It seems to me that it is vain trying to describe here a place like the Forum when a well-known guide such as the “Michelin Rome” devotes ten tight pages to it! Best thing to do is to walk around, look in all directions, stop here and there to consult the guide book to find out to what corresponds such section of wall, such columns or ruin. I call that "humer l'air antique" sniff the air of the antic Rome.
My favoured walk starts on the height of the Capitole, then descends the staircases towards Via Sacra and joins the Coliseum. The return is even more spectacular with its superb sights on the Capitol with the back of the Vittoriano monument.
What strikes the visitor is the cluttering of this forum by all sorts of constructions. Already during the five centuries of the Roman Republic this place overflowed of administrative, legal, commercial and religious buildings. From this period not much remains.
It is under the Empire that the Forum fills up with temples, basilica, and triumphal arches dedicated to the emperors of which we see now some vestiges. This glorious period stops with the barbarian invasions of the beginning of 5th c. after J-C.
Rome becomes then the city of the Popes and the imperial buildings are transformed into churches. From the 9th century on the buildings on the forum start to collapse or are stripped off their ancient ornaments. The deserted forum becomes a sewage farm and cows feed on the meadows. During the 16th century the old forum is used as career for the construction of other buildings, of which the St-Peter Basilica!
Finally towards 1800 start systematic excavations by Carlo Fea who are continued during two centuries. It is only in the 20th century that the topography of the heart of ancient Rome is reconstituted such as the tourist discovers it today.
TICKETS FOR THE FORO ROMANO + COLLOSSEO + PALATINO at 12 € (full price) have to be bought at the ticket offices (biglietterie) largo Salara Vecchia or Via di S. Gregorio 30.
Price combined ticket (2013): normal 12 €; reduced 7,50 € for EU citizens between 18 and 24 years. Valid 2 days .
The combined ticket can be bought on-line at http://www.coopculture.it/en/ticket with a reservation fee of 2 € for print home ticket.
Free for EU citizens under 18 or more than 65 years.
Open all days from 08.30 H till 1 hour before sunset.
Closing times in 2013:
02/01 - 15/02 = 16.30 h
16/02 - 15/03 = 17.00 h
16/03 - 30/03 = 17.30 h
31/03 - 31/08 = 19.15 h
01/09 - 30/09 = 19.00 h
01/10 - 26/10 = 18.30 h
27/10 - 31/12 = 16.30 h
Attention: closed on 1/01 and 25/12 !
The ticket office closes 1 hour before above times.
Being a Vestal Virgin wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
While you had free rent, great seats at the Colosseum, got to vote, own property and had other cool perks, you were mostly stuck looking after a temperamental fire and doing housekeeping at the Temple of Vesta for 30 long years. Keeping that fire going was a big deal 'cause if it went out, Vesta, goddess of the hearth, would have a fit and remove her protection from the city. There would also be no community flame for the citizens to borrow from if their household fires burned out. If that happened on your watch you would be flogged with whips tipped with metal or bone. And there was no fooling around for you, no sir. Caught making whoopie with some cute young Legionnaire? You were buried alive and he was lashed to death. Ouch.
The good news was that you were free to marry once your 30 years were up...although that wasn't much of a bonus at a time when Roman women had few of the rights and privileges of a V.V. It was usually more attractive to continue living high on the Vestal hog you'd become accustomed to. Who needed a boring old Senator in a bed sheet anyway?
One may see the visible outlines of the atrium (center of the picture) and the remains of rooms in the large house the V.V.s lived in. Battered statuary on the pillars are of senior Vestals and date to 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The cult was banned, along with other non-Christian orders, in the late 4th century and the house was turned into office space.
There's lots more fun stuff about Vestal Virgins on this site:
If you've had any Roman history, read certain bits of Shakespeare or seen the most expensive American movie ever made (Cleopatra: 1963) you'll know that Julius Caesar met a messy end at the hands of some very cranky Senators. What was news to me was that they didn't finish him off in the Forum. The building that was normally used for gatherings of the Senate - Curia Hostilia - had burned down some years before so they were using Pompey's Curia in the interim. This was part of a gigantic complex covering several blocks - roughly from Campo di Fiori to Largo Argentina - northwest of the Forum.
