A Tourist in Rome - Roman Forum
|Location:||Entrance is on Via dei Fori Imperiali, across the street from Via Cavour|
|Time:||2 hours - 8 hours, depending on your level of interest|
|Cost:||€15.50, includes Colosseum and Palatine Hill|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time from the street, beautifully lit at night, open 8:30 AM to one hour before sunset, every day|
|Index:||An index to all the sites within the Roman Forum is at the bottom of this page|
The Roman Forum is a must-see, along with the Colosseum and the Pantheon, if you're at all interested in Ancient Rome. It costs €15.50 for a ticket see the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. The ticket allows you one admission into each of these venues over a two-day period. Since the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum are connected, you could potentially see one or both of them twice. The lines to purchase the ticket at the Colosseum are quite long. The Roman Forum entrance (on Via dei Fori Imperiali) is medium length, the Palatine Hill entrance (on Via di San Gregoriano) is usually short. You can avoid the lines entirely and perhaps save some money with a Roma Pass. A tour of the Roman Forum can take anywhere from 2 hours to 8 hours depending on how much time you have and how much you want to see. Heck, I suppose people who are more than just "Tourists in Rome" have spent even more than 8 hours there ;-). The nearest metro stop is Colosseo. The hours are pretty generous; every day from 8:30 AM until one hour before sunset. Since it's not closed on Mondays when most museums are closed, Monday is a great day to visit.
The Roman Forum was the downtown area of Ancient Rome. For centuries it was the center of Roman public life, being the site of triumphal processions, elections, public speeches, criminal trials, and the central marketplace. Statues, monuments and temples commemorating the city's gods and great men were here. Many of the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city were located in or near the Forum. The Roman Forum was once a marshy valley between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, where tribes who lived on the surrounding hills would come to gather water and let their cattle graze. After the founding of the city of Rome in 753 BC, this was the place where the peace agreement between Romulus and Tatius was made, officially making the Sabine people a part of Rome. Soon after, the Regia, the royal palace of the kings of Rome, was built on the eastern, higher and dryer end of the Forum area. After severe flooding around 620 BC, the Romans constructed the Cloaca Maxima to drain the western forum area, and this marks the date when the marsh was removed and the Roman Forum was born. Once the floods and marshes were gone, this area became the perfect central location for merchants to sell their goods, and by 550 BC, the Roman Forum served as a marketplace. From there it expanded into a place for public assembly, a home for sacred temples, and the place for the business of state to be carried out.
With the formation of the Roman Republic in 509 BC, the Forum also became a place where monuments were built to elicit both personal popularity and public pride. After the modifications of Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus the Forum had been given a brand new majestic look, with a strong central axis holding the Rostra of Augustus and Basilicas on either side, leading to the layout of the Forum which we recognize today. Be aware, though, that the Forum which (barely) stands today is a mix of buildings and monuments from different times, from the 44 BC of Caesar to the 330s of Constantine and even later, with a preponderance from the later times. Old buildings and monuments were torn down to make room for new, or were rebuilt due to old age or devastating fires, leaving precious little from the earlier times. Today the Forum is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaelogical excavations attracting numerous sightseers. This is the premiere place to see Ancient Rome's long history.
Instead of listing the sites in the Roman Forum in some random order, I have arranged them in an order that will let you see all the sights with a minimum of walking. They're arranged assuming you enter the Roman Forum from the Via dei Fori Imperiali entrance, on the south side of the street, half way from the Colosseum to the Victor Emmanuel Monument. As you approach the tourist ntrance to the Forum, you'll see that the entire forum is sunken down from today's street level by perhaps 15 feet. This phenomenon is explained in this podcast episode. As you walk down the entry walkway into the Forum, you'll see the Basilica Aemilia on your right and the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina on your left. We'll see those in more detail later. You'll also be going downhill, into the excavations of the Roman Forum, buried under dirt for over a thousand years. For now, when you reach the first crossroad that goes both left and right, turn right. You'll be on the Via Sacra. The Basilica Aemilia is on your right, and just past it is the cubic brick building called the Curia that housed the Roman Senate. On the left side of the street is ruinous brick Temple of Julius Caesar, with the Forum Square being the large relatively open rectangular area beyond it, ahead of you on your left, past the cross-street. For now, just stand right here while you read about the Via Sacra and the Forum Square.
The Via Sacra (Sacred Road) was the main street of Ancient Rome, starting at the Colosseum, running through the Roman Forum, and ending at the top of the Capitoline Hill. This road is easy to identify: it's the one that passes through the Arch of Titus on the eastern edge of the forum, in front of the Temple of Romulus and the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina as it heads west, in front of the Basilica Aemilia where you now are standing, and through the Arch of Septimius Severus ahead of you. The road was used as the route of the Roman Triumph (a parade which celebrated military victory) that began on the outskirts of the city and proceeded through the Roman Forum. Captured enemy leaders in chains, soldiers, weapons, loot, and finally, the triumphant Roman general in his four-horse chariot would parade down the Via Sacra through cheering throngs on their way past the temples of the Roman Forum, the Rostra of Augustus where the emperor might have stood, and on to the Capitoline Hill. You're standing where the greatest generals of the Roman Republic and later, the Roman Empire, marched in the ancient equivalent of a ticker-tape parade when they came home, victorious, from territorial conquest. To qualify for a triumph, a military leader had to kill at least 5000 people and gain some territory for Rome. Rome expanded so much and so fast, and the Roman military killed so many people, that it celebrated 70 triumphs in only 200 years from about 100 BC to 100 AD. You've probably seen Cleopatra riding down the Via Sacra in her big-budget motion picture. The road was built in the 5th century BC. It was paved later with the stones you see beneath your feet today, and during Nero's reign it was lined with colonnades in the section between the Arch of Titus and the Temple of Romulus. The Via Sacra is a bit confusing here at the Forum Square, with the name Via Sacra being used for the part that runs along both long edges of the Forum Square, and also the short road which connects those two, running in front of the Temple of Julius Caesar.
The Forum Square was the center of activity in the Roman Forum during the Imperial period. It was an open area surrounded by buildings, something like a piazza in modern-day Rome. When you stand on Via Sacra near the Forum Square, look around you. (Don't worry, we'll see all these features in detail later.) At the western end is the Capitoline Hill, with the 5 or 6 story red-brick Tabularium at its edge (the building with the tower, to the left of the white Victor Emmanuel Monument). In front of that building are the three standing columns of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus which was, of course, much larger back then since only the corner of the temple remains today. To the left are the 8 remaining columns of the Temple of Saturn. At the opposite end of the square are the 3 remaining columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The point of all this is that you have to not only imagine that these temples are once again complete, but that several which are gone completely are in place, to realize that the square was completely enclosed by majestic buildings and courthouses. On the opposite side of Via Sacra (behind you as you look at Forum Square), the Basilica Aemilia had a 328-foot-long two story facade of 17 similar columns surrounding 16 arches on the bottom and only a few less on the second floor. On the opposite side of the Forum Square, across the road on the other side, is the Basilica Julia, another similar structure. To the right of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus was a Temple of Concord. Along the edge of the square, in front of the Basilica Julia, stand 7 brick bases which once held the Honorary Columns, similar to the more centered Column of Phocas which still stands today. Up on the top of the Capitoline Hill stood the Temple of Jupiter. So although today you stand in a relatively open area of ruins, 2000 years ago you'd be standing in a piazza surrounded by grandiose marble buildings. This was an impressive place indeed, and a model of what it looked like back in the day, from the Museum of Roman Civilization is shown in the 3rd photo below. The open area is the Forum Square, with the Arch of Septimius Severus on the left end. The Basilica Aemilia is above the square, with the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina to its right. The Basilica Julia is below the square, with the Honorary Columns poking out above its roofline, and the Temple of Saturn to it's left. To the left of the Temple of Saturn is the Porticus Deorum Consentium, and above that is the Temple of Vespasian and Titus and the Temple of Concord. The 1st photo below shows the Forum Square as it appears to you from where you are now standing, on the Via Sacra, in front of the Basilica Aemilia. The big building you see at the far end of the Forum Square, with the huge archways at the bottom and the bell tower (Campinile) at the top is called the Tabularium. Do you see the people standing on top of the columns to the left of the Tabularium, looking at you? Their view of the Forum Square is shown in the 2nd photo below.
Around the year 47 BC, a series of underground tunnels were built under the Forum Square. These tunnels were probably used in gladiatorial games (remember, the Colosseum was not built until 70-80 AD). I'm not sure of this, but that rectangular square in the road, shown in the 2nd photo below, with the nearby people walking past it, might just be an entrance to those underground tunnels.
The Basilica Aemilia was a civil basilica at the edge of the Forum Square. A civic basilica was a public building used for conducting business and for holding court of law proceedings. This basilica is the only one to have survived in the Roman Forum from the time of the Roman Republic. The Basilica Aemilia was 328 feet long and 98 feet wide, or about the same length as a football or soccer field, and about half as wide. Along the long sides were two rows of 16 arches bordered by 17 columns. The second floor had a similar arrangement of only a few less columns and arches. The site was used in the 5th century BC for butcher shops, but later became a center of banking. The first basilica was built on this site between 210 BC and 191 BC, replaced by another in 179 BC, and finally in 14 AD it was rebuilt in the name of Aemilius. In 22 AD it was restored (jeez, only 8 years after being rebuilt!), and was used for courts, markets, shops, and public speaking. It was known as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. In about 45 BC, the Basilica Aemilia might have looked like the 1st image below, a photo of the set from the HBO Series 'Rome' which you can see at Cinecitta Studios. That photo would have been taken from the far end of the basilica, near the Curia, looking back toward where you're standing now. It's difficult to reconcile the rubble you see today with that photo, but here goes. About half-way down toward the Curia are a few columns. A few of them are shown in the 2nd photo below. Those columns are part of the wall of columns from the set of 'Rome' recreation. On the Via Sacra side of those columns you should see some remnants of the stairs that ran the entire length of the building, and on far side of those columns, further from Via Sacra, are remnants of the solid wall with a few archways in it that led to the inner part of the building. That wall and one archway is also shown in the 2nd photo below.
That part of the basilica between the columns and the wall was covered by a ceiling (the floor of the 2nd floor of the basilica) and was called the Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar. Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar were the grandsons of Augustus, and he groomed them to be his successors, starting when they were children. Lucius Caesar is mentioned in the large inscription right in front of you now, at the right-most end of the Basilica Aemilia, shown in the 1st image below. This inscription was the dedication near the top of a no-longer-existing triumphal arch dedicated to Lucius Caesar which once spanned the Via Sacra from the Basilica Aemilia over to the Temple of Julius Caesar. This arch would have been symmetrical with the Parthian Arch of Augustus on the other side of the Temple of Julius Caesar. Augustus' plans went astray when both of his grandsons died around the age of 20, forcing Augustus to settle for his stepson, Tiberius, who he didn't particularly like, as his successor. Behind the Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar was a row of shops in tufa blocks (those large grey stones in the 2nd photo above) forming two groups of six around the entrance. Those shops were called the 'Tabernae Novae', and they pre-dated the basilica and were incorporated into it.
Now I'd suggest you go into the interior of the Basilica Aemilia by going back up the ramp you entered into the Roman Forum upon, and taking the left turn that puts you into the view shown in the three photos below. There is a double row of stumps of columns lining an open space in the center. The columns are made of a very pretty black and white marble, imported from Turkey, called Asia Minor back then. This is the cool part of the basilica because of the thing from the Fall of the Roman Empire that can be found here.
Imprints from the night of August 23rd, 410 AD, can be found here. That's the night when a huge army of Goths led by Alaric looted and burned the Roman Forum. After an 18 month siege in which the city was starving and cannibalism was rumored, Alaric's army was camped in what is now the Villa Borghese, when someone opened the Salaria Gate (now called Porta Pinciana at the end of Via Veneto), and the three-day sacking of Rome had begun. After 800 years of safety from foreign enemies, Rome itself was burned by foreign invaders. In only 50 years, the Western Roman Empire would collapse completely. But back to the day of the invasion of the city, can you imagine the panic of the people? Bankers and money-changers in the Basilica Aemilia would be trying to gather as much of their money as they could and flee the basilica while the Goths were slashing swords as they approached the Roman Forum, where they could gather the most riches with the least effort. Certainly in the commotion, coins would have been dropped. The basilica was torched and its blazing wooden roof collapsed, melting some of the coins with its furnace-like temperatures into the marble floor of the basilica. Two such spots are shown in the 1st photo below, zoomed out in the 2nd photo below to make it easier for you to find these spots near the center of the southern edge of the basilica's interior area. The 3rd and 4th photos below show another zoomed-in and zoomed-out pair at the eastern end of the basilica. It is my understanding that there are other easy-to-see spots from fused coinsbut when I visited the Roman Forum, much of the floor was covered by dirt and gravel. (I suspect it's hard to keep the floor clean when it's located in what is essentially a huge bathtub 12 feet below street level.)
Tucked away in the corner behind the Basilica Aemilia under the Roman Forum entrance ramp are plaster casts of a frieze which once lined the central aisle's architrave of the basilica during the time of Sulla (about 88 BC). The 1st photo below is one showing the Rape of the Sabine Women, the 2nd photo shows the Murder of Tarpea, and the 3rd photo shows some of the decorative artwork on the architrave.
