Buildings and monuments
Buildings and monuments
As mentioned earlier, the Forum is full of majestic buildings, works, and monuments from different periods of Roman history. Some of the most relevant are listed in the historical section of this article and will be further explained below.
During the time of the Roman Republic, the patricians and the plebeians were in power. The patricians were the elite and met in the Curia (the senate hall), the most western building on the Roman Forum.
The plebeians (ordinary citizens) met outside on the Comitium for the comizi curiati (popular assemblies), the public part of the square in front of the Curia. Also, the people were addressed there from the Rostra, the pulpit of the Roman consulate.
The Vulcanal (also called Shrine of Vulcan) was a sacred altar built in honor of Vulcanus, the Roman god of fire. It was built in the 8th century BC and is located west of the Comitium. According to legend, the shrine was built on the spot where Romulus and Titus Tatius made peace between the Latins and the Sabines.
Originally, the Vulcanal was an outdoor altar surrounded by various monuments. For example, there was a sculpture of a quadriga placed by Romulus after his victory over the city of Caenina. Later, a statue of Romulus was also constructed next to it.
The Vulcanal had a political function during the Imperial period as a gathering place for the citizens. This was before the Comitium and the Rostra were built and also served as a stage for public speakers.
The Regia (royal residence) was a two-part structure built by the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius. It was located along the Via Sacra at the edge of the Roman Forum. It originally served as the residence of the Roman heads of state and later as the office of the Pontifex Maximus, the highest religious official in the city.
The interior was divided into three rooms with access from the courtyard to the middle room. It was burned and restored in 148 BC and again eight years after the death of Julius Caesar in 36 BC. The second restoration was done in marble by Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus.
In the area of the Comitium, there was originally the Curia Hostilia, the oldest senate building in Rome, founded by Tullus Hostilius (the third king of the city). The structure was destroyed by a fire in 53 BC and subsequently rebuilt by Sulla’s son.
In 44 BC, when Julius Caesar redesigned the Forum, the Curia Hostilia was demolished to make place for the Curia Julia—in honor of Julius Caesar. It’s probably the best-preserved monument of the Roman Forum, as Pope Honorius converted it into a church in the 7th century.
This is a monument on the Campidoglio hill (behind Piazza del Campidoglio), of which only three of the original ten arches are still visible. The building was intended as a state archive, a place where public acts, senate decrees, and peace treaties were kept, some engraved on bronze tablets—hence the name Tabularium.
Built in 78 BC by Consul Quinto Lutazio Catulo, it’s one of the few monuments from the Republican period that remain in good condition. Nowadays, the upper part—renovated by Michelangelo—houses the offices of the Municipality of Rome.
Despite being one of the city’s most important monuments, the Lapis Niger (black stone) is less well-known. This is because this magnificent work is not accessible to visitors due to extensive restoration work.
The Lapis Niger is an underground sanctuary, covered with a black marble slab, a stone’s throw away from the Curia. Its origin is a mystery, but for the Romans of the Imperial period, the following two stories were known. According to one myth, this was the tomb of Romulus, the first king of Rome. According to another story, it was the tomb of Osto Ostilio, Romulus' bodyguard.
Inside the monument are a tomb, an altar, and a column. On the tomb is written one of the oldest inscriptions handed down to us in Latin. It describes that whoever dares to open the tomb of the king will be cursed.
Temple of Vesta
This is one of the oldest temples in Rome. It’s a small round building at the eastern end of the Roman Forum, along the Via Sacra, next to the Regia and the House of the Vestal Virgins.
In the Temple of Vesta, the virgin priestesses were responsible for keeping the sacred fire burning, dedicated to the goddess Vesta. It was only accessible to the king and the priestesses.
From the restoration carried out in 1930, using original materials from the same temple, six columns currently remain.
House of the Vestal Virgins
In the Atrium Vestae lived six noblewomen who were required to serve the temple of Vesta for 30 years. The huge building had three floors and 50 rooms built around a rectangular atrium with a double pond. In the eastern corner of the house was a statue of Numa Pompilius, the founder of the Vesta cult.
The house was built at the foot of the Palatine, where there was a sacred forest. During the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, the forest—including the House of the Vestal Virgins—and other surrounding buildings were destroyed. After this, the house was rebuilt and inhabited until Emperor Theodosius I forbade the cult at the end of the fourth century.
The house continued to be used by members of the imperial and papal courts until the 11th or 12th century. Today, excavated statues of the Vestal Virgins are displayed around the atrium.