The Senators having fled the scene of the crime, the body was dragged by a mob of angry citizens (who had no love for pushy Caesars) to the Forum where a cool-headed Marc Anthony did some fast talking to make the fallen dictator a hero deserving of a noble send-off. Heroes being rather popular in ancient Rome, the mob settled down nicely, threw together an altar, grabbed whatever furniture they could lay their hands on and built a nice big bonfire in which to incinerate Julius' sorry remains. The Temple of Julius Caesar was later raised on the spot. There's not much left of it but parts of some walls and rubble of the altar but it's an interesting little piece of history so give it a go.
The ruins are covered with a roof to protect them from the elements. It's the semicircular grey thing in the very center of the frame in the 2nd shot. Here's a website with some good background on the temple:
These three gigantic barrel vaults are about all that remain of what was the largest structure in the Forum. Constructed in the 4th century under Maxentius (him again!) and Constantine I, this building was used for judicial, commercial and administrative purposes. While we think of a basilica as church, in ancient Rome it simply meant a public building. When Christianity was allowed out of the closet and became the primary religion of Rome, some of these structures were converted into Catholic basilicas you'll see on your wanders about the city.
An apse on the west side originally held an enormous statue of Maxentius that Constantine, ever the thrifty and egotistical Emperor, later altered to look like himself - probably because he was peeved with Max for not playing nice in the imperial sandbox. You can see the head and some other remaining bits of this colossus in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. In my humble opinion, Constantine either resembled a frog or the dude he hired for the statue's facelift was mad at him; it's sort of a bug-eyed thing.
In this picture are two examples of Roman temples which were recycled into Christian places of worship. In the background is the rather bizarre-looking church of San Lorenzo in Miranda - which was originally the 2nd century Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Built by Emperor Antoninus Pius in memory of his deceased wife, the temple was rededicated to them both after the emperor's death. Sometime in the Middle Ages the remains of the temple were converted into a church named after St. Lawrence as it was believed he'd been sentenced to death on this site. Many alterations have been made to the original structure and the resulting exterior is a goofy mix of 17th century facade above the columns of an ancient Roman porch. The church - entered from Via dei Fori Imperiali - is almost always closed but may be open on Thursdays between 10-12:00.
The circular building in the foreground was probably the Temple of Divus Romulus and dedicated to the son of Maxentius; the same emperor of Villa Massenzio. In the 6th century it was incorporated with the library of Vespacian's Forum of Peace into the Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano and named for twin physician brothers, Cosmas and Daimian, who were martyred in the 3rd century. The temple has since been restored to original form and is, along with the Pantheon, the best preserved of the pre-Christian temples in Rome. We hit this one when it was closed so didn't get to visit the interior but if you do (entrance is also from Via dei Fori Imperiali - free) it can be viewed from behind a protective glass wall, and the church is said to have magnificent 6th and 7th-century mosaics. Entrance is free; see this site for hours:
More web info on Temple of Romulus:
Web info for Temple of Antoninus and Faustina:
Once the Roman center of religion, commerce and justice, the Forum is now a jumbled maze of tumbled columns, ruined foundations and churches erected on pre-Christian temples. It is not an easy place to visit as you need to either bring a very good guidebook, rent an audioguide, or book a tour to make sense of it all. It can also be very crowded, very hot in summer, and tough on your feet but to walk the Via Sacra (Sacred Way) is to follow in the footsteps of Kings, Emperors, Senators, Roman generals and Vestal Virgins over two thousand years ago. This not to be missed - however you choose to do it.
Tickets include entry to Palatine Hill and Colosseum and are good for two days: see this link for hours, prices and other good info:
To help understand the maze of ruins before your walk, there are excellent overlooks from the Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill, and Farnese Gardens on Palatine Hill. Getting a handle on some of the more interesting sites before your trip is a good idea too: I'm attaching this website with lots of pictures and background on many of the remaining structures, and will include individual reviews on a few of those as well.
The Forum is hauntingly beautiful when illuminated night. While not open to visitors in the evenings, it's well worth a stroll past just to see it lit up. Best place to buy tickets is at Palatine Hill where lines are shortest (see previous review).
The best and the most romantic way of discovering the Forum is to climb on the Palatine Hill by the entry located Via di San Gregorio 30, close to Porta Capena. The visit begins thus with the vestiges of the thermal baths of Settimo Severo at the South-eastern angle of the Palatine.
The entry of Palatine is to be paid for but it gives right to a combined entry to the Coliseum and the Foro Romano and avoids consequently the long lines at the Coliseum which can be joined by going down towards the Arc of Titus and the Via Sacra.
