A Tourist in Rome - Imperial Fora
Rome was a superpower during the times of the Roman Republic, long before Julius Caesar came along. The Roman Forum had been built and used since the 7th century BC for government buildings and as a marketplace. But as Rome grew through conquest in area, wealth and population, its needs outgrew the Roman Forum. So, starting with Caesar and ending with Trajan, five new Forums, the so-called Imperial Fora, were built to satisfy those growing needs. Ruins remain today from all five of these Imperial Fora, although the Temple of Peace is basically just rubble laying on the ground. They all can be viewed free of charge at any time from Via dei Fori Imperiali, and are well-lit at night. The highlights can be seen in as little as an hour, but if you have more time you'll be able to make more sense of them.
The Museum of Imperial Fora is a superb museum dedicated to displaying the remains found in the fora, and their web site contains an excellent map of the imperial fora, showing the five fora overlayed on the modern streets of the area. Their web site also gives good background information about the five fora.
The fora, in chronological order of their construction, are:
|Location:||Southwest side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, between the Roman Forum and the Victor Emmanuel Monument|
|Time:||about 15 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable from the street at any time, beautifully lit at night|
Caesar's Forum was the first of the five Imperial Fora to be built. It's located on the southern side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, just east of the back side of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, behind the statue of Julius Caesar. The most obvious relics in the forum are three tall brown and grey columns with corinthian capitals, joined at the top by an architrave (1st photo below). Those columns formed part of the side of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, a 8-pillar-wide by 8-pillar-deep temple dedicated to the goddess of motherhood. The depth of the temple was rather short compared to its width, but that was due to the lack of space. The rear of the temple was embedded into the bedrock of the Capitoline hillside. To the left of those three tall columns (when facing Caesar's Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali) are two rows of 6 free-standing pillars, on a raised platform 3 steps up from ground level (2nd photo below). Pillars like those went around 3 sides of Caesar's Forum, surrounding the open plaza in the center of about 136 by 74 meters in size. Along the back edge and the right corner of the 2nd photo below, the wall with arches is called the Basilica Argentaria, which was erected under Trajan to adapt the slopes of the Capitoline Hill after the removal of the saddle between it and the Quirinal Hill to make a flat area for Trajan's Forum. Since the basilica was built in a predetermined space it has an irregular shape. It probably continues out of the present archaelogical area under Via dei Fori Imperiali. The plaster covering of the back wall of the building, still preserved, displays some graffiti from Roman times. The side of Caesar's Forum was built against the Capitoline Hill, and because of the odd shape of this boundary there was space to create the rooms shown in the 2nd photo below. Several of those rooms had a second story which opened onto the Capitoline Hill.
In the 1st photo below, taken from the eastern end of Caesar's Forum, you can see the Temple of Venus Genetrix in the distance, with the Victor Emmanuel Monument in the background, and the pillars of the left side of Caesar's Forum near the center. Behind the pillars is the Basilica Argentaria. Back in the day, those pillars would have continued running off the left edge of that 1st photo below into the foreground, then crossed the image right in front of my camera, then run along the right edge of the image back toward the Temple of Venus Genetrix, enclosing the forum. The eastern end of Caesar's Forum was lined up with the eastern end of the back of the Curia in the Roman Forum, that brown brick cube of a building further away from the street, though the Curia was built later than the original version of Caesar's Forum and was not part of the original plan of the Forum. Senators could exit out the back doors of the Curia end end up right in Caesar's Forum - how convenient for Caesar's propaganda purposes. This 1st photo below also gives a good idea of the difference between ground level in ancient times versus now. Today's ground level is at the top of the retaining wall on the right edge. Ground level for Caesar was about 15 or 20 feet down. Floods from the Tiber River, erosion from the hills, and garbage from the inhabitants have all contributed to raise the ground level of Rome by an average of 20 feet above Caesar's cold footprints. This phenomenon is explained in this podcast episode. The statue of Caesar on the right is located on Via dei Fori Imperiali, right in front of Caesar's Forum.
