What is there
Everyone who walks from the Colosseum towards Piazza Venezia (Vittoriano) (or the other way round) probably passes the Forum of Trajan in Rome. Many stop here and take a photo of the huge Forum with Trajan’s Column – most of them most likely without giving a second thought to what they are actually looking at. And only very few find their way into the building. Yet, it is such a well-preserved ancient treasure!
The Forum of Trajan is the last of its kind and was built (as you can easily tell from its name) by the Emperor Trajan between 107 and 113 AD. He was emperor from 98 to 117 and is mainly known for the fact that the Roman Empire expanded greatly under his rule.
There was actually no room for “his” imperial forum, so a hill had to be removed first. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” or “Where there are slaves, there’s a way”. Allegedly, the mound would have been as high as Trajan’s Column, which is still visible today. (This still stands on its original site). The emperor wanted to show the people how powerful he was. Not even a 40-metre-high hill stands in his way. The column will serve as a daily reminder of this greatness.
So his forum adorns Trajan’s Column, at about 35 metres high (not counting the plinth on which it stands). It is a column of honour to commemorate the two successful wars against the Dacians (101/102 and 105/106). The 114 battle scenes function like a pictorial history (an ancient comic) and tell a lot about clothing, equipment and procedures of the 2nd century. Around 2,500 people are depicted on the column. By the way, the emperor himself can also be seen over 60 times!
If you look closely, you can see holes in the individual stone slabs. These have an important function: they provide light for the interior! There is a spiral staircase inside with 185 steps to the top!
Since 1587, the statue of the Apostle Peter has stood on the platform.
The forum was 300 metres long and 185 metres wide, so it was huge! The entire complex consisted of markets built on top of each other on several floors. There was even a large market hall. Today, we would call such a building a “shopping centre”. You can still easily recognise the floor plans of the shops. On the ground floor, for example, every arch was a shop. As was usual in the ancient world, the floor of these shops was decorated with mosaics and the walls were painted. The colours and the mosaics can still be seen after almost 2000 years! You can also see the colourful marble on the floor if you look closely. It’s spectacular how much the construction of such a forum must have cost…
If you take the time to walk through the forum, you will see more than just the Emperor Trajan. The Forum of Caesar, Augustus and Nerva are also presented. You get a lot of information about the building materials, the construction techniques and the ancient art. Many heads of (large) statues are exhibited in the individual rooms and allow visitors to get a rough idea of the true size of the Roman Empire.