Now please go back out to the Via Sacra and walk toward the Curia. Along the way you'll see the columns of the Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar. About half way down the basilica, you'll spot the stone in the 1st photo below that looks like a bull's head carved onto the chest armor of a headless warrior who has his arms spread out. This is located just above the center of the zoomed-out view in the 2nd photo below. But I'd like you to find the lowest large stone in that 2nd photo; the one that extends for almost a third of the left side of the image, just a bit below the center of the photo. A closeup of that stone is shown in the 3rd photo below, and it shows a circle game board carved into the marble. The game board looks like a pie sliced into 8 pieces, and about half of it is still intact on this stone. A bit further down along the basilica is the Shrine of Venus Cloaca (the next site). Go ahead and see that site now, then return back here.
Just beyond the Shrine of Venus Cloaca is the group of stones shown in the 1st photo below. A zoomed-in view of those stones (2nd photo below) reveals two hole game boards carved into the marble, one just to the lower-right of the center of that 2nd photo below, and the other just upper-left of the center. Both are a few rows of round depressions in the marble, into which game pieces would be placed. At the end of the basilica right before the Curia are the archaelogical remains of the original basilica from 179 BC called the Basilica Fulvia-Aemila, with a protective roof covering them, shown in the 3rd photo below.
For more information, please see Walter's Basilica Aemilia Page.
Walk along the Via Sacra, toward the plain-looking rectangular building on the right (the Curia), at the end of the Basilica Aemilia. Before Basilica Aemilia ends, on the right, is the Shrine of Venus Cloacina.
The Cloaca Maxima was the main sewer of ancient Rome, and was used to drain the swamps that were originally in the Forum area. Understanding how important clean water and effective sewers were to the health of the people and prosperity of Rome, the Romans had a goddess of the sewers, Cloacina. This shrine was for that goddess. It contained two statues with symbols of Venus. The 8-foot diameter circular base is placed above a tuff structure set into the ground, located where the Cloaca Maxima enters the Forum. According to tradition the young Virginia was murdered here by her father to prevent her falling into the hands of the Decemvir Appius Claudius. The shrine was also used for the ritual purifications of the Roman and Sabine armies.
For more information, please see Walter's Shrine of Venus Cloacina Page.
Continue walking along the Via Sacra, toward the plain-looking rectangular building on the right at the end of the Basilica Aemilia. Just before that building is a street on the right, named the Argiletum.
The Argiletum was an ancient Roman road that ran between the Curia and the Basilica Aemilia, but was paved over during Medieval times (see 1st photo below). On the right side of this road is a shady spot with a small shack and several columns laying on the ground, side-by-side. The shack is sometimes identified as the Temple of Janus, but don't be fooled; no trace of the Temple of Janus has ever been found, even though it might have stood upon this very spot. The Temple of Janus was significant in Roman history because it was built by Numa Pompulius, the first King of Rome (715-673 BC) after Romulus, and reflected the war-or-peace state of Rome. The doors to the temple were closed during times of peace, and open during times of war. During Numa's reign, they were closed since he was a pacifist, but they remained open for a very long time after that. They were closed for a brief time in 253 BC, three times during the reign of Augustus, and for a very short time under Nero after declaring peace with the Parthians. Other than these brief aberrations, Rome was at war and the doors to the temple were open. The shack we see today and the nearby brick remains were part of an unknown larger structure built over and in front of this end of the Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar in the late-2nd or 3rd Century AD. But the columns on the ground (2nd photo below) are more interesting because they might just be some of the five columns that were once standing on top of the Rostra of Augustus, made of rose-pink Aswan marble, which held statues on their top, and are shown on a frieze of the Arch of Constantine (3rd photo below).
Continue walking along the Via Sacra, to the plain-looking rectangular building on the right, at the end of the Basilica Aemilia. That's the Curia. Go on inside.
The Curia was the Senate House in Rome, home of the "S" in SPQR. This incarnation of the building, called the Curia Julia to distinguish it from prior senate buildings, was begun by Julius Caesar in 44 BC, but work was interrupted by his assassination later that year. It was completed by Octavius and dedicated on May 28 of 29 BC, restored by Domitian in 94 AD, and reconstructed by Diocletian after the fire of 283 AD. The Curia Julia replaced the Curia Cornelia, built by Sulla, which had itself replaced the Curia Hostilia. The Curia Cornelia was burned to the ground during riots in 52 BC after Caesar's ally, Publius Clodius Pulcher, was murdered in the streets by a rival gang. Caesar converted the Curia Cornelia into a temple and built the smaller Curia Julia to reduce the power of the Senate by reducing the size of their building. Since the Curia was under construction at the time of Caesar's assassination, the senate was meeting in Pompey's Theater, near Largo di Torre Argentina, and that was the location of Caesar's assassination.
The present building was converted to a church, the basilica of Sant'Adriano al Foro in 630 AD. As with several other buildings from Ancient Rome (the Pantheon, the Baths of Diocletian, etc), conversion to a church prevented the building from being dismantled for construction materials for newer buildings, allowing us to see this building today. Some dismantling still occurred, though. The marble veneer on the lower part of both the inside and outside walls was stripped. In the mid 17th century, the bronze doors were removed to become the main doors of San Giovanni in Laterano where they can still be seen today. The current bronze doors at the Curia are replicas. In 1937-1938 to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Augustus, Mussolini restored the Curia by repairing the side walls and rear facade, replacing the roof, and removing the modifications which had been made since the era of Diocletian.
The front of the Curia is shown in the first three photos below. A coin issued in 28 AD shows the Curia originally as having a porch with columns. The holes where the roof of this porch fit into the building are still visible in a line below the windows (1st photo below). The 2nd photo below shows niches that were dug out of the wall for Medieval burial tombs. There are four on the right side of the door (which is covered by a tree in this photo), and two on the left side of the door. They would have been carved into the wall based on the ground level at the time, so the bottom one on the right is probably older than the other five. These niches were filled in when the Roman Forum was excavated, probably to maintain the strength of the front wall of the Curia. The 3rd photo below shows the replicas of the Curia's bronze doors which are now on site, and the 4th photo below shows the original massive bronze doors to the Curia Julia, which were taken in 1660 from the Curia and installed as the central main doors in the church of San Giovanni in Laterano.
A statue of Victoria once stood at the front edge of the peak of the roof, and two soldiers guarding her were at the front of the right and left edge of the roof. A large granite basin, 44 feet in diameter, once stood in front of the front door as the base of a fountain. The basin was moved to near the Column of Phocas and repurposed as a watering trough for the cows that once grazed in the Roman Forum. The cattle market in the forum was closed by the pope in 1818 and the basin was moved onto the Quirinal Hill, where it still stands as the basin of the Fountain of Castor and Pollux.
The interior of the Curia, 82 by 58 feet, is very plain. The walls are now bare after their marble coverings, fragments of which can still be seen, were mainly stripped. There are three broad steps that could have fitted five rows of chairs, seating about 300 senators around an open central area. The marble floor (1st photo below) is formed from pieces of colored stone, fitted together into geometric shapes. In the center of the far end is a low dias for the president of the assembly. At the far end of the hall was the Altar of Victory, consisting of a statue of Victoria, the personification of Victory, standing on a globe, extending a wreath. This altar was placed in the Curia by Augustus to celebrate his victory in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. It was removed in the 4th century as part of a movement to eliminate the pagan traditions of ancient Rome. The red porphyry statue (2nd photo below and in the background of the large photo below that) was found behind the Curia and is thought to belong to a monument honoring Trajan. Some of the original marble in the Curia is shown in the 3rd photo below.
As you enter the Curia (see large photo above), you'll see two ancient travertine reliefs called the Plutei of Trajan that depict Emperor Trajan helping Roman Citizens. Although these are nowadays displayed in the Curia, they are not part of the original structure. They were found in the late 1800s resting on two parallel long and narrow blocks of travertine which are still visible in the Forum Square, but this was also not their original location; they probably adorned the sides of the Rostra of Augustus, a large speaker's platform located nearby. The reliefs are of great historical value because they show us, in the background, what the Roman Forum looked like in the early second century AD.
The left relief (photo below) shows the destruction of tax records in the presence of the emperor, thereby waiving citizens of their tax debt. The wooden tablets with the tax records written on their wax face are carried forth and burned in the presence of the emperor, who is the headless figure with the largest body, third man from the right, probably Hadrian in 118 AD standing in front of the Rostra of Augustus. The practice of 'fiscal pardon' had been carried out previously under Trajan following his victory in the Dacian War in 102 AD. The features of this relief, left to right, are: the Ficus Ruminalis (Fig Tree) and the headless statue of Marsyas, which symbolized freedom from debt slavery. Next are the people carrying the tax records, dropping them onto a pile to be burned. Behind the right-most few of these people you can faintly see the arches of Basilica Julia. The next building is the 6-Doric-columned face of the Temple of Saturn, followed by an archway in the Tabularium, and finally the 6-Corinthian-columned face of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus. In the foreground, on the right, to the right of the last man in the image, is a ship's beak at one end of the Rostra of Augustus which the tablets are being burned in front of. A final panel is missing from the frieze, where the Temple of Concord should have been.
The relief on the right side (photo below) shows Trajan instituting a charitable organisation for orphans. Trajan is seated on a low platform in the middle of the forum, his foot on a stool, and is approached by a personification of Italia carrying a child on her arm. In the left half of the frieze, a figure stands on the Rostra Julia in front of the Temple of Julius Caesar, addressing an audience who lift their hands toward the speaker. The right side of this Rostra Julia (different from the main Rostra of Augustus at the other end of the Forum Square) also shows the beak of a ship on its right edge. The buildings in the background of this relief, left to right, are: the Arch of Augustus; the Temple of Castor and Pollux; the Vicus Tuscus (a roadway which begins beside the Temple of Castor and Pollux and runs to the Pons Sublicius bridge over the Tiber); the Basilica Julia; the Ficus Ruminalis (Fig Tree) and the headless statue of Marsyas, champion of the people.
On the back side of both reliefs the three animals of the suovetaurilia (a sacrificial ceremony), the sow, sheep and bull are shown. This ceremony is also shown on one of the panels of the Arch of Constantine. The 3rd photo below shows the two travertine bases (the lines of grey stones, just above the center of the photo) that the two Plutei of Trajan were found resting upon when the Roman Forum was excavated. The plutei were probably mounted on them during the Late Empire.
Outside, in front of the Curia is the Comitium. This might be covered by an enclosure if an archaelogical dig is still going on here, as it was in Fall of 2012 and 2013. If it is, peek inside at what you would not normally be able to see.
In the days of the republic this open space in front of the Curia was a place of public assembly to observe a number of rituals and celebrations. Citizens voted here and trials were held here. It changed shape several times during the more than five centuries it was used for these purposes. Excavations on the site have revealed no less than eight different layers of pavement, and at least four different arrangements of the Comitium. The Comitium was first created in the 6th century BC and the remains of the compacted earth floor of this date survive beneath the currently visible remains. It was the meeting place of the Curiate Assembly, the first popular assembly of Rome, from the first two decades of the Roman Republic (509 BC). At that time, a Rostra was built on the south side of the Comitium which no longer exists for us to see. Later during the Roman Republic, the Tribal Assembly and Plebeian Assembly met there. The comitium was reduced in size under Caesar and dramatically altered. He moved the Rostra from the south side of the Comitium onto the main Forum Square, and remnants of his Rostra are still visible today behind the huge extension built by Augustus. Caesar also built the new senate building, the Curia Julia, smaller in size than the old one which had been set fire during a riot. The travertine paving surface in view today dates from the 4th century AD. It was discovered and excavated at the turn of the 20th century. In fall of 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Comitium was covered by a protective roof and walls while archaeological exploration was underway. Windows in the walls allow a view into the excavation.
The Lapis Niger, or 'Black Stone', is a black paving stone in the Comitium which is usually fenced off, but is now inside the excavation area as of 2012-2014. The Niger Lapis covers the Volcanal, a shrine from the 6th or 7th century BC. The Niger Lapis was intentionally placed over the Volcanal during the first century BC repaving of the Comitium by Sulla to mark the spot of the Volcanal. It was also enclosed by vertical marble slabs, like a shrine. The meaning of this shrine has been lost in time; even by Julius Caesar's day the exact meaning had been forgotten. According to myth, Romulus was buried under the Volcanal after he was struck and killed during the Sabine conflict, although some sources claim he lived for 30 years after the Sabine War. It might instead be the site where he was killed rather than his burial site. In early 2020, a stone sarcophagus and an altar piece was excavated from this area under the monumental steps into the Curia Julia which Mussolini had built during the 1930s. But the name of the shrine usually links it to Vulcan, the God of Fire, who also has control of volcanos, earthquakes, and lightning. A model of the Volcanal is in the National Museum of Rome -- Baths of Diocletian, shown in the 1st and 2nd photos below. The Volcanal appears to be formed from three parts: an altar, a Cippus (engraved tombstone), and a column. The Cippus and column were chopped-off when the Volcanal was covered by the Lapis Niger by Sulla during the first century BC. A cast of the Cippus is also in the National Museum of Rome -- Baths of Diocletian, which is shown in the 3rd photo below. The inscription of this particular Cippus, dated from 575-550BC, is the text of the lex sacra, which has to do with using the Comitia for assemblies. Tarquin the Proud discontinued these assemblies. Perhaps he ordered the top of the cippus cut off so as to allow its burial.