Caesar's Forum was planned before 54 BC, because that was when, while fighting battles in Gaul, Caesar asked Attico to purchase the land. This purchase was made, and the edge of the Capitoline Hill was modified to make a large enough flat area. The forum was funded with wealth obtained (stolen) by Caesar during the Gallic Wars. Caesar vowed, on the night before the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC during his civil war against Pompey, that a temple would be built in the forum to win over Pompey's favorite goddess, Venus Vicitrix (love conquers all), but after victory was obtained over Pompey and the good graces of that goddess were no longer required, he actually dedicated the temple to Venus Genetrix (universal mother), the mother of Aeneas, from which Julius Caesar's family (and thus all emperors from Augustus through Nero) claimed descent. A statue of Caesar himself riding Bucephalus, the celebrated horse of Alexander the Great, was placed in front of the temple, to symbolise absolute power. The temple contained several important works of art, including a statue of Venus, a gilded statue of Caesar's Egyptian lover, Queen Cleopatra, valuable antique paintings, collections of engraved gems, and a corselet of British pearls, among other objects.
Yes, a guilded statue of Cleopatra! Imagine what Caesar's wife Calpurnia, the first lady of the Roman Empire, thought of this exhorbitantly-expensive and prominently-placed statue of her husband's lover. She lived just a few hundred meters away in the small Domus Publica and must have visited the Temple of Venus Genetrix at least a few times, while Cleopatra lived in Caesar's huge villa across the Tiber (the Horti Caesaris, where Cleopatra was living at the time of Caesar's assassination, along with her and Caesar's son, Caesarion). I wonder which of those two ladies Caesar would pick up during the evening to go for a ride in a litter over to the temple to admire the statues?
One day, between when Caesar had appointed himself dictator for life and when he was assassinated, while he was sitting in this Temple of Venus Genetrix he was approached by a group of senators. The dictator refused to stand to greet them. The senators were insulted and felt this was proof that Caesar thought of himself as royalty now. In reality, though, Caesar just suffered from diarrhea and couldn't stand up because he was afraid he'd soil himself if he did. The senators took this evidence as one of their justifications for assassinating him shortly thereafter.
The forum was dedicated on September 26th, 46 BC, while construction was still ongoing. It was finally completed by Augustus sometime after Caesar's assassination in either 44 or 29 BC. The fire of 80 AD destroyed Caesar's Forum, and it was rebuilt in 95 AD. Trajan reconstructed the Temple of Venus Genetrix in 113 AD. 1800 years later, during the 1930s, the forum was uncovered during excavations of millenia of accumulated dirt in order to build the Via dei Fori Imperiali, and the three columns of the Temple of Venus Genetrix were reconstructed. Other relics from Caesar's Forum, some found during this excavation, are on display in the Museum of Imperial Fora.
Be sure to come back here at night to see the Forum, and the other Imperial Fora, lit up beautifully (two photos below). Also, be sure to walk up the street at the end of the forum, just past the 3 tall columns. Near the top of the hill you can head to the right to get to the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill), or you can branch to the left to get a spectacular view of the Roman Forum all lit up at night. This view is one of the don't-miss sights of Rome.
|Location:||On the northeastern side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, between the Trajan's Forum and the Forum of Nerva|
|Time:||about 15 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time, beautifully lit at night|
The Forum of Augustus was the second of the five Imperial Fora to be built. The most interesting part of it is located on the northeastern side of Via Alessandrina, the small pedestrian-only street northeast of Via dei Fori Imperiali, but part of it is locaed between those two streets, and part of it is buried under those two streets. Three of the Imperial Fora are next to each other in this space. The Forum of Augustus is the center of those three fora, and is shown in the left 3/4 of the 180-degree 1st photo below. It runs from the rough stone wall at the left edge of that photo which has pillars built into the bottom of it and a building on top of it, through the beautiful raised Temple of Mars Ultor with 16 white marble steps in front of it, past the inlaid colored marble floors to its right, until the rough stone wall curves outward toward us again. On the 1st photo below, that wall ends right in front of the leftmost of the umbrella pine trees. To the right of that wall until the end of the excavated area, is the tiny Forum of Nerva. To the left of the rough wall on the left is Trajan's Forum with Trajan's Market behind it. The 2nd photo below shows the statue of Augustus on Via dei Fori Imperiali, right in front of the Forum of Augustus.