Temple of Saturn
Besides the Temple of Vesta, the Temple of Saturn (the god of grain and agriculture) is one of the oldest sanctuaries in the Roman Forum. It was built between 501 and 498 BC and, although dedicated to the god Saturn, it was used in the Republic primarily as a treasury and archive of official state documents.
According to mythology, Saturn was chased from Olympus by Jupiter/Zeus and left by ship for Lazio. Here he taught the king and his people how to cultivate their land, which brought them prosperity, joy, and peace. In gratitude for this, he was appointed as a fellow king, and his reign was also called the Golden Age.
The remains of the temple (8 columns) are located in the southwestern part of the Roman Forum, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, near the Basilica Julia.
Temple of Castor and Pollux
This temple is also known as the Temple of the Dioscents. It was a temple dedicated to the twins Castor and Pollux from ancient Rome, who were descended from Greek mythology.
It was built as a tribute to their victory in the battle of Lake Regillus in the year 495 BC. The remains of this temple are among the most outstanding of the Forum Romanum.
Currently, three Corinthian columns of 12 meters high remain, located between the Basilica Julia and the House of the Vestal Virgins.
Temple of Romulus
The Temple of Romulus is located between the Temple of Antoninus & Faustina and Basilica Maxentius. Originally forming the entrance to the Temple of Peace, Emperor Maxentius later reused it as a temple in memory of his son Valerius Romulus, who died at a young age in 309 AD.
Theories about the temple’s name are contradicting. Some claim it was the temple of the Penates (guardian spirits of a family or the State), but lately, experts link the building to the temple of Jupiter Stator. According to legend, the temple had been founded by Romulus on the site of the Kidnapping of the Sabine Women.
As for the structure, the circular temple was built entirely of brick, covered by a dome and preceded by a facade accentuated by a concave shape in which four niches had been opened for four statues. The bronze gate is one of the few remaining Roman doors and has a mechanism that still works.
Temple of Caesar
After the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar in 44 BC, which occurred during a meeting of the Senate, his body was moved to the Regia and prepared for funeral rites. In 42 BC, a shrine was erected at the site of the cremation in his honor. Shortly thereafter an altar and marble column were built with the inscription “Parenti Patriae” which means “Father of the Fatherland”.
Caesar’s heir Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) had a temple built on the site of the column dedicated to his great uncle. This was the first deification of a deceased Roman leader. On August 18, 29 BC, the temple was inaugurated by Octavian—including major games.
Although Caesar’s temple is largely lost, images on ancient coins show that it had six columns in the front. The 3.5-meter high extended podium at the front has a semicircular opening in which the altar Rostra ad Divi Iulii stood. This was probably the place where Caesar was cremated.
Temple of Venus and Roma
In 121 AD, the Temple of Venus and Roma was designed by Emperor Hadrian—a lover of art and architecture. He dedicated it to the goddesses Venus Felix (Lucky Venus) and Roma Aeterna (Eternal Rome). Although the temple was inaugurated by Hadrian in 135 AD, it wasn’t completed until 141 AD under the supervision of Emperor Antoninus Pius.
It’s the largest temple in ancient Rome and stretches across the area between the Basilica Maxentius and the valley of the Colosseum. For its construction, material from the Domus Aurea, among other monuments, was used. The gigantic statue of Nero that stood there at the time (made of bronze and over 35 meters high), had Hadrian decided to dedicate to the god of the sun and moved it to a spot next to the Colosseum with the help of 24 elephants.
The temple contained two symmetrical cellae (temple chambers), in which each stood the statue of a goddess on a throne. One statue was of Venus—the goddess of love and the mythological mother of Aeneas. The other was of Rome—the goddess who symbolized the Roman state.
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
The temple erected in 141 AD is easily recognized by the large inscription on the architrave: “To the divine Antoninus and the divine Faustina by decree of the Senate” (DIVO • ANTONINO • ET DIVAE • FAUSTINAE • EX • S • C).
This is the temple that Antoninus Pius had built for his wife Faustina. The part of the inscription dedicated to the emperor seems to have been added later after she died and was deified in 141.
The temple is located north of the Regia, between the Basilica Aemilia and the temple of Divo Romolo. It stands on a high platform of peperino blocks (a type of volcanic rock used by the Romans in their constructions), preceded by a staircase. The pronaos (front of the temple) remains almost intact with its ten large columns. In the center are the remains of the ancient altar and the cellae display the image of griffins on its two main sides.