Across the street from the Comitium, near the center of the Forum Square, is the Column of Phocas, a single tall column with a Corinthian capital at its top, standing all by itself.
Standing on a brick base surrounded by steps, the Column of Phocas rises to a height of over 40 feet. It was the last monument to have been erected in the Forum Square and has remained standing for 14 centuries. According to the inscription carved on the plinth (4th photo below), it was dedicated in honor of Phocas, the centurion elected emperor of Byzantium in 602 AD after having his predecessor Maurice and his five sons killed. Phocas presented Pope Boniface IV with the Pantheon in 608 AD, which was transformed into the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs one year later. Phocas himself was stripped of his skin, beheaded, dismembered, had his private parts cut off, and was dragged and burned two years after this column was erected, for raping the wife of Photius. The fluted marble column and Corinthian capital of the Column of Phocas were recycled from other monuments; the high base they now stand upon was originally used to support a statue of Diocletian. The earlier inscription was chiseled away and replaced with that to Phocas. But the section of the inscription bearing the name of Phocas was chiseled off when his inscriptions were erased throughout the empire after his disgrace. His name would have been placed at the missing diamond-shaped hole in the 4th image below, right after the word "Domino". A gilded bronze statue of Phocas once stood on top of the column, perhaps only briefly. Nearby, along the southern edge of the Forum Square, are five more honorary columns which probably looked similar to the Column of Phocas, although no dedications for those five columns remain.
Still in the Forum Square, but just a few feet back from the Via Sacra that we're standing on, are the two bases upon which the Plutei of Trajan were found.
The Plutei of Trajan were found on the two parallel long grey travertine stones just above the center of the photo below.
A bit further down within the Forum Square is the Stilicho Statue Base.
The tall marble inscribed pedestal base was a base for a statue of Stilicho, which can be learned about here.
If the Comitium archaelogical dig is still underway, you might need to walk all the way around the Forum Square to reach the next site, the Arch of Septimius Severus. That's the huge triumphal arch beyond the Curia, against the Capitoline Hill.
Situated on the triumphal route that led to the Capitoline Hill, the white marble Arch of Septimius Severus is a triumphal arch at the northwest corner of the Roman Forum dedicated by the senate in 203 AD to commemorate the victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, over Parthia (modern Iran) in 195 AD and 199 AD. The 1st photo below shows the eastern side of the arch facing the Roman Forum, and the 2nd photo below shows the western side facing the Capitoline Hill. The arch is 75 feet high, 82 feet wide, and 39 feet deep. It consists of a large central archway (30 by 23 feet) flanked by two side archways (25 by 10 feet). Between the central archway and the side archways are small vaulted passageways. There are four detached columns (3rd photo below) on each face of the arch, each resting on a pedestal that projects out from the face of the arch. On the pedestals are Roman soldiers driving Parthian prisoners before them. On the keystones of the central arch are reliefs of Mars Victor (4th photo below, top-right corner, keystone of central arch). On each side of those keystones, in the spandrels of the central arch, are winged Victories with trophies and personifications of the seasons. The keystone of the side arches depicts Hercules, the spandrels of the side arches contain river gods, and above the side arches are narrow bands of reliefs representing the triumphs of Rome over the conquered peoples, and above them four large reliefs which represent the campaigns of Septimius Severus in the East. A six- or eight-horse chariot in which stood Septimius Severus and Victory, escorted by his sons, Geta and Caracalla. once stood on top of the arch. Four equestrian figures once stood on the corners of the top of the arch. The Arch of Septimius Severus became the model for the Arch of Constantine.
After the death of Septimius Severus, his sons Caracalla and Geta became joint emperors as mandated by their father's will. But the two were intense enemies, even going so far as to build wall in the center of the palace to divide their halves from one another, and posting guards along the wall to protect each from the assassination plots of the other. Caracalla eventually assassinated Geta in 212 AD, right in front of their mother (what a guy), and he had all images and references to him removed from public buildings and monuments, one of many examples of Roman Damnatio memoriae, meaning damnation from memory. You can see in 2nd photo below that the fourth row of letters has been modified. The inscription was originally done in gilded bronze lettering, and you can see that the attachment points of that bronze lettering match the carvings in the marble in all but the fourth row. The first three rows state the names and achievements of Septimius Severus and Caracalla, and the last two rows say (translated) "for having restored the State and enlarged the Empire of the Roman people, by their visible strengths at home and abroad, the Senate and People of Rome made this". That fourth row originally said "P Septimio L fil Getae nobilissi", which translates to "to the most noble son of Lucius Septimius, Publius Septimius Geta", but was changed to "optimis fortissimisque prinicipibus" which translates to "Highest and Strongest Princes", thereby erasing Geta from history (see also the Arch of the Money-Changers).
A doorway about 1/3 of the way up (3rd photo below) on the south side of the arch gained entrance into the arch. A ladder was used to reach the doorway, and it was placed high up to keep people out. Inside the doorway there is a staircase that leads up to the doorway in the center of the inscription on the western side of the arch (2nd photo below) which allowed access to a walkway around the outside inscription area for maintenance (cleaning of the bronze lettering?). Another doorway led to the top of the arch, where silver and bronze statues had to be polished and maintained. By the 4th century AD erosion of the Capitoline Hill had raised ground level so much that the arch was embedded up to the base of the columns, and a roadway ran through the arch. The damage wrought by wheeled medieval and early modern traffic can still be seen on the column bases, above the bas-reliefs of the socles. (I have trouble telling this apart from the generally pretty worn look of the entire arch.) The existence of the arch today owes a good deal to its having been incorporated into the structure of a Christian church of Saints Sergio and Bacco. When the church was moved, the arch remained ecclesiastical property and was still not demolished for other construction. The carvings on the arch are very three-dimensional and deeply cut, similar to those on the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Much of the damage to the arch today is because of the marble that was selected for it. Perhaps there were limited supplies at the time of construction. The veins in the marble have worsened over time, splitting some of the columns vertically (for example, the left-most pier in the 1st photo below, and the second column in the 1st photo below), and making large chunks of the figured reliefs fall away over time.
The four relief panels on the arch display scenes from Septimius Severus Parthian campaigns and are intended to be read in chronological order. Each panel is composed of several parts, meant to be read from bottom to top. The first panel, above the left arch on the forum side (1st photo below), is badly decayed, but shows scenes from the first Parthian campaign: (Bottom) the Roman army leaving their camp; (Center) Battle scene of Romans vs. Parthians; (Top) On the right, the Parthian king fleeing on horseback, and on the left, Severus addressing his victorious troops. The second panel, above the right arch on the forum side (2nd photo below) shows: (Bottom) on the left, a Roman attack on the city of Edessa with a battering ram, and on the right, a city throws open its gates, sends out dignitaries bearing standards to surrender; (Center) on the left, Severus and entourage addresses the army, and on the right, King Abgar and entourage surrender to Severus; (Top) on the right, a war council in a fortified Roman camp, and on the left, Severus in charge heading out into enemy territory.
The third panel, above the left arch on the Capitoline side (1st photo below), shows: (Bottom) attack on Seleucia by the Tigris River and the Parthians escaping on horseback; (Top) Parthians surrendering to the Emperor and Severus entering the conquered city. The fourth panel, above the right arch on the Capitoline side (2nd photo below), shows: (Bottom) attack and fall of Ctesiphon the Parthian capitol city, Battering ram siege tower on left, King Vologese escaping on foot on the extreme right; (Top) Severus addressing his victorious troops in front of the captured city.
All the way in the corner of the Roman Forum, behind the Arch of Septimius Severus, are the Gemonian Stairs.
The Gemonian Stairs are the steps behind the Arch of Septimius Severus, which nowadays lead out of the forum up to the Capitol Hill. CAUTION: Only use these steps if you wish to exit the Forum and go onto the Capitol Hill (you cannot come back into the forum), or if you wish to die! Nicknamed the Stairs of Mourning, the Gemonian Stairs are infamous in Roman history as a place of execution. In 31 AD, Lucius Aelius Sejanus drew up a plot to overthrow the emperor Tiberius. Tiberius learned of the plot and wrote a letter to the senate condemning Sejanus and ordering his immediate execution. He was tried and found guilty. He was strangled and thrown down the Gemonian Stairs, where the mob abused his corpse for three days. Once a Roman party begins, it's hard to stop it! Soon after, his three children were similarly executed in this place. The emperor Vitellius was also killed on the Gemonian Stairs, in 69 AD. The condemned were usually strangled before their bodies were bound and thrown down the stairs. Occasionally the corpses of the executed were transferred here for display from other places of execution in Rome. Corpses were usually left to rot on the staircase for extended periods of time in full view of the Forum, scavenged by dogs or other carrion animals, until eventually being thrown into the Tiber. Death on the stairs was considered extremely dishonourable and dreadful. During republican times, the Tarpeian Rock, a steep cliff at the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill, was used for similar purposes. Convicted murderers and traitors were flung from the cliff to their deaths. Those who had a mental or significant physical disability also suffered the same fate as they were thought to have been cursed by the gods.
Assuming you're now behind the Arch of Septimius Severus, between it and the Gemonian Stairs, walk toward those eight tall columns of the Temple of Saturn until you find a low flat roof on your left (this is only a few steps). Under that roof is the Altar of Saturn (altar, not temple), mis-identified by a sign as the Volcanal.
This site, covered by a low metal roof, has a sign declaring it to be the Volcanal, but that is a mistaken identity deriving from excavations in the late 1800s; it is actually the Altar of Saturn and the Volcanal is actually buried underground in front of the Curia; don't believe this incorrect sign. Latin authors describe the Altar of Saturn as standing in front of the Temple of Saturn, at the bottom of the slope leading up to the Capitoline Hill, which matches this site's location perfectly. The construction of the Altar of Saturn, in or before the 6th century BC, predates that of the Temple of Saturn, built in 497 BC. It looks like a simple altar cut out of a large rock that happened to be at this site. It was used for animal sacrifices. It is the oldest site in the Roman Forum that is still exposed for you to see. In 753 BC, when Rome was founded according to legend, this rock was about five meters higher than the Forum Square that it is located at the edge of. Being so high, it might have been used by the Kings of Rome to address the crowds. The fact that it's now at ground level suggests that ground level has been raised by five meters since those ancient times. I suspect that most of this happened when the Roman Forum, which was a swamp during those ancient times, was drained. Fill dirt was probably brought in to help prevent the land from re-flooding. The first 3 photos below show the Altar of Saturn as you can see it from within the Roman Forum. From this viewpoint, some faded red paint is visible on the rock. The last 2 photos below show a reverse angle of the Altar of Saturn, from behind and above, near the Mamertine Prison on the Capitoline Hill. They show the part of the Altar that is hidden from view from the Roman Forum side.
Right next to the Altar of Saturn is the Umbilicus Urbis and Mundus.
The Umbilicus Urbis (Navel of Rome) is a 6-foot-tall by 14-foot-diameter round brick structure with three tiers, once faced in marble, which was the symbolic center of Rome from which, and to which, all distances in Ancient Rome were measured. It was built on top of the Mundus, which is the place where the world of the living came into contact with the underworld through a crack in the ground. The 1st and 2nd photos below show the Umbilicus Urbis from the ground; they show the view that you now have on your tour through the Forum. The 3rd photo below shows the Umbilicus Urbis, along with other nearby monuments, from the edge of the Capitoline Hill, and shows the structure and shape a lot better. It's the round brick structure at the lower-left corner of that photo. The Umbilicus Urbis was originally constructed in the 2nd century BC, probably more under the Arch of Septimius Severus than where it now stands. Caesar built his Rostra of Caesar such that the Umbilicus Urbis formed its northern edge. When the Arch of Septimius Severus was built in 203 AD, the Umbilicus Urbis was in the way, so it was moved a bit southward to the location where it now stands. Fragments of the older monument were used in the new one. The Umbilicus Urbis is believed to be a separate structure from the Milliarium Aureum, which was built nearby by Augustus (circa 20 BC) and served much the same purpose for distance reference. An interesting thing to consider is that the remnant of the Milliarium Aureum, which we'll come to shortly in this tour, has a similar diameter to the top layer of the Umbilicus Urbis, so might actually be from this structure rather than from the much smaller Milliarium Aureum.
The Mundus is much older than the Umbilicus Urbis, dating originally to the foundation of Rome. Romulus buried Remus in a circular trench around what is now the Comitium. I have no idea how it was moved to this spot, and became known as a gateway to the underworld. The 1st photo below shows the entrance to the Mundus under the Umbilicus Urbis. Three times a year, on August 24th, October 5th, and November 8th, the Lapis Manalis (stone lid inside that doorway) is removed and the denizens of the underworld are let out to freely roam about the living world above. I didn't actually notice anything unusual on October 5th 2013 or 2014 when I was in Rome; maybe you'll be less lucky than me.