Octavian vowed to build the Temple of Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger) (5 photos below) during the battle of Philippi in 42 BC, in which he and Mark Antony fought together and defeated the armies of Brutus and Cassius to avenge the assassination of his adoptive father, Julius Caesar. But times change and eventually Octavian and Marc Antony became bitter enemies and fought against each other, culminating in the battle of Actium. Octavian won, and in 27 BC he became the first emperor of Rome and changed his name to Augustus. At that time, he began construction of the temple and the forum bearing his name. They were inaugurated in 2 BC, even though they were not yet complete. The Forum was filled with many statues, such as a statue of Augustus (naturally) in full military outfit in the center of the Forum, and of Mars and Venus in the Temple of Mars Ultor. In all, there were 108 portrait statues, with inscriptions listing their achievements, mainly inside two long porticoes on either side of the forum. Statues of Romulus, the first kings of Rome, and a series of important Romans from the period of the Roman Republic were housed in the niches of one side of the portico. Among these were the generals who had been victorious in Rome's conquests, and the weapons seized during these conquests were reproduced in relief on the doors of the temple, matching the symbolism of the pile of weapons that Roma sits upon on the Ara Pacis. The other side featured marble images of Augustus' ancestors, beginning with Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome, and on through the kings of the city of Alba Longa, to the family Julii, and right down to Julius Caesar, Augustus' adoptive father. Part of the western wall of the forum is shown in the 6th and 7th photos below, and the eastern wall is shown in the 8th photo below. The niches in the wall in these photos once held these statues. Five steps flanked by the legionary standards lost in a battle with the Parthians in 53 BC, and returned to Augustus by the Parthians in 23 BC to avert war (perhaps signifying Rome's vengeance against Parthia, another aspect of the Avenger), led up to the apse, where a colossal marble cult statue of Mars stood. Augustus decreed that the Temple of Mars Ultor should be the meeting place for the Senate when decisions of war were taken. The temple was also the place where young Roman males were ceremoniously given their adult toga, thus becoming eligible for military service, and it was the official departure point for commanders embarking on military service in the empire. Surrounded by the founders of Rome, famous Generals of the past, weapons seized during conquest, standards stolen from Rome in defeat and subsequently recovered, and the large statues of Mars and Augustus, the young soldiers and their commanders would have easily been whipped up into a frenzy of allegiance to Rome and aggression toward their enemy.
There are many cool details in the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Mars Ultor. In my opinion, the best is an easily-visible rectangular game board at the foot of the steps of the Temple of Mars Ultor. Look at the lower-right corner of the 3rd photo above and there is a slab of paving stones in front of the steps to the Temple of Mars Ultor. You can look straight down from the sidewalk on Via Alessandrina to see the view of those paving stones in the 1st photo below. Zooming in on the bottom paving stone shows the best example of a rectangular game board that I know of in Rome (2nd photo below). I have no idea how a game might have been played on this board, but the infinity-symbols in the left column of the board are too too too awesome. The symbol for infinity was not conceived until 1655, and the Roman symbol for eight was VIII, not 8, so what do these symbols mean? Above it is an unusual circle game board (3rd photo below) which consists of a large outer circle and a small inner circle. Another circle is to its right (4th photo below).
Bits and pieces of the floors of the Forum of Augustus are still intact, after having been buried under dirt for over a thousand years. Some of these are shown in the photos below.
Interesting pieces of rubble are all over the floor of the Forum of Augustus, a few examples of which are below.
And many more artifacts from the Forum of Augustus are on display in the Museum of Imperial Fora. Notice how the last photo above looks the same as the 1st photo below, which is how I identified the last photo above as a piece of the cornice from the Temple of Mars Ultor.
The Capitoline Museum and Ara Pacis museum add these contributions:
The left wall of the Forum of Augustus (1st and 2nd photos below) is one of the outer walls of the House of the Knights of Rhodes, which was built in the 12th century, reusing the wall of the Forum of Augustus, and reusing a beautiful colonnaded atrium from the time of Augustus. I've nicknamed the stairway that ends abruptly (and has no rail) the 'stairway to nowhere'. One morning when I snuck into the House of the Knights of Rhodes, I was able to stand on the balcony at the top of that stairway and take a photo looking down the stairs (3rd photo below) and out into the Forum of Augustus (4th, 5th and 6th photos below).