It is on the Palatine that Rome was born with Romulus in the 8th century before J-C, it is there that Cicero lived under the Republic and it is still on this hill that the emperors August, Tiber, Domitian had their residence. Excavations started in the 18th century and are still going on; they made it possible to discover the palaces Domus Augustana, Domus Flavia, Casa di Livia as well as temples of Cibele and Apollo and a stadium.
One needs some imagination to evoke the splendour of this site of the time of the Empire but the place is quiet and shaded by beautiful trees of which the famous romantic umbrella pines.
While moving towards North one reaches the Farnese gardens with a terrace from where one has an extraordinary view downwards on the Foro Romano. It is really a unique sight which no tourist, no photographer could ignore being in Rome.
Open all days from 08.30 till 1 hour before sunset.
Attention: closed on 1/01 and 25/12 !
The ticket offices close 1 hour before above times.
Tickets available at the "biglietterie" Largo Salaria Vecchia and Via di San Gregorio, 30 (also the ticket offices of the Forum and the Coliseum as the ticket is a combined one).
Price combined ticket: normal 12 €; reduced 7,50 € for EU citizens between 18 and 24 years old.
Free for EU citizens less than 18 or 65 years old.
It's impossible to remember in detail the image and name of each monument lined in the forums, but, travelling with Tito, who could skip Tito's triumphal arch?
Built by Domitian in 82 AD, it was the model to several triumphal arches, including the modern one in Paris.
Not much remains of this building, but if you take a peek behind the curved wall in front protected by a roof, you will find the site where Julius was most likely cremated after his untimely death on the Ides of March 44 BC. Today it looks like a mound of dirt with some flowers on top of it. But I liked the thought of seeing something that we learn about in our history books as children. It is times like this that reinforces how travel brings history to life (no pun intended).
This area also marks the eastern end of the original forum. The temple was bigger back in the Roman times and was most likely hexagonal in shape with an terrace based on the foundation remains.
We spent a day looking over the early Roman areas; we didn’t see it all, but got a good overview of the area and what’s in it. Our day began at the Roman Forum, primarily because we had read a good VT tip that said the lines were shorter here than at the Colosseum for purchasing your combo-ticket. From what we saw, this tip was spot-on! We waited in line for about five minutes (remember, we weren’t there in high tourist season) but later we were able to bypass the very long line at the Colosseum; so we were very happy about all this.
How do you make sense of all the stones in the Forum? Best thing is to get a good audio tour or a very good guide book. I had done a good bit of reading prior to our trip and my copy of The Blue Guide – Rome more than paid for itself, but there was just too much material to try to read the book during the actual tour (hint: get the book a couple months before your trip and read up on it). So we downloaded the Rick Steves’ audio tour (free from iTunes!) and printed up the free maps (also on iTunes) and used that instead of purchasing the audio guides provided at the Forum. The guided tour was about 45 minutes long and covered all the highlights of the Forum – I thought it was well worth it! Hubby and I each had our own iPods with the tours so we were able to go at our own pace. This is a cost effective method if you are coming with a larger family and want to save a bit of money but still get a good history and cultural history.
Our tour began at the Arch of Titus (on the Colosseum end of the Via Sacra), which was nice since we were there when everything opened and most of the groups arriving were starting in the other section of the Forum, so we pretty much had the area to ourselves!
Highlights of our tour included (see additional tips) the Basilica of Constantine, the temple of the Vesta Virgins, temple of Julius Caesar, the Curia, and the Arch of Septimius Severus.
From the Forum area, you can walk up to the Palatine Hill. All our books told us we could also walk from the Forum to the Capitoline, but that was closed off (not sure if it was temporary or more permanent – it was just a simple chain blocking the access). Once you have had your fill of the Forum area, exit towards the Colosseum to continue your tour of Roman ruins.
There was so much more to see, some closed and some areas blocked by construction or excavations. The Arch of Septimius Severus was massive but due to excavations nearby, you could not get near it from the Forum side. Later in the week we made our way down towards the Mammertime Prison from the Capitoline and from that vantage point had a much better view of the arch.
Bottom line – go on a nice day and get a good audio guide or book to help you understand all that you are seeing. Purchase the combo-ticket if you also want to go to the Colosseum so you can save money and avoid the lines at the Colosseum.
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