To the right of the Umbilicus Urbis are a set of white marble steps, which are the remains of the Rostra of Caesar.
The Rostra of Caesar is one of the most important historical sites in the Roman Forum, but there is no sign to even identify this site, therefore most of the other tourists around you are barely giving it a second glance. To our 21st century eyes there are simply four slightly-curved marble steps with a gap above them, then an arc of marble (perhaps the 6th step) above them. Despite today's modest appearance, this is the Rostra that Julius Caesar built for himself to address the people of Rome. The top of this Rostra was a narrow platform, just enough for a single person to stand upon, perhaps walking from left to right as he addressed the adoring crowds. They loved him because he fought for them; he rejected the superiority of the elite Senate and became a spokesperson for the needs of the common man. We'll never be able to get into Caesar's head to understand his true motivations, but they probably weren't pure, fighting for the people out of the generousity of his heart, but rather, a calculated ploy to gain the support of the masses in his rise to ultimate power. After Caesar was assassinated by members of the Senate on March 15, 44 BC, Marc Antony had Caesar's body carried up onto this Rostra in an elaborate coffin, and gave an impassioned eulogy for Caesar which changed the course of Roman History, turning the masses against the assassins of Caesar, and eventually leading to the rise of the power of Augustus, and the start of the Roman Imperium. Later, in fact, Augustus would expand this modest Rostra of Caesar into the huge Rostra of Augustus which now only remains visible as the brick wall on the far side of the Rostra of Caesar from this vantage point. It transformed the Rostra of Caesar, built for a single man to address the crowds, into a platform that could accomodate an entire entourage of people, the supporters of not simply a fighter for the rights of the people, but rather, the unquestionable leader of the entire Roman Empire. The Rostra of Caesar simply became the steps at the back of the Rostra of Augustus, which speakers climbed to get up onto the huge new platform.
Behind the Rostra of Caesar, from this vantage point, is the back of the Rostra of Augustus, which you should get a peek at now. There are 3 or 4 long steps (the Rostra of Caesar) which lead nowhere except behind a brick rectangle with most of the back missing. That brick rectangle is the Rostra of Augustus, and it was a platform that speakers climbed up onto the back of (here, where you are) to speak to the public. After you see those stairs and the back of the Rostra of Augustus look back across the street. Turn so your back faces the Rostra of Caesar and you'll find a very large building built into the hillside in front of you. The bottom of that building is rough stonework, and the top three stories are more modern brickwork. That building is the Tabularium
Built in 78 BC by one of the consuls for that year, Quintus Lutatius Catulus, after the great Capitoline fire of 83 BC, and restored by Claudius in 46 AD, the Tabularium was where the records and archives of the Roman state were kept, and it housed the offices of many city officials. The laws and official deeds of the Roman Senate, which were kept here, were called "tabulae", leading to the name of the building. An inscription recording the building's ancient name as the Tabularium was still visible in the 15th century but is now lost. The Tabularium was an imposing multi-storey public building of the late-Republican age built on the edge of the Capitoline Hill, and the Palazzo Senatorio was built over its remains.
The back of the building towers over the western edge of the Roman Forum, being high up on the edge of the Capitoline Hill (see 1st and 2nd photos below). It had a facade of peperino and travertine blocks. The interior vaults are of concrete. The facade facing the back of the Temple of Concord and the Temple of Vespasian and Titus in the Forum consisted of three levels (see 3rd photo below). The lowest was a basement; it was a large and tall fortified rear wall with a single door and only small windows near the top to light the interior, forum level rooms. Those windows are visible today from the Forum. The front side of the basement was, of course, underground. The first floor featured a Doric arcade which is also visible today from the Forum; it's the level composed of three archways (there were originally 11 arches, but they were covered-over during the Middle Ages when this was made into a fortress). This arcade was a pedestrian passageway connecting the two peaks of the Capitoline Hill (the Arx and the Capitolium). Today you can visit the interior of this level of the Tabularium from the underground passageway which connects the Museo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo, the two halves of the Capitoline Museum. While in this passageway, you can look out upon the Roman Forum through the huge arched windows of the first floor of the ancient Tabularium, as are the people in the 4th photo below, and get a spectacular panoramic view of the Roman Forum, as shown in the 5th photo below.
The second floor of the Tabularium had a high colonnade with Corinthian order columns. It was demolished by Michelangelo who built the Palazzo del Senatorio in its place and above it. All the brick levels above the rougher ancient stonework are part of the extension by Michelangelo. The front of the Palazzo Senatorio, which was built on top of the Tabularium, is shown in the 1st photo below. This building now houses Rome's city government. The bell-tower was added between 1578 and 1582. If you could see through this building, you'd have the view of the 5th photo above. While you're touring the Tabularium from the underground passageway of the Capitoline Museum, you can see the remains of the pre-existing Temple of Veiovis (AKA Vediovis) (2nd photo below) from 196 BC, which was held in greatest respect and preserved as part of the Tabularium when this later building was built. The Temple of Veiovis, rediscovered in 1939 during excavation under Piazza del Campidoglio, is still visible today in this passageway.
Between the Tabularium and the street you're standing on are three sites. From right to left, they're (1) the Temple of Concord, located just this side of the Gemonian Stairs, of which practically nothing remains except the raised dirt platform in front of you, followed by (2) the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, which is marked by the beautiful three standing columns, followed by (3) the Porticus Deorum Consentium, the set of twelve single-story columns to the left of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus. For now, let's concentrate on the remains (really, just the foundation) of the Temple of Concord.
This was a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Concordia. It was promised by Marcus Furius Camillus in 367 BC to commemorate the reconciliation between the patricians (ruling class) and the plebeians (populace) after a dispute over debt reform but not actually built until 167 BC. It was rebuilt in 121 BC by the consul Lucius Opimius to celebrate the victory of the patricians over the plebeians when the reforms sought by the Gracchi brothers were defeated. It burned down in 9 BC, possibly from lightening, and was rebuilt by Tiberius in 7-10 AD. This time it had a very different purpose. It was called the Temple of Concordia Augusta (Harmony on the Imperial Family) and celebrated the security and prosperity of the Augustan regime. In about 1450 AD the temple was razed and turned into a lime-kiln to recover marble for other buildings. Because of this, very little remains today of the Temple of Concord. From where you're now standing, it's just the empty area between the Gemonian Stairs and the three tall columns of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus. The 1st photo below, taken from pretty far back, should let you identify the spot where this temple once was located; it's the land in front of the scaffolding that covers the lower-right part of the Tabularium's wall. From inside the Tabularium, looking back out on the Roman Forum, the bottom quarter of the 2nd photo below shows the podium of the Temple of Concord, with some rubble in it. The 3rd photo below shows the podium of the Temple of Concord from on top of the Porticus Deorum Consentium (the road above those white columns at the far end of the Tabularium from which people are now watching you).
Inside the Tabularium is the fragment of the architrave from the Temple of Concord shown in the 1st photo below. You might be able to see this from here if you look into the right-most archway of the Tabularium and have great eyesight, but the view from inside (this is part of the Capitoline Museum) is definitely better. The other remaining parts of the Temple are the few pieces of rubble on the top of the podium, and the pieces from a doorway shown in the 2nd photo below.
To the left of the Temple of Concord, against the Tabularium, are the three tall columns of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus. To reach the closest viewpoint to this temple, you'll walk onto the road which goes around the right side of the Temple of Saturn (those magnificent 6-columns that dominate this end of the Roman Forum). That road is called the Clivus Capitolinus, and the part of that road near its beginning is especially smooth and flat and beautifully constructed. Amazingly enough, that paving is from the time of Augustus, and is among some of the best paving in the Roman Forum. After briefly appreciating the road under your feet, bring your eyes up onto the Temple of Vespasian and Titus.
Begun by Titus after the death of his father Vespasian in 79 AD, the Temple of Vespasian and Titus was completed by his brother, Domitian, when Titus, himself, died two years later. Throughout Roman history, there was an emphasis on increasing the fame and glory of a family name, often through monuments commemorating the deceased. Therefore, the temple was constructed to honor the Flavian Dynasty, which comprised the emperors Vespasian (69-79), Titus (79-81), and Domitian (81-96). Three fluted columns (1st photo below) from the southeast corner of the porch still carry part of the entablature, the frieze of which was elaborately decorated with implements of sacrifice and ox skulls, which were believed to ward off evil (2nd photo below). The other outer surface of the entabulature contains the remains of the inscription on the front of the temple (3rd photo below).
The temple's portico was originally six columns wide. It was unusually narrow due to the limited space between the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Concord, measuring only 72 feet wide by 108 feet deep. The temple was damaged significantly during medieval times when parts of it were demolished. All that survives today is the podium's core with some of its peperino lining, parts of the cella, such as the two fragments of its travertine wall in the 1st photo above, the remaining steps from the entry stairway into the temple in the 1st photo below, part of the pedestal at its back for the cult statues in the 2nd photo below, and the three Corinthian columns at the porch's south-east corner. Inside the Tabularium which is now part of the Capitoline Museum is a plaster cast (3rd photo below) of the architrave, letting you see it up-close.
The Temple of Vespasian and Titus, along with the nearby Temple of Saturn, are among the most photogenic things in the Roman Forum, both during the day and at night. Both photos below were taken from the northern edge of the Tabularium.
Continuing down the road (uphill) which took you nearest to the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, you'll come to the Porticus Deorum Consentium, on the right.
In the extreme southwest corner of the Roman Forum, the Porticus Deorum Consentium honors the twelve most revered gods in the Roman Pantheon (Dei Consentes, six male and six female). The building was originally a republican structure from perhaps the second or third century BC as a fragment of tufa walling may show, but it was completely rebuilt by one of the Flavian Emperors (perhaps Hadrian, 118-138 AD). All visible remains date from that time or from the restoration of 367 AD by Vettius Praetextatus, a prefect of Rome who was an avowed pagan living in Christian times and wanted to restore this last shrine to the pagan gods. The male gods were Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Neptune, Vulcan, and Apollo; the female were Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Diana, and Venus. Livy paired those gods as Jupiter and Juno, Neptune and Minerva, Mars and Venus, Apollo and Diana, Vulcan and Vesta, and Mercury and Ceres. The existing remains are built at an angle against the rock beneath the Tabularium and the supporting walls of the Clivus Capitolinus (the road which climbs up to the Capitoline Hill in front of the shrine). It consists of two parts: a substructure containing seven small rooms, and a marble platform above them with a row of small rooms made of concrete faced with brick. Seven of those rooms have been excavated. In front of them is a porticus of Corinthian columns supporting an entablature. The colonnade has been restored (the twelve columns were originally green marble, but the five white travertine columns on the right are modern), but most of the entablature and four of the columns are ancient. The statues of the 12 gods probably stood between the columns.
The uphill road you've been walking on to get close to the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, and the Porticus Deorum Consentium, is called the Clivus Capitolinus.
The Clivus Capitolinus was part of the route of the Triumphal Parades which celebrated military victories in ancient Rome. The route of a triumph was to enter the Roman Forum by passing under the Arch of Titus, which is at the far eastern end of the Roman Forum, walking down the Via Sacra which you've already stood upon, walking under what would become the Arch of Septimius Severus (that was built in 203 AD and was raised above ground level, so before then, the Triumph walked under that spot, after 203 AD the Triumph had to turn left before the arch), then taking a jog to the left and to the right to end up on the Clivus Capitolinus which headed up the Capitoline Hill to end at the Temple of Jupiter, the most sacred spot in all of ancient Rome. Stop for a moment and consider that you're standing where Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, Augustus, and dozens of other famous Roman generals and emperors marched in Rome's equivalent of a ticker-tape parade before the cheering masses, as they took more land for Rome, brought more tax-paying individuals into the empire, marched the defeated generals before the public on the way to their execution, and displayed the captured wealth from those foreign lands which enhanced the riches of Rome. OK, that's enough, I know it's hot outside and this is too sunny of a spot to be standing here daydreaming. But it might be fun to find evidence of the opposite end of the Roman spectrum from Caesar and Augustus: that of the common, unemployed man. He went to the doors of wealthy patrons in the morning and begged for coins to support his family in exchange for political support for that patron, and later in the day, came to various places to waste away some time. Nowadays, he might go to the park and play checkers; back then, he might come onto the Clivus Capitolinus and play on a circle game board carved into a paving stone.
So, starting from the bottom of the Clivus Capitolinus, you should find some extremely flat and high-quality paving stones from the age of Augustus (31 BC-14 AD) shown in the 1st photo below. These stones are the best remaining specimens of paving from that era. Then a bit higher along you'll find the view in the 2nd photo below, which shows much rougher paving stones laid in 174 BC, from the first paving of this road. A bit higher along the road, just beyond the Porticus Deorum Consentium, you'll find the faded circle game board shown in the 3rd photo below, and beyond that the clearer one on the center stone of the 4th photo below.
Walk back down the Clivus Capitolinus. When you get to the bottom, make a U-turn to the right. Just as soon as you complete that U-turn, in the grassy area on your right, is the Milliarium Aureum.