The back of the Temple of Mars Ultor and the Forum of Augustus consisted of a very tall wall which still stands. It was built to separate the forum from the neighborhood behind, and to act as a firebreak since there were frequently fires in the low-rent neighborhood which the elite didn't want to spread into the forum. From the Forum of Augustus side, the grey wall is shown in the first few photos at the top of this page. The neighborhood side of the wall is shown in the 1st photo below. Today, a walk along Via Tor De Conti, the street behind the Forum of Augustus, provides an up-close, touchable view of this wall. In 19 AD, Tiberius added two triumphal arches into this wall to commemorate victories in Germany by his son Drusus and his nephew Germanicus. The triple-arch dedicated to Drusus is shown from the forum side in the 2nd photo below, and from the neighborhood side of the wall in the 3rd photo below. The marble paving within the Forum of Augustus in front of the triple-arch dedicated to Drusus is shown in the 4th photo below.
During the Middle Ages, the Forum of Augustus, being relatively low land surrounded by hills, became a swamp. The archway dedicated to Germanicus came to be known as Arco dei Pantani, the Arch of the Swamps, visible just to the right of the Temple of Mars Ultor in the 1st and 2nd photos below. The arch used to be open for the public to walk through. The 3rd photo below is from 1903. Isn't it interesting that the babes were once allowed much closer to the ruins than they are now, and how much excavation has been done since that picture in 1903? And even moreso, the 4th photo below (year unknown) shows that there were buildings on top of those marble floors in the Forum of Augustus! The 5th photo below shows the Arch of the Swamps from behind the back wall of the Forum of Augustus, on Via Tor De Conti.
A peek through Germanicus' arch (the Arch of the Swamps) from the neighborhood side of the back wall of the Forum of Augustus provides the closest access to the columns of the Temple of Mars Ultor (1st, 2nd and 3rd photos below). The view from a little bit further away, along Via Baccina, is shown in the 4th photo below. What a spectacular view of the columns of the Temple of Mars Ultor behind the Arch of the Swamps!
If you find the time to get to the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, you can see the Forum of Augustus (and the other Imperial Fora) as in the 3 photos below. The Forum of Augustus can also be seen from the Palatine Hill (4th photo below). The view from Via dei Fori Imperiali at sunset is shown in the 5th photo below.
|Location:||Southwestern side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, between the Basilica of Maxentius and the entrance to the Roman Forum|
|Time:||about 20 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time, lit up at night|
The Temple of Peace (also known as the Forum of Vespasian) was the third of the five Imperial Fora to be built. It is the most obliterated of the five, with the modern world leaving very little to see. Via dei Fori Imperiali cuts right through the center of the forum; half is on the northeast side of the road, buried under restaurants and hotels, and half is on the southwestern side, this part being visible (1st photo below). Since this structure is not mentioned as having a civic function, it has not been classified as a true forum, but rather as a Temple. Some relics from the Temple of Peace are on display in the Museum of Imperial Fora.
Constructed between 71 and 75 AD by Vespasian to celebrate the defeat of the Jewish revolt in Jerusalem of 71 AD, it housed the most precious trophies stolen from the Jerusalem, including the seven-arm candelabrum and silver trumpets taken from the city's temple, as depicted on one of the friezes (photo below) of the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. The structures which remain today are mainly from the reconstruction by Septimius Severus following a fire in 192 AD. The temple appears in the Forma Urbis, giving us a good idea of its appearance at the beginning of the 3rd century. In fact, one of the chambers of the Temple of Peace opened onto the wall which housed the Forma Urbis.
