Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Free Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Roman Forum of Ancient Rome

It might seem unbelievable when you’re looking at the Roman Forum that such a small area could be so important, but it was the political, economic and religious center of the ancient city of Rome and thus, by extension, the entire Roman Empire. The Forum stands in a valley between the Capitoline and Palantine Hills. During the early Republican era it became the arena for political rallies, public ceremonies and meetings. The importance of this area declined around the 4th century AD, along with the rest of the Roman Empire; the temples, monuments and buildings, built by a succession of the Roman Elite over 900 years, fell into ruin. Starting in the 18th century the area has been continually and systematically excavated. The Roman Forum, currently, is a large open-air museum.
The main entrance is located half way along the Via dei Forti Imperiali, but for this Self Guided Walk we will use the entrance on Via di San Gregorio, the street just beyond the Arch of Constantine, going south from the Colosseum. The reason for this is that the exit to the park is the beginning of the route that the emperors, consuls and generals followed on their triumphant return to Rome up the Via Sacra. This is the “start” of the Via Sacra and this Self Guided Walk of the Roman Forum.

Upon entering the gates turn right and follow the past alongside the Palatine Hill, until your reach the Forum. On entering the Forum walk straight to the 1) Arch of Titus. Built in 81AD by Domitian to commemorate his brother Titus’ victory during the Jewish War, the Arch is to be viewed walking from the Colosseum, into the forum the way the Triumphal March would have gone. The inscription on the attic states “The Senate and Roman people erected this monument to commemorate Titus.” Representations of “Victory” are in the corners of the arch. Facing the forum, the panel on the right interior depicts the Emperor Titus in his chariot being led by the goddess Roma while Victory crowns his head with a laurel wreath. The left hand relief does not focus on any one aspect but depicts the soldiers marching into Rome carrying the menorah and other sacred object from the Temple of Jerusalem, as well as placards that explain the events of the campaign to the people of Rome.
The arch as a whole is made to make us feel like we were there for Titus’ Triumphal march down the Via Sacra

Behind the arch on the left, facing the Colosseum, is the 2) Temple of Venus and Roma – Built in 135 AD, by the Emperor Hadrian, it was the largest known temple in Ancient Rome. Dedicated to the Goddesses Venus and Roma the chief protectors of the city. The temple was designed in the Greek style, versus the Roman one and is now the exit and the Museum for the Forum

Walking through the arch continuing down the Via Sacra, on the right, is the 3) Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine dating from 308 AD, it was the largest building in the Forum. Created as a public place for civic affairs it was the last great administrative building built in Rome as the next Emperor Constantine shifted his power to “New Rome”, Constantinople. The Basilica still has its roof as well as three of its huge arches and vaults. You are able to see the construction methods of how the ancient Romans were able to build on large scale and quickly.

Continuing down the Via Sacra you will pass by on your right the 4) location of the Temple of Romulus, now part of the Church of Santi Cosma e Damiano.

You will pass a stand of trees, bearing to the left you come to the circular 5) Temple of Vesta. Built in 3rd century BCE the Temple to the Goddess of Fire, the sacred flames were kept burning by the Vestal Virgins. The girls came from noble families and were chosen when they were between the ages of 6 and 10 and would serve for 30 years. They had high status and financial stability but were buried alive if they lost their virginity. The house where they lived is straight ahead, a few paces from the Temple. The 6) House of the Vestal Virgins dates from the 6th century BCE, some walls and the central garden and pool with statues is all that remains.

Re-tracing your steps back straight across the road is 7) Temple of Antonius and Faustina. This is the best surviving building in the Roman Forum. Constructed in 141AD by Emperor Antonius to honor his wife Faustina she was deified and worshiped and upon his death in 161 AD he too was deified. The reason why the temple is so well preserved is that it was turned into the church San Lorenzo Miranda in about 500AD. The columns are all that remains of the original Temple.

Continuing up Via Sacra, take the first left and you will by-pass the 8) Temple of Ceasar. Built in 42 BCE all that is left of the Temple is the location of the altar upon which Caesar’s body was burned at his funeral, you may see flowers left there.

Continuing straight you will see, on your left, the 9) Temple of Castor and Pollux. Built in 495 BCE; the remaining elaborate carved cornice and columns, date from the 6AD when the Temple was re-built. On the right is the 10) Basilica Julia the seat of the civil magistrates court.

At this point you will notice that the forum stands well below the modern day street level. Surprisingly this is because of pollution. The build-up of garbage and everyday waste over the centuries has caused the street level to rise. There is much more ancient Rome underneath modern Rome, but it’s nearly impossible to excavate because of the whole modern city built above them.

Turning right you will walk down the length of the Basilica Julia to the 11) Temple of Saturn. This is the oldest surviving structure in the area, built roughly around 500 BCE it was the location of the state treasury, as well as the Temple to the God of Seeds. All that survives are the 8 columns.

Now we are at the end of the Roman Forum. Turning right you will see a single standing column on the right. This is the 12) Rostra Augusti/ Millarium Areum/Umbilicus Urbis Romae. This column is the location of the building, which was deemed the center of Ancient Rome. The Umbilicus Urbis Romae was the building and the Millarium Areum was a column on the building from which the distances to all points in the Roman Empire were measured.

Continue to the 13) Arch of Septimius Severus. The Arch was dedicated in 203 AD to commemorate Septimus Severus’ victory over the Parthians. The inscription in the attic records that he fought against the Arabs and the Parthians. The reliefs are badly worn but you are still able to get the general effect of the exploits of the Emperor. Representations of Victory carrying trophies on sticks are in the spandrels while small boys, representing the four seasons are just below. The base of the columns are reliefs of captured soldiers. If you look closely on the center archway, at the base of the columns, are a series of score marks and indents at the corners, these were caused by chariot wheels from the Middle Ages when the ground level was much higher.

Passing through the Arch, bearing to the left, is the 14) Curia Julia (Roman Senate) which was built in 44 BCE by Julius Ceasar. You can go up to the door and look at the marble mosaic floor and know that Roman Senators walked on those intricate designs 2,000 years ago and ruled the Empire.

This is the end of your Self Guided Walk of the Roman Forum. It might not look like much now, but these scant few acres hold more history than the entirety of most cities

Forum Visitor Information
Location: Main entrance on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, but for this Self-Guided we are using the one at Via San Gregorio 30.
How to Get There: Colosseo Metro stop, bus lines 60, 75, 85, 87, 95, or 175
Admission Fee: €11 (This is a ticket that covers the Forum, the Colosseum, & Palatine Hill, and it’s good for 48 hours.)
Hours: Daily, 09:00-19:00 (or one hour before dark)

To experience this Free Self Guided Walk of the Roman Forum with a short term apartment or villa rental contact European Home Rentals, specialists in renting weekly short-term vacation rentals apartments, houses, cottages and villas in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Ireland, Scotland and Greece