The curved marble stone with a palmette (palm leaves) decoration (see 1st photo below) belongs to a monument known as the Milliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone), erected by Augustus in 20 BC on the south end of the Rostra of Augustus, when he became the caretaker of roads (curator viarum). It consisted of a large bronze-coated column, 4 feet in diameter, on a marble base. Upon it were carved the names of all the other great cities of the Roman Empire, along with their distances, calculated in miles from the gate in the Servian Walls that led most directly to that city. Nothing remains of the monument except a decorative fragment of the marble base that few people realize means anything at all, and a second fragment, shown in the 2nd photo below, which is a short round marble column stump with lots of holes in it. This monument is now in question, since the diameter of that curved remnant with the palmette decoration, if completed, is almost 12 feet in diameter rather the 4 feet which the Milliarium Aureum ought to be. Instead, some scholars believe this marble fragment, although currently labeled with a Milliarium Aureum sign, is actually part of the Umbilicus Urbis, located near the north end of the Rostra of Augustus, which served the same purpose. Others feel that these really are fragments of the monument that Augustus built at the south end of his Rostra of Augustus, and that these fragments were moved to this location when the Schola Xantha was built at the southern end of the Rostra.
Continue around the U-turn and admire that huge set of 8 columns I know you've been looking at the whole time you've been in the Roman Forum. That's what's left of the Temple of Saturn.
Dedicated in 498 BC, rebuilt by Lucius Munatius Plancus in 42 BC, and rebuilt again after the fire of Carinus destroyed it in 283 AD, this temple to the god Saturn is the oldest sacred place in Rome, after the Temple of Vesta and the Temple of Jupiter. Majestic by day and beautifully lit at night, easily visible from Via dei Fori Imperiali and from the walkways behind the Campidoglio beside the Tabularium, this is easily one of the most photogenic remains in the Roman Forum. It was first built just after the Kings of Rome were overthrown and Rome became a Republic (509 BC). Tradition states it was built on the spot where Hercules dedicated an altar to Saturn, but perhaps that myth got the exact location mixed up with the older Altar of Saturn, which is in front of the Temple.
The god Saturn was associated with agriculture and wealth. The statue of the god in the interior (back in the day) was veiled and carried a scythe. The legs were covered with bands of wool which were removed only on December 17th, the most famous of Roman festivals, the day of the Saturnalia. This was the day when slaves were allowed to do what they liked, and family and friends exchanged gifts. Saturnalia was later extended to seven full days, and its traditions live on today in western celebrations of Christmas and New Year.
Gradual collapse over the eons has left nothing except the remains of the front portico standing, along with the the large raised podium (see 1st photo below). The partially preserved pediment at the top displays the inscription, from the 283 AD restoration, "Senatus Populusque Romanus incendio consumptum restituit", meaning "The Senate and People of Rome have restored what fire consumed". SPQR (see 2nd photo below). Along the inside of the top of the portico are ornamental reliefs taken during this restoration from the Forum of Trajan, which had been erected 200 years earlier. The Egyptian granite Ionic columns with their scrolled volutes, also date from the 283 AD restoration; one of them was erected upside-down! The front six are grey in color, from Mons Claudianus. The two side columns are pink granite from Aswan. I think the upside-down column is the pink one closest to the Basilica Julia, what do you think?
Since Saturn represented wealth, the temple housed the state treasury where the Roman Republic's reserves of gold and silver were stored. The treasury may have been housed in the substructure beneath the temple steps, which can be seen today. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome, he needed money from the state treasury to fight the war against Pompey. He was refused the money by the senate that had remain in Rome, so he marched to the Temple of Saturn and when the keys to the temple couldn't be found, he ordered his soldiers to take a battering ram to the door. He took the money he needed, ended up defeating Pompey, and took control of Rome, although he ended up dead in five years. Today while you walk through the Roman Forum, you can see the spot where all of this happened (gosh, I love this kind of stuff). Around the left side of the Temple of Saturn is the entrance to the treasury of Rome that was held inside it, under the main stairway into the temple. A small stairway leads up from the road into a doorway. You can see those stairs in the 1st photo below, along with an entrance into the temple's basement (behind the fence, to the right of the ivy hanging down), and an arch which formed the support for the main stairway into the temple and formed the room that held the treasury of Rome. That doorway and arch is also shown in the 2nd photo below. A reverse angle of all of this is in the 3rd photo below, showing (hopefully) how the steps leading up to the temple (up to the columns) would have been above this arch. When you walk onto the small set of steps shown in the 1st photo below, and look down onto those steps from above, you'll see holes that were either pivots for doors or gates, or holes that the locking bars dropped down into (see 4th photo below). Please don't be shy; be sure to walk onto those steps and remember what happened here... you might only be here once in your entire life... order your men to take a battering ram to that gate and be Caesar for a moment, even if it's only in the privacy of your own overheated and sun-stroked mind!
Other valuables beside gold were held in the Temple of Saturn. The temple also stored the bronze Twelve Tables, written in 451 BC but long-since lost, which codified the laws of Rome. There are a few interesting side notes to the man, Plancus, behind the reconstruction of 42 BC. He was present at the banquet where Cleopatra dropped one of her pearl earrings into vinegar and drank it; he stopped her from doing so with the other earring. He attached his seal to the will of Cleopatra and revealed its location to Caesar. He was the one who suggested that Octavian adopt the name Augustus. This guy was in the middle of it all! And finally, it was Augustus who encouraged him to reconstruct the Temple of Saturn, as he "often urged other prominent men to adorn the city with new monuments or to restore and embellish old ones, each according to his means".
Walk down just a bit from the stairway and entrance into the temple. The paving stones on the left side of the Temple of Saturn are from Sulla's rule, in the 80s BC. If you ever think that maybe Caesar was a bad guy, read a bit about Sulla and you'll realize just what an upgrade Caesar represented for Rome. Watch the ledge on the edge of the temple as you walk (it might have been a step at one time), because when you reach the point where looking up shows the viewpoint of the 1st photo below, look down to the 2nd photo below on the ledge to see a hole game board.
The road you're walking on is the Vicus Jugarius. If you continue straight through the intersection where a road goes off to the left, you'll enter a section of the Vicus Jugarius which has been recently opened to the public, during 2014.
The Vicus Jugarius is one of the oldest roads in ancient Rome, running even during the time of the kings of Rome (715-510 BC) from here in the Roman Forum, where it crosses perpendicular to the Via Sacra (1st photo below), to the harbor in the Forum Boarium. This paved version of a very short segment of the road is from the 5th or 6th century AD, over 1000 years from when the road first appeared! Since there is an ancient sewer underneath this road surface (I'm unclear whether this is the Cloaca Maxima, but I suspect it is since the Cloaca Maxima runs to the Forum Boarium, just as this road did), the level of this road was unchanged during ancient times. After 600 AD, when Rome had already fallen, the level became higher and higher, and the road surface was covered by higher and higher packed dirt, until excavations during modern times uncovered the earlier pavement. The 2nd photo below shows the further end of the road, just before the edge of the Roman Forum excavations. The Basilica Julia is on the left (the view of it from here is shown in the 3rd photo below), and the podium of the Temple of Saturn is on the right.
Just beyond the end of the podium of the Temple of Saturn the right side of the Vicus Jugarius shows the view in the 1st photo below. The steps at the bottom of the photo were the beginning of a staircase or ramp that led up to the Clivus Capitolinus, and therefore up to the Capitoline Hill. As you then wrap around to the left behind the Basilica Julia you can see the Tabernae (offices) along the back of the basilica, some of which had access to the upper floors through a complex system of stairs and galleries. Two of those Tabernae are shown in the 2nd and 3rd photos below, and the walkway behind the basilica is shown in the 4th and 5th photos below.
When I last visited the Roman Forum, to exit this newly-opened 2014 Vicus Jugarius area I had to backtrack and leave right where I'd entered near the Temple of Saturn, so that's the way this Roman Forum tour will assume you're going, too. So across the street from the doorway into the Temple of Saturn is the Schola Xantha.
The Schola Xantha is a small room with the remains of a marble paved floor and some upright marble wall slabs. It was a business office for the clerks in charge of public works. Schola means 'business office' and Xantha was a person's name found on an inscription, but we don't really know what this room was actually called in ancient times. This spot is thought to be the original location of the Milliarium Aureum built by Augustus to balance the Umbilicus Urbis on the opposite end of the Rostra of Augustus, but the Milliarium Aureum was moved across the street by Tiberius to make room for this small business office for public works. The most logical explanation is that this is where the money from the treasury was disbursed for public works projects like aqueducts, sewers, markets, temples, games, festivals, and the hundreds of other things the Roman government spent money on. You'd want to keep the treasury, where all the gold was kept, secure, with as little traffic in that building as possible, so it makes a lot of sense to withdraw the money required for one day of business in one batch in the morning, walk it across the street (a very short distance) to a small office, and have all the traffic of the day deal with the people in this building, and only with the small amount of money that was in this building.
Right next to the Schola Xantha, in the bottom half of the photo above is the hole which formed a foundation for one pier of the Arch of Tiberius.
Looking at the 1st photo below, the Schola Xantha is just out of the frame to the right, and the base of the Temple of Saturn is the light colored wall in the background at upper-left, but for now we're looking at the large rectangular hole in the ground. At one time this might have been the Lacus Servilius, a small pool of water, named after Servilius Tullius, the sixth King of Rome (578-534 BC), later turned into a fountain where the dictator Sulla (82 BC) displayed the heads of senators during his murderous purge of 9000 Romans. When the Temple of Saturn was rebuilt and expanded in 42 BC, the road between here and the temple had to be moved about 2 meters closer to the Forum Square. To support the road, the arches you see in the brick wall were built. The brick wall itself is modern, and the first arch is a modern reconstruction. The second arch was covered over by the brick wall and a sign is mounted to the wall at that spot. The third and fourth arches are originals, and at least 3 more of these arches can be seen behind the Schola Xantha. The Arch of Tiberius was built here by Tiberius in 16 AD to celebrate the recovery by Germanicus of the eagle standards that had been lost to the Germanic tribes by Varus in 9 AD at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where the Roman army was lured into a trap and slaughtered. The sign between the first and third support arches in this hole says "Arco di Tiberio" ("Arch of Tiberius"). The arch was a single triumphal arch with Corinthian columns on either side of the arch. It spanned from here over to the Basilica Julia (to the left in the 1st photo below). You can see in the 2nd photo below, which faces in the opposite direction from the 1st photo below, that the road narrows right at this spot, where the Arch of Tiberius once crossed over the road. In that 2nd photo, the Temple of Saturn is at my back and the 1st photo is on my left. The arch is shown in a relief on the Arch of Constantine (3rd photo below). I believe the Arch of Tiberius is depicted in that relief as the arch in the background immediately to the left of the Rostra. Rubble from the Arch of Tiberius might have been used in that reconstruction of the first arch that supports the road in the 1st photo below.
Across the street from the Schola Xantha and the foundation of the Arch of Tiberius is the Basilica Julia. When you start going down the road on the other side of the Forum Square from the Via Sacra, the Basilica Julia is on your right and the Forum Square is on your left.
Now a low ruin razed to ground level, the Basilica Julia was once a large, ornate public building used for civil law courts, shops, government offices, banking, and even for the Centumviri (Court of the Hundred), who presided over matters of inheritance. It once looked like the 1st photo below, but now looks like the 2nd photo below. It was named after Julius Caesar, who began construction of it in 54 BC using spoils of the Gallic War, and dedicated it in 46 BC even though it was not yet finished. It was finally completed by Augustus in 8 BC. It burned shortly afterward and was not rededicated for another twenty years, in 12 AD. It was again rebuilt by Diocletian after the fire of 283 AD, and still later restored after Alaric's sack of Rome in 410 AD by Gabinus Vettius Probianus in 416 AD, who embellished the interior with statues by Polyclitus, Praxiteles, and Timarchus (his son). The building was raped of its marble more than most in the medieval period and rendered down, and very little remains now but the low stumps of the columns, parts of the marble paving and the platform itself. A center column with a flaring at the top forming the beginning of arches for a second story was reconstructed in 1850 by Pietro Rosa (3nd photo below). A small back corner with a few arches also remains (4rd photo below). A row of marble steps runs full length along the side of the basilica facing the Via Sacra, and there is also access from a taller flight of steps (the ground being lower here) at the end of the basilica facing the Temple of Castor and Pollux. On the pavement of the portico, there are diagrams of games scratched into the white marble. One stone, on the upper tier of the side facing the Curia, is marked with an eight by eight square grid on which games similar to chess or checkers could have been played. The basilica was originally built on the site of the Basilica Sempronia, from 170 BC. At the eastern stairs of the Basilica Julia is a doorway that leads to the underground Cloaca Maxima sewer.
My favorite part of the Basilica Julia is the game boards carved into the long front steps along the Via Sacra (1st photo below, though this is taken from the eastern end looking west, and we'll be working from the western end, heading toward the east). Many Romans had a lot of spare time on their hands because they were unemployed. One would visit a wealthy patron or two in the morning, begging for a few coins to support his family in exchange for political support for that patron, and later in the day he might make a few more coins from lawyers or their clients by standing outside a courtroom and cheering for the side that hired him. He'd need more to pass his time than the occasional cheer he was paid to make, so he'd gamble against other men while plaing games that were carved into the steps and pavement of the basilica (and many other places in Rome). So starting at the Temple of Saturn end of the basilica, walk along the right side of the Via Sacra, peering over the railing onto the step as you walk eastward, trying not to look too nerdy. I'm not absolutely sure I have these in the proper order, but the 2nd through 5th photos show hole game boards you'll be able to see, which were usually two even rows of four holes each, and might have been something like Mancala. The 3rd photo shows a much more complex game, of course, and the 4th photo is a close-up of the 3rd.