|Location:||On the northeastern side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, just north of Via Cavour|
|Time:||about 30 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time, gorgeously lit at night|
The Forum of Nerva was the fourth of the five Imperial Fora to be built. The most interesting part of the forum is located at the north corner of the intersection of Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Cavour where a beautiful pair of fluted columns supports a richly-detailed entabulature and attic (1st photo below). It's best viewed from either a few feet toward the Forum of Augustus along Via dei Fori Imperali, or from behind the Forum of Nerva, on Via Tor De Conti. This structure, which has always been visible, is nicknamed Le Colonnacce (those ugly columns), but I think they're quite beautiful and that the frieze and attic above them are among the best remaining sights in the five Imperial Fora. At night, Le Colonnacce is beautifully lit up, as shown in the 2nd photo below. Since my home in Rome is a block up Via Cavour from Le Colonnacce, when I go out during the evening to walk around and take photos of the Roman Forum or the Campus Martius, Le Colonnacce is the last ancient site I see before returning home for the night, so it holds a special sentimental place in my memory of Rome. During my first trip to Rome I knew nothing of Le Colonnacce, but knew there were these pretty, lit-up columns at the corner of Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Cavour which I saw as the last thing every night, so took the 3rd photo below of those columns, whatever the heck they were. In the morning, those same columns look like the 4th photo below, from street level. As you can see, much of the Forum of Nerva is well below today's street level (just like nearly every ancient artifact in Rome). This phenomenon is explained in this podcast episode. Just a little to the left of Le Colonnacce along Via dei Fori Imperiali is the statue of Nerva, after whom this Forum was named.
The frieze above the columns (1st photo below) shows scenes of women engaged in spinning, weaving, childbirth, and other pursuits (details in 2nd-7th photos below, arranged from left to right).
On the attic above the frieze is a sculptured panel (1st and 2nd photos below) showing a helmeted female carrying a shield, which has recently been recognized as being the personification of the Piroustae, a people of the Danube who were part of Domitian's triumph in Dacia in 89 AD. After walking up a very short block along Via Cavour, passing Torre dei Conti and turning left onto Via Tor de Conti, you can get the view of Le Colonnacce in the 3rd and 4th photos below. A wider view of the Forum of Nerva from Via Tor de Conti is shown in the 5th photo below, and using your imagination with this photo you should realize that this pair of columns, Le Colonnacce. is just one small segment of the outer wall of the Forum of Nerva. Just beyond the left edge of today's Le Colonnacce was once another sculptured panel with a different symbol of some conquered people, then another column, and so forth, streching to the back of the excavated area, which was the back edge of the Forum of Nerva, where you're standing now. A second, parallel wall of columns faced this wall of columns right about where the triangle between Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Alessandrina begins (the rounded exedra wall of the Forum of Augustus cut in to the Forum of Nerva at this end). The Forum of Nerva was quite long and narrow, stretching off to the far side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, and two more times that distance. It was bounded by these two parallel walls of columns, friezes and attic, with paving between the two walls. It served as a corridor between the Forum of Augustus (on your right, on this side of Via dei Fori Imperiali), the Temple of Peace and Caesar's Forum (both on the far side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, to the left and right of the Forum of Nerva, respectively), and because it connected those three Imperial Fora it became known as the Forum Transitorium. Alexander Severus set up colossal statues of all the emperors who had been deified in the Forum of Nerva, but they're long gone. The underground Cloaca Maxima ran the length of the forum.
It takes a lot of mental reconstruction to make much of the part of the Forum of Nerva that's on the far side of Via dei Fori Imperiali (1st photo below). The flooring that remains is obvious and itself contains a few cool features. The first and easiest to see is at the edge of the paving in the lower right corner of the 1st photo below. A closer view is in the 2nd photo below, and at the upper-left corner of that slab of paving is a circle game board. Look for the pie-shaped carving in the stone. A very faint weather-worn game board can be made out at the upper-right corner of that slab; this one is a square, but still sliced into 8 pieces like the circle board. Another circle game board is visible in center of the 3rd photo below, and a rectangular game board is visible in the 4th photo below, which is located between the second and third lamp posts to the right of the entrance to the Roman Forum. This one is a poor example; there's a superb rectangular game board across the street in the Forum of Augustus. In any case, Walter's instructions to the game boards in this area are:
"I'll start at the Via dei Fori Imperiali entrance to the Roman Forum. Before you enter turn right and walk down the sidewalk along the main street over to between the second and third lamppost. Walk over to the sidewalk railing and look down on a large section of large marble pavement slabs. The distant two slabs have a rectangular game cut up into eighths on one and a circle game on the other with another faded circle game just below that one on the same slab. Now look to your left and the second slab from the far end also has a circle game on it."A Corinthian Capitol from this same area is shown in the 5th photo below.
