What was the Roman Forum? In its heyday, the Roman Forum was the beating heart of Ancient Rome, the centre of the Roman Empire – a place frequented by senators, priests and emperors. Today, it’s a sprawling ruin of temples and palaces, including the remains of the huts reputedly inhabited by Romulus and Remus! An open-air museum at the heart of Ancient Rome.
Due to the fact that the Colosseum is sold out for the next few weeks, there are now also tickets that are ONLY valid for the Roman Forum (because there is still capacity here).
October 1st – last Saturday in October: 8.30 a.m. – 6.30 p.m. Last Sunday of October – February 15th: 8.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. February 16th- March 15th: 8.30 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. March 16th – last Saturday of March: 8.30 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. Last admission: one hour before closing
Public holidays: Closed on January 1st, May 1st and December 25th
The Roman Forum was the vibrant heart of Ancient Rome and centre of the entire Roman Empire. This was the place where decrees were made, victories celebrated, ideas debated and gods worshipped in a host of different temples.
Alongside the Forum sits the Palatine Hill, where legend has it that Romulus first founded Rome in 753 B.C. It is also the place where many emperors – including Augustus (27 B.C–14 A.D.), Tiberius (14–37 A.D.) and Domitian (69–96 A.D.) – chose to build their palaces.
Among the site’s most significant ruins are the three triumphal arches dedicated to Constantine, Septimius Severus and Titus respectively, and the Temple of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. You can also see the remains of the Temple of Caesar, which was erected on the site where Caesar was cremated.
The Via Appia Antica – constructed in 312 B.C. and once a major supply route for all parts of the empire – also runs through the site.
Everywhere you look there are ruins. It’s like exploring an enormous archaeological dig!
Roman Forum A bit of history
In the 6th century B.C., King Lucius Tarquinius Priscus decided to connect up the various parts of Rome by building on the lowlands between the Capitoline, Palatine and Esquiline hills. But as these low-lying lands were very marshy, he constructed the Cloaca Maxima – Rome’s famous sewer – to drain them. That decision proved crucial because it ultimately set Rome on the path to becoming the powerhouse of the Roman Empire.
Originally, the reclaimed land served simply as a marketplace, but during the time of the Roman Republic, the Forum was extended and used as a meeting place where the Senate convened to talk politics. The first temples and basilicas were also built during this period, including the Basilica Aemilia in 179 B.C. and the Basilica Sempronia in 169 B.C.
The Forum’s heyday, however, came during the time of the Roman Empire. Emperor Augustus made sweeping renovations in a bid to demonstrate his great power, repaving the Forum with white travertine and adding marble cladding to many of the buildings. To underline the strength of his dynasty (the Julio-Claudian dynasty), he also realigned the Forum to face the Temple of Caesar. He even forbid citizens from entering the Forum unless they were wearing a toga, a 6 x 2.50 m cloth that was worn draped over the shoulders and round the body.
In the centuries that followed, Augustus’ successors each made their own mark on the Forum. For instance, Emperor Antonius Pius built the Temple of Faustina in honour of his deified wife. But it was Emperor Domitian (69–96 A.D.) who was responsible for the most significant modifications, including the construction of the Temple of Vespasian and the Arch of Titus.
The Arch of Constantine, which stands alongside the Colosseum, was built between 312 and 315 A.D and is believed to have been commissioned by the Senate to commemorate ten years of Emperor Constantine’s reign.
Many emperors, including Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian, also chose to build their palaces alongside the Forum on the Palatine Hill. With so many emperors building new temples and palaces over the centuries, it’s unsurprising that new buildings were continuously built over old. As a result, although the ruins are extensive, they vary considerably in how well-preserved they are.
The Middle Ages
Following the fall of the Roman Empire and its great emperors, the Roman Forum lost much of its significance, although it continued to be used for public gatherings until well into the 8th century. By this time, however, many of the buildings had fallen into disrepair and there was no interest in rebuilding them. Quite the opposite, in fact: From the 9th century onwards, the former temples and palaces were deliberately destroyed and the stone and other materials used to build new houses. Many of the temples were also turned into churches. The Temple of Faustina, for instance, became the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda.
The first excavation at the Roman Forum was conducted in 1788 by the Swede Carl Fredrik Fredenheim, who uncovered parts of the Basilica Julia. However, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the site was excavated more systematically. The residential buildings that had sprung up in the intervening years were torn down, and work began initially on the ancient ruins that were visible above the surface. Among the first to be discovered were the Temple of Faustina and Arch of Septimius Severus. After Rome became the capital of Italy in 1871, excavation work began in earnest and by 1905 almost the whole of the Roman Forum had been excavated.