When you find the spot that looks just like the 1st photo below, look closely at the crack in the second step pointing right at the camera, just to the right of the exit sign, to get a great view of the exceptional round game board in the 2nd photo below, which might have been used for a round version of Three Men's Morris. Here's a better photo. We've seen a more standard round Three Men's Morris game board on the Clivus Capitolinus earlier in the tour, and there's an even better one across the street, between the second and third large brick column bases, about two meters into the forum pavement from the fence, as shown in the 3rd photo below. A third type of game board is a rectangular one, and a very good example, though difficult to see, is on the top step of the basilica, between the third and fourth column stumps from the left (east) end, and shown in the 4th photo below. The most superb example of a rectanglar game board is in the Forum of Augustus, and that one is trivially easy to see.
Take a quick walk around the corner, on the left side of the basilica. The road you'll walk on is named Vicus Tuscus. A short distance down the road are steps leading into the basilica, shown in the 1st photo below. A brick is resting on the right side of the second step in that photo. A closeup of that spot reveals the 2nd photo below, which might or might not be a game board. There are a lot of holes there, but little structure. What do you think?
We need to backtrack a bit now, looking at the other side of the Via Sacra, starting way back near the Temple of Saturn. The first stop is the Rostra, which is the long brick rectangle across the street from the Basilica Julia, just a short way down from the Temple of Saturn.
The Rostra of Augustus was the most prestigious spot in Rome to speak from. This is the podium from which orators addressed the people; the name comes from rostrum, a beaklike projection from the prow of an ancient warship used for ramming the enemy's ship. Two rostra from Latin ships, captured by the Romans at the Battle of Antium in 338 BC were used to decorate this monument (see the right edge of the left of the two Plutei of Trajan). The supporting vertical slots and large dowel holes used to attach the rostra can still be seen on the front (see 2nd and 3rd photos below). So although it feels odd to use the word Rostra, which English speakers use as a plural, as a name for one speaker's platform, try to think of it as standing on the decorative beaks rather than standing on a platform. Consider how natural it is to call your car your "wheels"; this is the same type of name.
There were actually three Rostra in the forum at various times which are still standing. Before any of these, there was a Rostra in the Comitium, which is no longer visible. The Law of the Twelve Tables (the first codified laws of Rome) were published on that Rostra in 451 BC before they were stored in the Temple of Saturn. When Caesar reworked the Comitium and built a new Curia, he built a new Rostra, and this one is the oldest of the three rostra still visible today. It was a long, narrow, curved platform covered in marble, with curved stairs behind it to allow a single person, namely, Julius Caesar, to get onto it to speak. There wasn't space on this rostra for anyone to stand behind the speaker; it was that narrow. This rostra was built for Caesar's one-man-show. It is visible from behind the much larger tufa-and-brick rostra that Augustus built which is dominant today. At the bottom of the 1st photo below, the four curved marble stairs leading to the curved marble platform is the Rostra of Caesar. It was from this Rostra that Mark Antony delivered his famous funeral speech (Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend me your ears...) for Julius Caesar while standing alongside Caesar's funeral bier (elaborate coffin) after Caesar was assassinated.
Under Augustus, a massive new Rostra of Augustus was constructed in front of the Rostra of Caesar. This new Rostra had lots of space on it; a whole group of people could stand on it because although it was only a bit wider that the Rostra of Caesar, the platform at the top was quite a bit deeper, more of a stage. The Rostra of Caesar was used as a stairway in the back of this new expanded Rostra, to allow people to climb up onto the new Rostra, as shown in the now familiar 3rd image below. If the floor of the Rostra was intact, these two would look like one structure. This huge, rectangular platform was then altered by Septimius Severus to fit around his arch. Finally a brick extension known as the Vandal Rostrum (4th photo below) was constructed on the north end in 470 AD. Restorations were carried out in the early 20th century, during which the rostrum was reconstructed to its original height, and that restoration is what is visible today.
The other Rostra still visible today is at the opposite end of the Forum Square, in front of the Temple of Julius Caesar, is called the Rostra Julia.See Also:
In the center of the Forum Square is the Column of Phocas which we saw from the other side of the square, but is closer to us now. Be sure to get a look while you're here. Just a little past the Column of Phocas is a walkway leading in a little bit toward the center of the Forum Square. This leads to the Lacus Curtius.
The Lacus Curtius (Lake of Curtius) is a mysterious pit, now paved over by ancient stones, at the center of which a circular altar can be seen (1st photo below, close-up in 2nd photo below). It is behind a low rail, and is overlooked and unknown by most visitors. There is a frieze nearby of a Sabine horseman that is believed to be linked with it (3rd photo below). The pit was at one time a widening chasm. Its nature and significance in Rome's early history are unknown, and this was even true in the late Republican period, but the name seems to associate it with a very old Roman family with Sabine origins named Curtia. Three stories are told to explain the Lacus Curtius; it is not known which, if any, are true. The story told by Livy is that an oracle foretold the fall of Rome which could only be stopped if the city threw what she held most dear into the chasm. The young horseman, Marcus Curtius, a member of the Curtia family, took this to mean that a brave Roman youth needed to be sacrificed, therefore he dove into the chasm in full armor on his horse, after which the earth closed over him and Rome was saved. Marcus Curtius is depicted on the marble relief of the 1st century BC, a cast of which is seen at the edge of the basin (3rd photo below). The original of that frieze is in the Capitoline Museum, and is shown in the 4th photo below. The story told by Titus Livius is that the Lacus Curtius is named after Mettius Curtius, a Sabine horseman who fell into the chasm while fighting against Romulus during the war which resulted from the Rape of the Sabine Women. A stone relief discovered in 1553 beside the Temple of Castor and Pollux illustrates this story. The third story, told by Marcus Terentius Varro, tells that Gaius Curtius Philon, a consul of 445 BC, consecrated the site after a lightning strike opened it. Geological evidence and other historical sources indeed tell us that the Roman Forum was once a swampland, and was drained in the late 7th century BC. Most of the area was paved except for a small pool that remained at the center of the Forum. In any case, the people of Roman Empire threw a coin into the Lacus Curtius annually to ask the Gods to keep their Emperor safe.
While you're standing at the Lacus Curtius, glance at the center of the Forum Square and find the Three Trees.
There are three trees near the center of the Forum Square, in front of the Curia and the Comitium: a fig tree, an olive tree, and a grape vine. They were planted in the 1950s at the spot where the historians Verrius Flaccus, Pliny the Elder and Tacitus tell us the same three trees grew in ancient times and were considered as sacred. According to one source, in ancient times, the fig tree and grape vine apparently sprung out of a hole in the ground, and the olive tree was planted to provide some shade. According to another, the fig tree was transplanted here from the Tiber River by Attus Navius around 600 BC, and it was the fig tree that the infants Romulus and Remus' floating basket became entangled in alongside the river when the she-wolf found them. That mythical tree was called the Ficus Rominalis, and was very sacred. But Tacitus said the death of that tree was a portent of some future event and a new one was replanted by the priests. And the tree died in 58 AD during the reign of Nero, but then revived and put forth new shoots.
Still while you're standing at the Lacus Curtius, look across the Forum Square to the Decennalia Base which is the small cube right in front of the Arch of Septimius Severus. (if the excavations of the Comitium are complete, you might be able to walk up to the Decennalia Base and I apologize for having you view it from here.)
Diocletian became the emperor of Rome in 284 AD. His reforms of government led to the end of the Crisis of the Third Century, which had been a time of poverty, plague, civil war, and invasion. In 293 AD he formed the "tetrarchy", which split the Empire into an eastern half and a western half, each of which was ruled by a senior emperor (called an Augustus), and a junior emperor (called a Caesar). The Empire settled into a brief period of peace and prosperity. After 10 years under this new system of rule, a celebration named the Decennalia was held in 303 AD. Five honorary columns were added behind the Rostra, as can be seen on the Arch of Constantine (4th photo below, bottom relief, the five columns behind the rostrum, which is the central third of the relief). These were the first major structures erected in the Forum since the time of Septimius Severus, whose assassination in 235 AD began the Crisis of the Third Century. All five columns were made of pink granite from Aswan. The center column, the tallest, held a statue of Jupiter. The others held statues of the four emperors. One of the marble pedestals, the Decennalia Base you can see today across the Forum Square (1st, 2nd and 3rd photos below), was discovered in 1547 and moved to a spot on the Via Sacra in front of the Arch of Septimius Severus. It is richly carved and can be positively identified due to the inscription on the base. I don't have a photo of this side of the base, but two winged victories hold a shield on which is inscribed "CAESARUM DECENNALIA FELICITER", translated as "Happy Tenth Anniversary of the Caesars".
Across from the Basilica Julia, on the south side of the Forum Square, were seven Honorary Columns.
The seven brick column bases, originally clad in marble, lined up on the south side of the Forum Square across the street from the Basilica Julia, supported columns dedicated to illustrious individuals and date to the late empire (from the 3rd century AD onward). The small brick building past the 7th column (furthest from the Temple of Saturn) is the remains of the Rostra Julia. If you entered the forum from the Argiletum (the street between the Curia and the Basilica Aemilia), these seven columns in front of the Basilica Julia would have made an impressive sight. Unfortunately the disappearance of the dedicatory inscriptions and statues on their tops makes it impossible to identify them. The columns and probably also the capitals were recycled from earlier monuments. The columns were made of pavonazetto, grey granite and pink granite. Two of the bases, on the eastern end, were restored in the late 19th century and topped with grey granite and white marble columns recovered in the vicinity. Some of the brick bases surround a smaller base made of interlocking stone blocks from an earlier era, suggesting that a prior set of columns existed.
Between the first and second column bases (the ones closest to the Temple of Saturn) you can see a rock (1st photo below) that covers an ancient stone square stone lining an entrance to something beneath the forum. Between the second and third column bases, about 2 meters in from the fence, is a circle game board (2nd photo below) etched onto the forum pavement.
The three very tall columns in a straight line joined at the top, across the street from the end of the Basilica Julia is the Temple of Castor and Pollux.
The Temple of Castor and Pollux was erected in honor of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Jupiter and Leda, equivalent to the Dioscuri of Greek Mythology, during the early times of the Roman Republic. That original temple was dedicated by the Roman general Aulus Postumius, who won a great victory against the Latins in the Battle of Lake Regillus (July 15, 499 or 496 BC). During the battle, two god-like young men riding white horses appeared and led the Romans to victory, and then were seen again after the battle, tired and with tired horses, washing at the Juturna Spring in Rome near the Temple of Vesta, and telling of the Roman victory. It was concluded that these were Castor and Pollux, and the temple, vowed by the victorious general Aulus Postumius, was built and dedicated to them in 484 BC near the Juturna Spring. This is at the southeast corner of the Forum Square, diagonally opposite the Curia (senate building) of that time, the Curia Hostilia (which was located between today's Curia Julia and the Arch of Septimius Severus). Parts of the original temple's podium survive and hint at its great size. It consisted of 3 rows of 4 columns in its front half, and 3 walled cella in the back half. Every July 15th a parade was held near the temple to commemorate the victory at Lake Regillus. The parade was led by two young men on white horses, representing Castor and Pollux, and included up to 5000 knights who carried spears and shields and wore olive wreaths and purple robes with scarlet bands. The temple was restored about 168 BC to celebrate the Roman defeat of the Macedonians and again in 117 BC by Lucius Caecilius Metellus after victories in Dalmatia. In 14 BC or 9 BC, a fire destroyed much of the Forum, and Augustus rebuilt the Temple of Castor and Pollux between 7 BC and 6 AD, when it was dedicated by Tiberius. As always, this rebuilding was taken advantage of politically. A new feast day was instituted, on January 27, and the heavenly twins were associated with Augustus' intended heirs, Gaius and Lucius Caesar. Both of them died before the new temple was ready, though, and the association passed instead to Tiberius and his brother Drusus, who subsequently died after falling off a horse. The remains visible today are from the temple of Tiberius, except the podium, which is from the time of Metellus. Constructed in white marble and tufa, the new temple was a massive structure measuring 105 feet (with 8 Corinthian columns) by 164 feet (with 11 Corinthian columns), reaching a height of 62 feet. The columns are over 48 feet high. The front entrance contained twin staircases with a speaker's platform, changed in the 3rd century AD to a single staircase. The interior of the temple consisted of some 25 small chambers. The temple served as the office of weights and measures, and also functioned as a bank. One of the small chambers was even apparently used by a dentist, judging from what was found in its drain. When Caligula remodelled the Domus Tiberiana, the temple was incorportated into his great vestibule, but was later removed from the complex by Claudius and further restored by Domitian. The temple fell into ruin as early as the 4th century AD, and by the 15th century, only the present three massive columns were left. Today, only the inner concrete core of the podium and three massive columns supporting part of the architrave remain standing from this once massive structure. The remains are beautifully lit at night, and stand out well in front of the more dimly lit Domus Tiberiana from Via dei Fori Imperiali. Other places in Rome featuring Castor and Pollux are the statues of them at the top of the steps to the Campidoglio and their statues on either side of the Quirinal Obelisk.