In the seventh or eighth century, the temple was transformed into a catholic church, dedicated to San Lorenzo in Miranda (St. Lawrence), who is said to have been sentenced to death in this place. In 1536, the church was partly demolished and the side chapels were removed to restore the appearance of the ancient temple before the visit of Emperor Charles V. The church visible today was rebuilt in baroque style in 1602 by Orazio Torriani.
Temple of Vespasian and Titus
The Temple of Vespasian and Titus is located at the north end of the western side of the Roman Forum, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. It’s dedicated to Emperor Vespasian, who was deified after his death on June 23, 79.
Titus had the shrine built and dedicated to his deceased and deified father Vespasian. However, Titus himself only ruled for a few years. After he died in 81 AD, the temple was completed by his brother Domitian, who then dedicated it to Titus. The temple was the first major addition to the Roman Forum since the time of Emperor Augustus.
The building was 33 m long and 22 m wide with a hexastyle portico (with six columns) in Corinthian style. The columns were 1.57 m wide and 13.2 m high. Today, only three columns of marble remain, with a small part of the architrave decorated with various sacrificial objects (a knife, an axe, etc.).
Temple of Peace
Between 71 and 75 AD, Vespasian ordered the construction of the Templum Pacis (also known as the Forum of Vespasian) in honor of Pax, the goddess of peace.
When he and his son Titus had won the Jewish War in Judea and Galilee, he believed he had restored peace in Rome. With the spoils of war from Judea, he could easily cover the cost of building the temple.
The Temple of Peace was inaugurated in 75 AD and in addition to worshipping the goddess of peace, it was also used to display the stolen Jewish art treasures and other spoils of war.
At the end of the second century, in 191 AD, the temple burned down and was reconstructed afterward by Emperor Severus. He was probably also the one who commissioned the Forma Urbis Romae. This large marble city map of Rome was hung in the Aula of the temple in the early 3rd century.
What was once one of the most beautiful structures in Rome slowly disappeared in the Middle Ages under the rising ground level. Above ground, the auditorium where the Forma Urbis hang was preserved and eventually rebuilt into the Santi Cosma e Damiano church.
Arch of Septimius Severus
This imposing arch was commissioned by the Senate in 203 AD in honor of Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta. The inscription on the monument refers to two glorious deeds of Septimius Severus that marked the first years of his reign.
Not only had he secured the end of the civil war, within which he had prevailed against his opponents and secured the imperial throne (193 and 195-197 AD), but he had also won the war against the Parthians (195 and 197 AD), which led to the establishment of the new provinces of Mesopotamia and Osrhoene.
The square of the Comitium is bordered by this triumphal arch, a monumental structure characteristic of the Roman era, located on the side of the Comitium and the Regia. It was used for a purification ritual whenever the army returned from a victory. When they passed under the arch and set foot on the holy ground of Rome again, the general and the army were cleansed from the blood of their enemies.
After the death of Septimius Severus, his sons became co-emperors. It was a difficult collaboration, ending with Caracalla ordering his brother Geta to be killed. After this, he decided to remove his brother’s name and proof of existence from all inscriptions, statues, and images present in the arch.
Arch of Titus
In the eastern part of the Roman Forum, on the northern slope of the Palatine, there’s a triumphal arch with a single bow. It was built by the Senate in memory of Emperor Titus after his death in 81 AD.
Four marble semi-columns can be seen on the facade. The main decoration of the arc is on the inside. On the west side, the work features an inscription in which the Emperor is called a divus (god) by the Senate. Deified because of the Jewish war he waged as sovereign in Galilee, which destroyed Jerusalem, after which he was received in triumph after his return to Rome.
On the left side of the arch, for example, you see bearers carrying items that had been captured during Titus' battle against the Jews. In this case, silver trumpets and the seven-armed candelabra, the most important symbolic objects in the conquest of Jerusalem.
In ancient Rome, basilicas weren’t religious buildings. Rather, they were a meeting place for citizens where financial transactions took place, trade was conducted, and court decisions were made.
The Basilica Porcia is the oldest basilica of the Forum, built in 184 BC by the famous military and political leader M. Porcio Catone (better known as Cato the Elder or Cato the Censor).
In the late Roman republic, it was a central political building, where—among other things— the tribunus plebis (the people’s tribune) represented the interests of the plebeians (the common people) towards the patricians (the elite).