The Temple of Minerva was the centerpiece of the Forum of Nerva, but none of it remains today. It was located at the northern edge of the forum, against that back wall, and up against the curved exedra of the Forum of Augustus. Domitian began construction of the forum in 85 AD, and it was him who built the Temple of Minerva because he was especially devoted to her cult. After Domitian's assassination, Nerva finished building the forum and dedicated it to himself in 97 AD. Since he was living and Domitian was dead, he took over the naming rights to the forum, and it is his statue that stands in front of the forum, along Via dei Fori Imperiali (1st photo below). A considerable part of the Temple of Minerva was still standing in the 16th century, but Pope Paul V demolished it in 1606 to provide materials for the Big Fountain on the Janiculum Hill and the Borghese chapel in Santa Maria Maggiore. A few relics from the Forum of Nerva are on display in the Museum of Imperial Fora (2nd photo below). After the collapse of the Roman Empire, a number of houses were built on the site with materials salvaged from the ruins.
If you find the time to get to the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, you can see the Forum of Nerva (and the other Imperial Fora) as in the 3 photos below. The Forum of Nerva is a tiny piece of those photos, but I'll bet you can find "those ugly columns" (Le Colonnacce) to find your way.
|Location:||Via dei Fori Imperiali, across from the Victor Emmanuel Monument|
|Time:||about 20 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time, well lit at night|
Trajan's Forum was the last of the five Imperial Fora to be built. It is approximately rectangular, running from Trajan's Column to the edge of the Forum of Augustus, and from Trajan's Market to Via dei Fori Imperiali. Part is also under Via dei Fori Imperiali, and Via Alessandrina also runs above it. It can be viewed free of charge at any time from Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Alessandrina, and is well-lit at night. Some relics from Trajan's Forum are on display in the Museum of Imperial Fora.
The spoils of the Dacian Wars which ended in 106 AD paid for the forum. It required removal of a saddle of land that united the Capitoline Hill (across the street, behind Caesar's Forum) to the Quirinal Hill (behind Trajan's Market and the Forum of Augustus). Once the land was removed, the new edge of the Quirinal Hill needed to be shored-up, which was done by the arch-shaped "retaining wall" known as Trajan's Market, located behind the forum. The forum was completed in 112 AD and dedicated by Trajan, whose statue on Via dei Fori Imperiali in front of the Forum is shown in the 2nd photo below. One year later Trajan's Column was dedicated. Unlike the earlier Imperial Fora, this forum was not designed as a single unit surrounding a temple. Instead, a large colonnaded square with an exedra on each side led from the Forum of Augustus to the great Basilica Ulpia (1st photo below) that crossed the new forum. This also had an exedra at each end. The Basilica Ulpia (named after Trajan whose full name was Marcus Ulpius Traianus) was a government building. It had no religious function but rather was dedicated to the administration of justice and commerce, like the Basilica Julia and Basilica Aemilia in the Roman Forum. Behind the Basilica Ulpia was a library, neatly divided in two by Trajan's Column, one side for Greek literature and the other for Latin. Behind these, to complete the forum was a great hemicycle where, after the Emperor's death, Hadrian constructed a Temple of Divine Trajan to Trajan's memory. Other monuments added were a triumphal arch entrance at the end close to Augustus' Forum and a great bronze equestrian statue. Though once the most marvellous of all the fori, these days Trajan's Forum is badly preserved and somewhat confusing to make sense of. Trajan's Column, Trajan's Market and even the Basilica Ulpia are easy to see and make sense of, but Trajan's Forum is in rubble, and hard to piece together into anything meaningful. The destruction of Trajan's Forum apparently began before the fall of the Roman Empire, because statues of eight Dacian soldiers were removed from Trajan's Forum for use on the Arch of Constantine.