Go to the road between the Forum Square and the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Head such that the Forum Square is on the right side of the road and the Temple of Castor and Pollux is on the left side of the road, and walk past the Temple of Castor and Pollux to the next huge shell of a building on the left; that is Domitian's Hall.
Although the signs say this is the Temple of the Deified Augustus which it was believed to be in a nineteenth-century excavation, they are wrong. Domitian's Hall is actually an extension to the Domus Tiberiana palace, which was probably never completed. The front of the Hall faced Vicus Tuscus, the road that runs between the Basilica Julia and the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The front part of the building was a large rectangular hall which you can easily see today; it's shown in the photo below. The hall is about 75 feet deep, there are niches in the wall, and there is no trace of a second floor. The front of the Hall was possibly never built. The walls were to be lined in marble. Behind the large Hall are two smaller halls, though, of about 60 feet square, which are not accessable today, and a ramp to the Palatine Hill behind them which is also not accessable. Hadrian later used this building as a storehouse, and the five short walls in front of the Hall are the remains of shops that lined the Vicus Tuscus.
Walk back to the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Just past that temple, on the right (the same side of the road as the temple) is the Temple of Julius Caesar.
The Temple of Julius Caesar (also known as the Temple of the Divine Julius Caesar) is today an unimpressive ruin, but with incredible importance in the history of Rome. On March 15, 44 BC, the Senate was meeting in their temporary home at the Theater of Pompey (near the Largo di Torre Argentina) because the Curia in the forum was being replaced by a new smaller building undertaken by Caesar, and this new Curia, the one we see today, was not yet complete. When Caesar arrived at the Senate, he was assassinated by 27 Senators, one stab wound by each. At first, the mob that assembled believed Brutus' story that he and his co-conspirators were liberators who had removed the tyrant Caesar. When Caesar's body was carried to the Forum, Mark Antony delivered an inspiring speech validating Caesar's rule and ordering that he be worshipped as a god. Further, within a day or so, Caesar's will was read, and it stated that each Roman citizen should get some of Caesar's wealth. The mob was turned in favor of Caesar, and a funeral pyre was built on the spot while Brutus and his buddies fled Rome. Mark Antony hunted down the assassins, thinking he would be considered a hero and given the throne, but while he was away, Augustus (still named Octavian at this point) began making his bid for power. Construction of a temple to his uncle, the Divine Julius Caesar, was begun by the triumvirs in 42 BC at the site of Caesar's cremation. After all, if Caesar could be declared a god and have a temple, then Octavian would be the son of a god. Some time after the death of Caesar, a comet appeared in the sky and was clearly visible before sunset for a week. This was claimed to be the soul of Julius Caesar deified among the other gods. Octavian claimed that Caesar used the comet to announce his (Octavian's) own political birth. Octavian made certain that Caesar's will was carried out, and each Roman citizen was given 300 sesterces in cash. That was about 1/3 of a soldier's annual pay. The temple complex consisted of a small external ground-level altar at the spot where Caesar's body had been burned, with a 14-foot-tall platform known as the Rostra Julia, and a temple rising to a great height behind it on a second marble-clad platform, 7 feet tall, which eventually contained a colossal statue of Caesar in the building of 88 feet by 98 feet. Construction took a long time, and in 31 BC, Octavian defeated the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. They fled but committed suicide in 30 BC. The temple stood unused and undedicated until Octavian became emperor and renamed himself as Augustus. He dedicated it in 29 BC, and decorated the Rostra Julia with the beaks of the ships captured in the Battle of Actium. Tiberius much later delivered Augustus' eulogy from the Rostra Julia and emperors used it for two centuries for funeral addresses. Today the temple is long gone except for part of the massive concrete core of its podium, the remains of Caesar's altar, which are in front of it, in a curved niche behind a simple wall, under an ugly metal canopy. The Roman people leave bouquets of flowers on that altar to this day. When the temple still stood in all its glory, this semicircle was at ground level in the center of the front of the structure. The podium was 7 feet tall, with this semicircular cut-out in the front. Above the podium was the massive temple, something like the Temple of Saturn behind you. Just to clarify, Julius Caesar was not buried in the Temple of the Divine Julius Caesar, but rather in a tomb that he had built for his daughter Julia which might have been in the modern-day Piazza di Pietra.
There's a Hole Game Board (1st photo below) in the stones that form the front of the temple, to the right of the entrance, near the other end of the arc-shaped room. There is a large stone base in front of the temple, which probably once held an equestrian statue of Julius Caesar, shown in the 2nd photo below. If you look at the top surface of that base, you can find two hole Game Boards (3rd and 4th photos below).
Across the street from the front of the Temple of Julius Caesar is the Rostra Julia.
Across the street from the Temple of Julius Caesar, this large platform was constructed as a place for public speeches. The large stone which remains on the site today is a tribute to the rostrum's ornate decoration. One of the Plutei of Trajan shows this Rostra.
The inscription reads "Dedication by Lucius Valerius Septimius Bassus who is the Prefect of Rome, to Flavius Gratianus, Valentinianus II, and Theodosius I". Bassus was the mayor of Rome, 379-383 AD, Gratianus was emperor 367-383 AD, Valentinianus was co-emperor 375-392 AD, and Theodosius was co-emperor 379-395 AD, and the last sole Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in the last five months of his life.
A Hole Game Board is visible on the side of this Rostra, and in the 5th photo below.
Walk back toward the Temple of Castor and Pollux from the front of the Temple of Julius Caesar, but before you reach the Temple of Castor and Pollux, turn left on the street between those two temples, heading away from the Forum Square. Near the end of those two temples are the foundations of the Arch of Augustus.
There were two Arches of Augustus in Rome. The first, dating to 29 BC, was to commemorate Augustus' victory over Antony and Cleopatra. Nothing remains of this arch. It might have been located in the Roman Forum, or might have been near the Pantheon.
The second is the Parthian Arch of Augustus, and was located in the Roman Forum. The remains visible today are meager, and span the road between the Temple of Julius Caesar and the Temple of Castor and Pollux, near the Temple of Vesta. All you'll find there are the remains of the base of the piers. The arch was a triple triumphal arch and was the model for the Arch of Septimius Severus, which was the model for the Arch of Constantine. The central arch was vaulted, and the outer openings had flat ceilings and gabled roofs. A surviving fragment shows that the spandrels of the central arch contained reliefs of Victoria. The marble tables listing the consuls and generals who had been awarded triumphal processions, called 'fasti', were mounted on the sides of the lateral arches. Fragments of those are in the Capitoline Museum. Other fragments of the arch are in the Antiquarium. The Parthian Arch of Augustus was dedicated in 19 BC after the Battle of Carrhae to celebrate the return of the standards that had been captured by the Parthians during that battle. Records tell us that the arch of 19 BC stood next to the Temple of Julius Caesar, and that's just where these remains are found.
Keep walking the same direction away from the Forum Square to the small round Temple of Vesta.
Built by King Numa Pompilius in about 700 BC, this round shrine, built in imitation of a primitive round hut, didn't contain a statue of a deity as was typically found in temples, but rather contained a fire which was kept burning at all times, symbolizing the perpetuity of Rome. The principal duty of the six Vestal Virgins, who lived next door in the House of the Vestal Virgins, was to never permit the fire to extinguish since that would be a portent of disaster. Each June 15th, the ashes of the fire were thrown into the Tiber River in a ritual ceremony. Other duties of the Vestal Virgins included safeguarding the sacred objects within the shrine, and preparing grain mixed with salt for sacrifice. The Vestal Virgins were appointed between the age of 6 and 10 by the Pontifex Maximus (High Priest of Rome), and served a 30-year term. Their first ten years of service were spent learning the sacred rites, the next ten years were spent performing them, and the last ten years were spent teaching them. They had to maintain their virginity under threat of severe punishment; they would be buried alive outside the Colline Gate if they broke that vow of chastity. Also, they could be sacrificed if necessary to save Rome in times of extreme crisis, although I don't know whether that ever happened. In return they were extended special treatment: they could own property, injury to them was punishable by death, and they had the right-of-way on the road. At the end of their service, they were released from their vows and free to marry. The shrine also contained a secret recess in which sacred objects were kept, such as the the Palladium, a statue of Athena believed to have been brought by Aeneas from Troy (see the founding-of-Rome legend). According to ancient legend the city which held the palladium could not be conquered. The shrine used Greek architecture with 20 marble Corinthian columns built on a podium 49 feet in diameter. The shrine had a long history of damage, especially by fire (surprising, not!), having been repaired after 390 BC, 241 BC, 14 BC, 64 AD (Nero's fire), and 191 AD. The temple was closed in 394 AD by Theodosius I. The shrine was stripped of its marble during the 1500's, and the section of the shrine standing today was reconstructed in 1930 during the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.
Continue the same direction and to the right into the House of the Vestal Virgins.
The House of the Vestal Virgins was a three-story 50-room palace surrounding a courtyard with two pools. It was the residence of the Vestal Virgins, the six women whose primary duty was to keep the fire in the Temple of Vesta burning at all times. It also contained the Domus Publica, where the Pontifex Maximus (High Priest of Rome) had lived before the Emperors took on this responsibility. The fire of 64 AD destroyed the House of the Vestal Virgins and the building visible today dates from the rebuilding after that time. After the closing the Temple of Vesta in 394 AD, the house was turned into imperial offices. Today, remains of the statues of the Vestals can be seen on podiums in the courtyard, but their arrangement and placement is rather arbitrary since they were all found in a pile.
Backtrack just a bit, to half way between the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Temple of Castor and Pollux to find the Lacus Juturnae, inaccessible, tucked back behind fences.
The Lacus Juturnae, or Spring of Juturna, or Lacus Iuturnae, is a freshwater spring in the Roman Forum at the foot of the Palatine Hill. Juturna was the goddess of fountains, wells and springs in Roman mythology. As described in the section about the Temple of Castor and Pollux, Castor and Pollux stopped at this spring after the Battle of Lake Regillus, in 495 BC. The water from this spring was said to have had special healing properties. Today all that is visible to a tourist is a small rectangular brick building with doors surrounded by white decoration, all far behind fences which make it hard to find and see from ground level. If you're interested in Juturna, there's also a Temple of Juturna in Largo di Torre Argentina.
Go back to the Temple of Vesta, turn so the Temple of Julius Caesar is to your left, and the Regia will be right in front of you.
Located in a triangular patch between the Temple of Vesta, the Temple of Julius Caesar and the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, the Regia is believed to have been built by King Numa Pompilius as the residence or main headquarters of the Kings of Rome. Excavations have revealed a building resembling an Etruscan-style residence on the site by the 7th century BC, which consisted of a courtyard with two rooms around it, with a columned porch decorated with painted terracotta plaques. It had already been rebuilt at least three times before the end of the 6th century BC, each time with different floor plans. From the beginning of the Republic onward, the basic plan stayed the same. Consisting of three rooms opening onto a trapezoid courtyard, it had solid marble walls and thick marble floors, and it contained a shrine to Mars. When the monarchy fell and the Roman Republic was proclaimed, the house became the administrative headquarters of the Pontifex Maximus (high priest) of the city. Since the emperors took on that title as part of their duties, the building passed seamlessly into Imperial hands, and Caesar exercised his duties as Pontifex Maximus from here. The building had suffered considerable damage by the 4th or 5th century AD, it was abandoned by the 9th century AD, and it was despoiled in 1543-1546 when everything useful was removed and used for papal building projects. Only low wall and foundations of the Republican/Imperial Regia remain, making it unimpressive compared with the flashier remains in the forum so it becomes very easy to overlook.
Draw a straight line from the Temple of Vesta through the Regia and on to the beautiful 6-column front of the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina.
The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina is one of the better-preserved monuments in the Roman Forum, due once again, to its use as a church during the Middle Ages. Six 55-foot-tall Corinthian columns made of green cipollino marble, with two more behind on each side, form the front of the temple. The deep grooves in those columns are often stated to be evidence of a medieval attempt to dismantle the portico either for construction materials for something else or to destroy what was perceived to have been a pagan temple, however this is an urban legend. Columns have been taken down and relocated all over Rome; they'd have had no trouble taking these down too if they'd wanted. Also, rope requires a long time to wear grooves into stone. In 1429 or 1430, a heavy wooden roof was created which was supported by ropes tied to the columns surrounding the temple's porch. Those ropes wore away the grooves in the columns.
Resting on top of those columns is an entablature of white marble which probably encircled the whole building. There are rich bas-reliefs of griffins, scrolls, and candelabra on the frieze under the cornice. Much of the upper cornice and rear wall of the temple was dismantled during the 14th century to provide stone for rebuilding the Lateran Palace. The building stands on a high platform of large peperino blocks.