In 52 BC, a fire spread in the Comitium during the funeral of Clodius, caused by his followers. The ruins of the building were probably demolished in the same year and the basilica wasn’t rebuilt.
The Basilica Aemilia was built in 179 BC and is the only one of the Republican basilicas to have remained. It was constructed under the supervision of the censors Marco Emilio Lepido and Marco Fulvio Nobiliore. Because the construction was handled with so much care, especially by the last-mentioned censor, the basilica was also called the “Basilica Fulvia.”
After several restorations by members of the gens Aemilia—one of the oldest patrician houses in Rome—the work received the name “Basilica Aemilia” and later “Basilica Paulli”, after the Aemilius-Paullus branch of the family. These restorations took place in 78, 54, 34, 14 BC, and 22 AD, during the reign of Tiberius.
In 121 BC, the consul L. Opimio inaugurated the Basilica Opimia, which he had ordered to be built. The basilica was located next to the new temple of Concordia, also built by Opimio.
The history of the basilica is closely linked to that of the temple which was demolished and rebuilt during the reign of Augustus (7 BC - 10 AD). As a result, more area became available for new buildings and led to the demolition of the Basilica of Opimio.
Basilica Sempronia and Basilica Julia
The Basilica Sempronia was built in 169 BC by censor Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, father of the famous Gracchus and Tiberius. It’s said that to build Sempronia he had to demolish the site of the house of general and politician Publius Cornelius Scipio and some warehouses on the northeast side of the Forum.
On the site where the basilica Sempronia stood, Julius Caesar built the Basilica Julia in 54 BC for self-glorification. It was erected between the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Despite the fact that the work wasn’t yet completed, the basilica was inaugurated in 46 BC, two years before Caesar’s death.
The building was finished by his successor Augustus but suffered damage from a fire in 12 BC. After this, the basilica was rebuilt and renamed after Gaius and Lucius (Caesar’s adopted sons) but it remained known by its original name.
Today, the remains of the Basilica Julia (near the Temple of the Dioscuri) and the Basilica Aemilia (next to the Curia and the Lapis Niger) can still be seen.
The Basilica Maxentius (also called Basilica Nova or Basilica Constantini) is the last and largest Roman basilica built. At the beginning of the 4th century (308 - 312), Maxentius had begun construction but his victorious rival Constantine completed it with a few changes to the design.
Located at the northeastern end of Velia hill, it stood next to the abandoned Temple of Peace and the Temple of Venus and Roma, which Maxentius restored. The building was intended for the judicial activities of the magistrate. For a period of time the name of this building fell into oblivion, but thanks to research, its origins were identified again and it was once again known by its original name.
The basilica was characterized by the presence of a large central nave, separated by columns and pillars from the two side naves, with the original entrance on the east side. At the head of the nave was an apse in which was placed a 12 m high colossal statue.
Porticus Deorum Consentium
The Porticus Deorum Consentium (also known as the Area of the Dii Consentes) was a structure where the twelve most important Roman gods and goddesses were worshipped. These included six female goddesses and six male gods: Apollo, Ceres, Diana, Juno, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Venus, Vesta, and Vulcan.
The present building dates from the 2nd half of the first century AD and is probably the replacement of an older building, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. In 367 AD, the porticus was restored once more.
At the front of the structure are the Corinthian columns of the porticus, executed in white marble. Behind the colonnade are eight rooms measuring 4 m high and 3.7 m wide. The original location of the 12 statues of the gods has not been proven archaeologically.
The Porticus Deorum Consentium is located at the Capitoline end of the Roman Forum, between the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Vespasian and Titus. Of the present structure, four columns and the architrave remain original, the rest was rebuilt in 1858.
Umbilicus Urbis Romae
This conical, brick building from the time of the Severians is located between the Rostra and the Arch of Septimius Severus. The monument was originally clad in marble and travertine. As the expression itself says in Latin, it’s “the Navel of Rome”, the center of the city.
The Umbilicus Urbis Romae has a small opening that gives access to an underground cavity, which was closed by a stone that blocked the passage. According to legend, the pit, which resembled the sky vault in shape, was the heart of the city and represented a gateway that connected the world of the living with the world of the dead.
The gate remained closed throughout the year except for three days (August 24, October 5, and November 8) when the two worlds were connected. These days were considered religious, so all public activities were prohibited on those dates.
Column of Foca
The last monument built on the Roman Forum, after the fall of the empire, is the Column of Foca (608 AD). The column was built in honor of the Byzantine Emperor Foca.