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 Essential Architecture-  ROME

The Imperial Fora (the Roman Forum)




Rome, Italy


100 to 300


Roman , Roman Classical


masonry, cut stone


  Temple to the Divine Antoninus Pius and Empress Faustina on the Roman forum (141 AD, now S. Lorenzo in Miranda) and Columns of Temple to Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) on the Roman Forum (6 AD)
  The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
  Forum of Nerva (or Forum Transitorium), 97 AD
  Click thumbnails for larger images
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  Roman Forum with Palatine Hill in the background. The arch at the front left is the Arch of Septimus Severus, while on the right the three-columned Temple of Vespasian and Titus stands in front of the Temple of Saturn.
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  above- Campo Vaccino, by Lorrain.
right- Map of central Rome during the Roman Empire, with Forum Holitorium and Forum Boarium shown at bottom middle
  The Arch of Septimus Severus
  Column of Trajan at the Forum of Trajan

The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum, although the Romans called it more often the Forum Magnum or just the Forum) was the central area around which ancient Rome developed, in which commerce, business, prostitution, cult and the administration of justice took place. Here the communal hearth was located. Sequences of remains of paving show that sediment eroded from the surrounding hills was already raising the level of the forum in early Republican times. Originally it had been marshy ground, which was drained by the Tarquins with the Cloaca Maxima. Its final travertine paving, still to be seen, dates from the reign of Augustus.

Structures within the Forum
It is now famous for the remains, which eloquently show the use of urban spaces during the Roman Age. The Roman Forum includes the following major monuments, buildings and other ancient ruins:

Temple of Castor and Pollux 
Temple of Romulus 
Temple of Saturn 
Temple of Vesta 

Temple of Venus and Rome 
Basilica Aemilia 
Basilica Julia 
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Arch of Septimus Severus 
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Arch of Titus 
Rostra, from where politicians made their speeches to the Roman citizens. 
Curia Hostilia, the site of the Roman Senate. 
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine 
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina 
Umbilicus Urbi 
Temple of Caesar 
A processional way, the Via Sacra, crosses it linking it with the Colosseum. By the end of the Empire, it lost its everyday use remaining as a sacred place.

The column erected in honour of the Byzantine emperor Phocas, 608: the last addition to the Roman Forum
The column erected in honour of the Byzantine emperor Phocas, 608: the last addition to the Roman Forum
The last monument built inside the Forum is the Column of Phocas.

Excavation and preservation

An anonymous 8th century traveler from Einsiedeln (now in Germany) reported that the Forum was already falling apart during in his time. During the Middle Ages, though the memory of the Forum Romanum persisted, its monuments were for the most part buried under debris, and its location was designated the "Campo Vaccino" or "cattle field," located between the Capitoline Hill and the Colosseum. The return of Pope Urban V from Avignon in 1367 led to an increased interest in ancient monuments, partly for their moral lesson and partly as a quarry for new buildings being undertaken in Rome after a long lapse. Artists from the late 15th century drew the ruins in the Forum, antiquaries copied inscriptions from the 16th century, and a tentative excavation was begun in the late 18th century.

A cardinal took measures to drain it again and built the Alessandrine neighborhood over it. But the excavation by Carlo Fea, who began clearing the debris from the Arch of Septimius Severus in 1803, and archaeologists under the Napoleonic regime marked the beginning of clearing the Forum, which was only fully excavated in the early 20th century.

In its current state, remains from several centuries are shown together, due to the Roman practice of building over earlier ruins.

Other forums in Rome
Other fora existed in other areas of the city; remains of most of them, sometimes substantial, are extant.

The most important of these are a number of large imperial fora forming a complex with the Forum Romanum: the Forum Iulium, Forum Augustum, the Forum Transitorium (also: Forum Nervae), and Trajan's Forum. The planners of the Mussolini era removed most of the Medieval and Baroque strata and built the Via dei Fori Imperiali road between the Imperial Fora and the Forum. 
The Forum Boarium was dedicated to the commerce of cattle and was between the Palatine Hill and the river Tiber. 
The Forum Holitorium was dedicated to the commerce of herbs and vegetables, between the Capitoline Hill and the Servian walls. 
The Forum Piscarium was dedicated to the commerce of fish, between the Capitoline hill and the Tiber, in the area of the current Roman Ghetto. 
The Forum Suarium was dedicated to the commerce of pork, near the barracks of the cohortes urbanae in the northern part of the campus Martius. 
The Forum Vinarium was dedicated to the commerce of wine, in the area now of the "quartiere" Testaccio, between Aventine Hill and the Tiber. 
Other markets were known, but not correctly identifiable because of either lack of clear information or plurality of sites. Among these, the Forum cuppedinis, for generic commerce of many kinds of goods. 
"The foreground is occupied by a paved square with monuments to famous people. The temple to the Divine Julius, dedicated in 29BC to the deified Caesar (the first case of political deification in Rome), built in a Hellenistic style, is located in the background on the left; to the right is the temple of Vesta and the house of the Vestal Virgins, guardians of the everlasting flame (the only priestesses in Rome); further to the right is the temple of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux (Greek gods whose cult was brought to Rome in the 5th century BC) dedicated in 6 A.D. Here the office of weights and measures was situated. The podiums of the temples of Caesar and the Dioscuri were often used as orators' platforms and it is in this part of the Forum that the meetings of the comitia took place. On the far right is the Basilica Julia built by Caesar in 54 B.C. Its long façade (101 metres/110 yards) occupies the entire south side of the Forum." 

— John Julius Norwich. The World Atlas of Architecture. p160. 

"The Roman Forum was not simply the core of an ancient city; for many it was the center of the universe. From the birth of the empire under Augustus in 31 B.C., and for nearly five hundred years thereafter, Rome ruled—with lacunae—most of what we call the civilized world. From Scotland to the Sahara, and from Gibraltar to the Euphrates, the Roman Empire was in control. Moreover, Rome was the handmaiden of our alphabet, a bellwether of urban organization and its legal institutions, and the creator of startling new horizons in architecture." 

— from G.E. Kidder Smith. Looking at Architecture. p26.