Roman Forum shows remains from several centuries all together, due to the practice of building over earlier ruins. The excavations to clear the Roman Forum took over 100 years and it wasn’t until the 20th century that it became fully excavated. The Around Rome Tours site has a number of other interesting facts on the location.
A Guide to the History of the Roman Forum
The quoted information I’m providing here is literally straight from the Roman Forum. Think of this as your own personal Roman Forum guide! There were signs in Italian and English all around the area. Very helpful!
“The Roman Forum lies in the valley surrounded by the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline hills. In the Republican period (5th-1st centuries BC) this was the political, economic, religious and commercial heart of ancient Rome. In the 9th-8th centuries BC, when the city was made up of independent villages, the area was occupied by the cemeteries of the various settlements. Later, the villages began to merge and the Forum valley naturally became the place where their inhabitants met for economic transactions and social activities.”
The Social Center of Rome
“The Forum hosted games, political meetings and assemblies. It is described by legend as the setting for some of the most important events in the first few centuries of Rome’s history, including the Rape of the Sabine Women. Particularly between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC, the intense activities carried out here led to the construction of the first buildings with specific sacred and public functions. An initial road network also began to take shape between the temples and basilicas: the Via Sacra, the Vicus Tuscus, the Clivus Argentarius, etc.”
“On the summit of the Palatine facing the Tiber, excavations have brought to light a small hut village, usually linked to the foundation of Rome. Their existence is indicated by trenches and holes dug into the soil, from whose form archaeologists have deduced the presence of two huts with beaten earth walls, supported by a framework of wooden poles and with a roof of interwoven branches. The position of the huts, coinciding with that described by ancient authors, has suggested that this was the place where the founder Romulus traditionally lived.”
“A small two-story building known as the Casino del Belvedere stands on the remains of one of the nymphaeums (a monument consecrated to the nymphs) at the sides of the large triclinium belonging to the imperial palace of the Domitianic period (AD 81-96). Dating to the 16th century, it was rebuilt by the Farnese family who added a two-order loggia (room with one or more open sides) covered with frescoes and a travertine balustrade. The paintings, which still survive, depict bucolic landscapes on the walls and grotesques on the vaults, adorned with ovals dedicated to deities such as Venus or mythical figures like Hercules, Cacus or the Argonauts.”
Domus Augustana Overlooking the Circus Maximus
“In this sector of the palace are some of the rooms overlooking the porticoed courtyard on the underground level 10 meters below, which hosted private apartments still accessed today via an ancient staircase. There are also the remains of a suite of rooms arranged symmetrically and with the typical recesses for triclinia (couches). Each room opened onto a semi-circular courtyard, adorned with a fountain and communicated through doors with a porticoed panoramic terrace, which closed the facade of the palace on the side facing the valley of the Circus Maximus.”
The Circus Maximus is an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium. Located in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine Hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome. It measured 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width and could accommodate over 150,000 spectators.
The Palatine Stadium
“This area provides a view from above of the “Stadium”, an important sector of the Flavian Palace which is never given this name in the ancient sources. In fact it was a garden, more specifically a hippodromus, the word with this is was described by the late authors. Hippodromes, originally areas where horses were exercised, came to be, in Rome, elongated rectangular spaces with paths and flower-beds.
Derving from the Greek gymnasiums, these were luxurious garden areas present in important villas surrounded by a portico supported by marble-clad engaged columns. The central part consisted of a broad curved avenue for strolling on foot, on a litter or even in a carriage, a custom described by Martial and Juvenal, authors of the Domitianic period (AD 81-96). On the eastern side is a large exedra from which to enjoy views over the garden below, luxuriously decorated with sculptures and two semi-circular fountains at either end.”
So-Called Temple of Romulus
“On the basis of a depiction on a coin this building – unusual in shape for Roman architecture – is identified as the temple built by the emperor Maxentius in AD 307 in honor of his son who died in childhood. The circular building is flanked by two apsidal halls opening onto the front with little porticoes decorated with porphyry columns. The bronze door is original and the lock still works. Pope Felix V turned the monument into the vestibule of the Church of St. Cosmas and Damian but the entrance to the Forum was reopened in 1879.”
Archaic Burial Ground
“Numerous tombs dating to between the 9th and 7th centuries BC were excavated in this area in 1902, with two types of burials: cremations and inhumations. The former, the oldest tombs, usually contained a funerary urn in the form of a hut with the remains of the deceased; in the inhumations the body was buried directly in the earth or in wooden or tufa coffins. The funerary equipment found in the tombs (clay and bucchero vessels, bronze jewelry) is held in the Forum Antiquarium.”
The Vestal Virgins
“The priestly order of Vestals dates back to Romulus or Numa (8th – 7ths centuries BC). Priestesses had to be young aristocratic virgins and were chosen by the Pontifex Maximus when they were between the age of 6 and 10. Their service as priestess lasted for 30 years and brought them wealth and privilege, but also required chastity and observation of rituals. The Vestals kept alight the public fire that burned in the temple of Vesta, looked after sacred objects and celebrated annual festivals. On these occasions the Vestals prepared the mola salsa, a mixture of flour and salt, which was sprinkled on sacrificial victims.”
Temple of Caesar
“Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC in the Curia of Pompey in the Campus Martius and was cremated in the Forum, in front of the Regia. On this spot Augustus raised a temple, dedicated in 29 BC. Set on a high podium with six columns at the front, it was decorated with the rostra (large platform) taken from the ships of Anthony and Cleopatra captured by Augustus, two years earlier, at the Battle of Actium. The altar, in the hemicycle of the podium, replaced the commemorative column. Staircases at the sides led to the interior of the building, of which only the cement core survives today.”
Arch of Septimus Severus
Built in 203 AD the arch was built to commemorate the victories of Emperor Septimus Severus. Measuring 76 feet hight x 82 feet wide (23 meters high x 25 meters wide), it’s one of the most well preserved and intact monuments in the Roman Forum. It was a joy to walk around the Forum. I was so thankful that the signs were around as I didn’t do a guided tour. The signs helped to provide context and act as Roman Forum guide. I strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Rome. It was definitely the highlight of my trip.