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Map of Forum Area
centuries, the main Forum was the political center of Rome.
It’s located in a once-swampy lowland area adjoining the Palatine and Capitoline Hills. This area held a somewhat randomly-arranged
assortment of political and religious structures and monuments, nearly all of
which are now in ruins. Many of the
structures were destroyed (either deliberately or accidentally) and rebuilt
more than once, and many were partly or completely buried over the centuries by
debris discarded by the citizenry or eroded from the nearby hills. Excavation of the area to unearth the ruins
wasn’t begun until the 19th Century, and much is still buried.
began our exploration of the Forum from its east end, near the Colosseum. The entrance was just up Via di San Gregorio
from the Colosseum, where there was a fairly short line to wait in. The first ruins seen, also visible from the
Colosseum area, were those of the Temple
of Venus and Rome, which was first built from 121-141
A.D. This was the largest temple in
architected by the emperor Hadrian. An
immense statue of Nero had to be moved closer to the Colosseum to make room for
it. The focus of the temple was two
centrally-located chambers containing seated statues of Venus (goddess of love)
and Roma Aeterna (a goddess personifying the city itself). Apollodorus of Damascus, Hadrian’s chief
architect on other projects, thought that Hadrian had made the niches
containing the statues too small, and joked that the statues would “bump their
heads” if they stood up. Hadrian responded with customary Imperial good humor
by having Apollodorus banished and eventually executed. The temple also originally had a forest of
columns and a nave with vaulted ceiling.
Earthquakes, erosion and scavenging have taken a toll on the temple, and
all that remains are parts of the chambers (minus the statues) and a number of
westward past the Temple of Venus and Rome,
we came upon the Arch of Titus. This
arch was built around 82 A.D., but not by Titus. It was built by his brother, Domitian, to
honor his recently-deceased brother. A
relief inside the arch depicts the sacking of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A.D. During the Middle Ages, the arch was turned
into a fortified tower, at which time any decorations that may have been on the
sides of the arch would have been lost.
The arch was significantly damaged by the 19th Century, at
which time it underwent extensive restoration, making it one of the first Roman
ruins to receive this treatment. The
arch has served as a model for a number of more modern arches, such as the Arc
de Triomphe in Paris and the Washington Square arch in New York City.
of the Arch of Titus we could see the Palatine Hill, which was included in the
combo ticket, but which we did not have time (or energy) to visit. To the north
were the three surviving immense chambers of the Basilica of Maxentius and
Constantine, which was built between 308 and 312 A.D. and was used for purely
administrative and political purposes in ancient Rome.
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
this point the path into the Forum proper began to descend, and we found a
smallish circular structure to our right called the Temple of Romulus.
This temple was originally built by the
emperor Maxentius to honor his son, Valerius Romulus, who died in 309 A.D. Since then it has been incorporated into the
structure of a Christian church, the Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano.
even more striking combination of pagan and Christian architecture stands next
to the Temple of Romulus, this being the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The temple was begun in 141 A.D. by the
emperor Antoninus to honor his deceased wife, Faustina, whom he’d deified. After Antoninus died, the dedication was
extended to him as well. At some point,
possibly the seventh Century A.D., a Christian church appeared inside the
temple, the church
of San Lorenzo in
Miranda. The church was remodeled in the
Baroque era, at which time it acquired its present fašade. The steps leading up to the church do not
quite reach – the real entrance is at the other end.
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
this point we found ourselves surrounded by ruins in all directions. To the left of the Temple of Antoninus
and Faustina were partly-reconstructed ruins of the Basilica Aemilia, a
building which originally dated back to 179 B.C., with frequent subsequent
updates by the Aemilian family. Just to
the south of this area are the ruins of the Temple of Caesar. This temple was built on the spot where
Julius Caesar was cremated following his assassination on the Ides of March in
44 B.C. Caesar was the first Roman
citizen to be deified in this way. There
is a metal roof over the mostly-unrecognizable remains of the temple’s altar to
protect it from the elements. People have left flowers, maybe in case Caesar really was a god.
south is the partly-reconstructed Temple
of Vesta and the House of
the Vestal Virgins. The Temple was round in shape, as seen in the
reconstructed fragment, and housed a sacred flame which was tended by the Vestal
Virgins, who lived in a large, luxurious house next door. Besides keeping the fire going, they also had
the responsibilities of tending to a number of sacred objects, plus the wills
and testaments of some of the aristocracy.
And they had to remain virgins for 30 years. They enjoyed a number of privileges not
available to ordinary Roman citizens, such as prime reserved seating at
performances and contests and the ability to pardon condemned prisoners. But if they were found to be less than
virginal, they were buried alive in an underground chamber, and their lovers
were publicly flogged to death.
the west of the Temple of Vesta are the three surviving columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux (the “Gemini
Twins”). This temple was built and
rebuilt a number of times, and the remaining fragment dates back to 6 A.D. At various times the temple served as a
meeting place for the Roman Senate, as the office of weights and measures, and
as a depository for the state treasury.
on the north side of the Forum, next to the Basilica Aemilia ruins, is a large,
brick-covered building that is largely intact, and therefore not obviously
ancient. This is the Curia Julia, which
dates back to 283 A.D., at which time it was rebuilt by Diocletian
(construction of the original building was begun by Julius Caesar in 44
B.C.). It was completely restored by
Mussolini in 1937-38. The cavernous
building was used as a meeting place for the Roman Senate, and was capable of
seating 465 people, if benches were used.
On display in the building are two relief panels, originally used as
decoration for the Rostra, or speaking platform, near the Curia. The panels depict altruistic acts by the
Arch of Septimius Severus is also found near the Curia. It was dedicated in 203 A.D. to commemorate
victories in campaigns against the Parthians (who lived in the area of what is
now Iran and Iraq) by the
emperor Septimius Severus. Its
structure, with two side arches, has been much copied, as in the design of the
Arch of Constantine, near the Colosseum.
of the Arch are the eight remaining columns from the portico of the Temple of Saturn, the Roman god of
agriculture. The well-preserved
inscription at the top is Latin for “The Senate and People of Rome restored
what fire had consumed”, reflecting the fact that this was part of a 283 A.D.
rebuild of an earlier structure which had been destroyed. This structure had been used to house part of
the Treasury, plus the State Archives.
Next to the Temple of Saturn are the remaining three columns of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, which was completed
by Titus’s brother Domitian following Titus’s death in 81 A.D.
exited the Forum at the west end and crossed the Via dei Fori Imperiali to see
the Forum of Trajan, which was built by the emperor Trajan and his chief
architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, being completed in 112 A.D. The large semicircular structure of Trajan’s
Markets remains; this was an early shopping mall. Several short columns remain in front of the
Markets – these were once part of the Basilica Ulpia.
Columns, Forum of Trajan
across the Via dei Fori Imperiali, we couldn’t miss the immense (and much
newer) Victor Emmanuel
Monument, dedicated to Victor Emmanuel
II, the first king of a modern, reunified Italy. The monument was dedicated in 1911, and
modern Romans are somewhat embarrassed by it, finding it absurdly grandiose (it
has received a number of disparaging nicknames, such as “The Typewriter” and
“The Wedding Cake”).
this point we’d had enough for one day, so we caught a bus in the Piazza
Venezia, in front of the Victor
and returned to our apartment. We had
elaborate plans for the next day as well, and a certain amount of rest seemed
to be called for.
Victor Emmanuel Monument
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