The temple was constructed by Antoninus Pius in 141 AD after the death of his wife Faustina who had died in 140 AD. The original inscription on the bottom row of letters on the entabulature shows this dedication. After he died in 161 AD, Marcus Aurelius rededicated the temple to both of them and the upper row of the inscription was added to include Antoninus Pius' name.
The temple was converted into a Roman Catholic church called San Lorenzo in Miranda during the 7th or 8th century. Also in the Middle Ages, a staircase was built on the Forum side but due to a 20-foot gap between the steps and the green bronze door, that stairway can no longer be used. The stairway was originally made of marble; the modern bricks are from reconstruction. Remains of an altar are on those steps. Before the archaelogical excavations, ground level was at that green door. Excavations in front of the temple were performed in 1546, 1810, 1876, 1885, and in 1899 and subsequent years when the whole eastern side was exposed to view.
Across the street from the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina...
Coming soon... watch here for the details... for now, see Walter's Domus Publica section.
In front of the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, (by the way, you're back on the Via Sacra now) turn so the temple is on your left and walk a short distance to the Archaic Burial Ground on the left side of the road.
Numerous tombs dating to between the 9th and 7th centuries BC were excavated in this area in 1902, with two types of burials: cremations and inhumations. The former, the oldest tombs, usually contained a funerary urn in the form of a hut with the remains of the deceased; in the inhumations the body was buried directly in the earth or in wooden or tufa coffins. The funerary equipment found in the tombs (clay or bucchero vessels, bronze jewelery) is held in the Forum Antiquarium. The actual grave excavation locations are marked with different colored patches of grass than the surrounding area to mark them out.
Go the same direction a short way to the Republican Housing, again on the left side of the road.
The three small rooms opening onto a corridor with walls made of large tufa blocks and travertine door and window frames are generally ascibed to a Carcer (prison); this is an error as tradition attests the existence of only one prison in Rome, the Tullianum on the slopes of the Capitoline Hill. Thought by some to be a brothel, these are probably the service rooms of a Roman house, perhaps used as a cellar or to house slaves.
Go the same direction a short way to the round building with protruding doorway, the Temple of Romulus.
No, not the Romulus. This small round temple was built by Maxentius in 309 AD after the death of his son, Valerius Romulus, born in 292 AD, consul in 308 and 309 AD. The original bronze doors are still in place, set between two porphyry columns that support a reused marble architrave. They open into a rotunda about 50 feet in diameter, with a cupola ceiling.
In 527 AD, Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, donated the library in the Temple of Peace and a portion of the Temple of Romulus to Pope Felix IV. The pope combined the two buildings and formed the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. The temple was the church's vestibule. In 1632, Pope Urban VIII completely restored the church. In 1947, the entrance to the church through the bronze doors of the Temple of Romulus was closed, and an entrance was created on Via dei Fori Imperiali. The Temple of Romulus was restored to its original form. With the Pantheon, the Temple of Romulus is the best preserved pagan temple in Rome. Next to the new entrance to the church is the wall where the 150 marble slabs of the Forma Urbis were hung.
When you step out of the door of the Temple of Romulus, look straight ahead to the massive structure on the edge of the Palatine Hill. That's the Domus Tiberiana.
The Domus Tiberiana was the palace constructed by Tiberius as his residence on the northwest edge of the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum. Caligula extended the palace significantly, including creating an imposing vestibule out of the Temple of Castor and Pollux and linking it to the palace through ramps. Along the back side (the Palatine Hill side) of the palace ran a cryptoporticus built by Nero. A fire burned down the structure in 80 AD, and Domitian rebuilt it, although no longer as the main Imperial residence. These are the remains visible today. Further restoration was performed under Hadrian, and under the Antonines the palace was again used as the Imperial residence. Though much of the palace is built directly onto the rock of the Palatine, a large amount is built over a set of immense arched supports and substructures. The sheer scale of this is visible from the west end of the forum, looking back at the Palatine.
Sorry, I'm not quite sure where the Sacellum of Bacchus is, since I didn't see it.
This one's on my to-do list if I ever get back to Rome since I haven't yet seen it. It is supposed to be a small round shrine near the Basilica of Maxentius, dedicated to Bacchus and containing a statue to the god. Likely built during the Republican period, it was restored under Antoninus Pius. Today it appears as a curved wall, partly buried under foliage.
OK, so now I've seen it, and added the photos below, but not yet updated the web page text. I'll get there, eventually!
Continue walking up the Via Sacra to the huge building on the left; that's the Basilica of Maxentius.
The enormous structure of the Basilica of Maxentius was begin by Maxentius in 306 AD and completed by Constantine in 313 AD. It was the last basilica of Rome, and was the largest, and is the largest building in the Roman Forum. With a lost vestibule to the east and a lost apse to the west, it is hard to picture the full shape of the original building, but the sheer scale of the walls gives some idea of how impressive and magnificent the building must have been in the early 4th century. Even with only one aisle standing, this basilica is easily one of the most impressive monuments in the city. The building consisted of a central 83-foot-wide by 265-foot-long naive spanned by three crossing vaults suspended 128 feet above the floor on four large piers, ending in an apse at the western end which contained a colossal statue of Constantine, the remains of which are now in a courtyard in the Capitoline Museum. The seated, enthroned figure was about 40 feet high, and it was carved from white marble. The sideways forces of the vaults were supported by aisles measuring 75 feet by 56 feet. The building was white before it was destroyed bit by bit over the ages. Pope Honorious removed the bronze tiles of the basilica for the roof of Saint Peter's. Only the north aisle remains standing, the south and center sections having been destroyed by the the earthquake of 847 AD. The wrestling events of the 1960 Summer Olympic Games were held here. On the outside wall of the basilica, facing onto the Via dei Fori Imperiali, are contemporary maps showing the various stages of the rise of the Roman Empire which were added during the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. A map depicting Mussolini's "New Roman Empire" was removed from the wall after the war.
As you exit the Basilica of Maxentius to get back onto the Via Sacra, the Santa Francesca Romana Church is on your left.
Santa Francesca Romana was built into the portico of the western side of the Temple of Venus and Rome during the second half of the 10th century. The confessional was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1638-49), in polychrome marbles with four columns veneered in jasper. Saint Francesca Romana is the patron saint of car drivers, and on March 9th, her feast day, cars and taxis approach as close as they can to the church to receive her blessing. Santa Francesca Romana's skeleton is in the crypt of the church. Access to the church is not through the Roman Forum, but rather, via the Clivo di Venere Felice, a ramp from the western end of the Colosseum, or from the pedestrian stairs from Via dei Fori Imperiali just east of the Basilica of Maxentius. The stairway is currently closed due to construction of Metro Linea C.
This part of the Via Sacra has several low stone walls, which are the Foundations for the Portico of Nero's Domus Aurae.
The concrete foundations that run from the Forum around the corner towards the Palatine, alongside the Arch of Titus, probably pertain to the enormous portico that, according to the ancient sources, Nero had constructed as the vestibule of his Domus Aurae. It extended for a length of about 1000 feet from the Forum to the area of the Temple of Venus and Rome, and enclosed the colossal statue of Nero, 120 feet high, that rose in the location where the temple was later built.
Head the same direction as before along the Via Sacra. Instead of veering off to the right to go to the Arch of Titus, continue going straight toward the Colosseum and stay on the fairly long walkway between the temple on the left and the columns on your right until you reach the end of the path. Then turn around to see the Temple of Venus and Rome.
The Temple of Venus and Rome was a two-sided temple back in the day, of which only one side remains today, facing the Colosseum. It was designed and constructed by Hadrian from 121 to 135 AD, finished by Antoninus Pius in 141 AD, and consisted of two temples, back-to-back. The Temple of Venus, dedicated to the goddesses Venus Felix ("Venus the Bringer of Good Fortune") faced the Colosseum, and the Temple of Roma Aeterna ("Eternal Rome") faced the Capitoline Hill and was dedicated to the goddess Roma. Hadrian modelled the temple on the Olympian Zeus Temple in Athens. He built it raised above a platform by seven steps, which ran continuous on all four sides. Two cellae, placed back-to-back, each held one of the statues of the two gods. Only one of those cellae remains today, the one of the Temple of Venus, facing the Colosseum. The columns along the two long sides of the temple were built of red and grey Egyptian marble, with Corinthian capitals of white marble. The temples were erected on the remnants of the porticoed vestibule to Nero's Domus Aurea (Golden House), a huge palace built on the land Nero confiscated after the great fire of Rome in 64 AD. After the hated Nero died, the palace was torn down and the land reused. Nero's huge statue, the Colossus of Nero, was moved to near the Colosseum to make room for the temples. Underneath the level platform built for the temple were large chambers (bottom of 2nd photo below) used to store machinery and apparatus used in the Colosseum's games. After fire damage in 307 AD, Maxentius reconstructed the temple. The remains currently visible are from that reconstruction. A church was constructed in its ruins and the church of San Francesca Romana still occupies half of the site. The Temple of Roma is almost entirely lost under the church, but the Temple of Venus survives as an impressive podium with parts of the temple visible, including a huge apse that once housed a statue of the Goddess, and some of the surrounding portico of columns. This is obviously a superb place to take some fantastic pictures of the Colosseum (3rd photo below).
Head back out of the Temple of Venus and Rome the same way you came in and go back onto the Via Sacra to the Arch of Titus.
The Arch of Titus is a triumphal arch on the Via Sacra, on the eastern end of the Roman Forum. There are only three complete triumphal arches still standing in Rome. The others are the Arch of Septimius Severus at the western end of the Roman Forum and the Arch of Constantine, just outside the eastern end of the Roman Forum, next to the Colosseum. The Arch of Titus is 44 feet wide, 15 feet tall, and 16 feet deep. The archway is 27 feet tall and 18 feet wide. It is constructed using pentelic marble. The archway has an intricately decorated barrel vault. Coffers decorate the entire ceiling of the archway, and the central keystone shows Titus being carried to heaven by the eagle of Jupiter. Inside the archway, the south panel (2nd photo below) depicts the spoils taken from the Temple in Jerusalem during the Sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD, led by Titus. His Triumphal procession approaches an arch with the spoils plundered from the Temple of Jerusalem, including the silver trumpets which the sons of Arron had blown to summon the hosts of Israel, the golden Table of the twelve loaves of the Shewbread which were renewed in the Temple every Sabbath day, and the great golden seven-branched candlestick (menorah), which was the most sacred object that the Jews possessed. Young men wearing laurel wreaths carry the spoils from the Sack of Jerusalem in the frieze. The spoils were originally gilded with gold, with the background in blue. This frieze has become a symbol of the Jewish diaspora. The wealth obtained in this Sack of Jerusalem was used to finance the construction of the Colosseum. The north panel inside the archway (3rd photo below) depicts Titus as triumphator (the recipient of a Triumph, a celebration of military victory). A helmeted Amazonian, Valour, (or some sources say it is the goddess Rome) leads the quadriga or four horsed chariot, which carries Titus. Winged Victory, accompanied by the twin deities Honor and Courage, crowns him with a laurel wreath. His official atendants, the lictors, are shown in the background carrying fasces. The friezes on the outer faces of the two great piers were lost when the Arch of Titus was incorportated in medieval defensive walls. The inscription on the east side, facing the Colosseum, reads "The Roman Senate and People (dedicate this) to the divine Titus Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian." The inscription on the west side, facing into the Roman Forum, is from the restoration of the arch by Pope Pius VII in 1821, and reads "(This) monument, remarkable in terms of both religion and art, had weakened from age: Pius the Seventh, Supreme Pontiff, by new works on the model of the ancient exemplar ordered it reinforced and preserved. In the year of his sacred rulership the 24th."
Don't go out the Roman Forum exit, which is the road that passes under the Arch of Titus and heads toward the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. Instead, walk down the pathway that runs parallel to that road, on the side opposite the Temple of Venus and Rome. Just a short way down that path is the Baths of Elagabalus.
This is a spot where archaelogical excavation was being performed in fall of 2012 and 2013. The site has been used as housing, as part of the portico of the Domus Aurae, and as a bathing establishment. The visible ruins date to the late Severan period.
A bit further down this walkway, on the left, is a large closed-off area of excavations. This is the Birth Home of Emperor Augustus.
This is a spot where archaelogical excavation (1st photo below) was being performed from about 2007 through at least 2013. Emperor Augustus' birth home (63 BC) was discovered there and also a shop where Emperor Maxentius' Imperial Standards were found hidden beneath the floor. It might be best viewed from the Colosseum, which is where I took my photo.
Go back to the Arch of Titus. From here, you can exit the Roman Forum by walking down the road that leads to the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, or you can go up to the Palatine Hill by going uphill, in the opposite direction along the path that took you to the Baths of Elagabalus.
No matter what you do from here, be sure at some point to see, from Via dei Fori Imperiali, the wall where the Forma Urbis was mounted, the outside of the Basilica of Maxentius with its maps of the Roman Empire at various states of expansion, and the nearby Imperial Fora. Also be sure to walk along Via dei Fori Imperiali at night and see the Roman Forum all lit up. As you walk toward the Victor Emmanuel Monuement, when you reach the end of Caesar's Forum, turn left onto the small road and walk up the hill. It leads to the Campidoglio, but if you veer off to the left it leads to a fantastic viewing platform that provides a most gorgeous view of the lit-up Roman Forum at night.