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What you should know about the Roman Forum

Roman forum story 

The heart of the most important civilization of all antiquity, from which all our culture derives.

The pulsating center of Rome, temples, basilicas and sacred places were built and rebuilt over the span of five centuries.

Rome was the beating heart of an immense empire that stretched from Scotland to Egypt and extended to Iraq even though it had just 50 million inhabitants, Rome was the largest metropolis of all antiquity with so many architectural wonders. Every morning the inhabitants of the city went out to go to the forum, it was a marvel of architecture even if today it is not perceived from what remains. Full of squares, temples made with the best marble, administrative buildings and the Senate; the Forum together with the Palatine Hill and the Imperial Forums was the brain of the Roman Empire.


The pulsating center of Rome, temples, basilicas and sacred places were built and rebuilt over the span of five centuries.

Roman Forum Tours

In the moment of its maximum splendor and at the height of its power in Rome, what would we have seen? Going back in time, imagining flying in the sky of Rome, we would have seen beyond the Colosseum once we passed the warehouses for the distribution of grain, an extraordinary expanse of marble and temples raised for the glory of the gods and of the emperor. It was a succession of colonnades, mosaics, statues and bas-reliefs, the marbles used were of various colors (yellow, green, red) and some were very rare and came from the most distant places of the empire and from countries such as India. 


The pulsating center of Rome, temples, basilicas and sacred places were built and rebuilt over the span of five centuries.

Roman Forum Tours

In the moment of its maximum splendor and at the height of its power in Rome, what would we have seen? Going back in time, imagining flying in the sky of Rome, we would have seen beyond the Colosseum once we passed the warehouses for the distribution of grain, an extraordinary expanse of marble and temples raised for the glory of the gods and of the emperor. It was a succession of colonnades, mosaics, statues and bas-reliefs, the marbles used were of various colors (yellow, green, red) and some were very rare and came from the most distant places of the empire and from countries such as India.


The people of the city converged in the Forum every morning and resembled a large square surrounded by temples and administrative buildings while in the center there were stalls and food sellers. Meeting place for all Romans, so much so that it was difficult to walk in the forum, here you could hear the latest news, meet famous people flanked by a man who whispered potentially interesting names to the master and gossip was the "nomenclator". During the Republic, fights between gladiators also took place inside the forum, the altar was equipped with wooden stands where the public took place, things changed with Julius Caesar who to eliminate noise and traffic prohibited the use of wagons during the day except the blue ones of the vestals or magistrates in addition to the wagons that carried construction material for public buildings. The most radical change, however, occurred with Augusto who transferred the games to theaters and circuses and removed the sellers, the luxury shops such as those of silversmiths and money changers remained. With various emperors, the area expanded and new forums were built, that is, new squares surrounded by public buildings, the social and administrative center of the city lost its chaotic character to acquire amplitude and solemnity and remain the heart of Rome.



On the occasion of special feasts, banquets were offered inside the forum to common people with long tables, for the triumph of Caesar a banquet was organized in which six thousand moray eels were offered, much loved by the Romans, coming from the nurseries of the Campi Flegrei in Campania.

In the case of Cicero, beyond the head the hands were also exposed, with which he had written the famous Philippics against Marcus Anthony. The Ara of Caesar was created on the spot where he was cremated and where a In the forum, the funerals of important men were also held, the deceased was exposed standing upright on the rostrum tribune, while the closest relative gave the eulogy, on various occasions it was used to expose the severed heads of those sentenced to death. cylindrical altar covered with marble was built ... more than two thousand years later there are still those who leave flowers and messages in his honor. Contrary to popular belief, he was not killed here in the forum but more than a kilometer away, in the assembly hall of Pompey's theater, the largest building of the time. Right there on March 15 in the Ides of March the senators gathered, after the murder the body was carried in procession up to here and displayed on a large podium, the Rostra, a kind of raised terrace with a rectangular podium. Named so because of the rostra of the enemy ships that were inserted as trophies of the bronze spikes with which a ship rammed the opposing one. The body of Julius Caesar was shown to the crowd with all his wounds, 23 stab wounds and here his friend and consul Marco Antonio gave his famous funeral speech, he managed to anger the crowd by waving Julius Caesar's bloody toga. The reaction was immediate, the crowd set fire to the place where he was killed and the killers were looked for trying to burn the houses, then it was decided to immediately cremate the body inside the hole even if it was forbidden and he was the only one to be cremated here. He made a pyre with the benches of the senate and set fire to it.




With his funeral speech, Marcus Anthony knew the height of his political career, he ruled Rome for a short time with the help of the army and it was he who had Cicero killed and exposed his head and hands in the forum. But in reality Caesar had named the future Augustus, then eighteen years old, as his adopted son and his successor Octavian; the two made agreements and divided the Empire. Octavian would have remained in Rome and would have ruled the western part while Mark Antony would have gone to Alexandria in Egypt and would have ruled the eastern part. Arrived in Egypt Marco Antonio falls madly in love with Cleopatra and decides to stay with her (the queen will give him 3 children), while he suffers military defeats against the Parthians; his star begins to decline and Octavian puts him in a bad light in the Senate. The final battle takes place on 2 September 31 BC. near the town of Actium, Octavian's fleets force the retreating fleets of Marco Antonio and Cleopatra to surrender. Marco Antonio has only one way out, suicide. A few days later Cleopatra follows him too.

Octavian has free rein, in 27 a. C. gets the title of Augustus and the Republic gives way to the Empire. He was the first emperor but he had not forgotten about Caesar and had a temple built in his honor, it occupied the center of the forum and certainly there was a statue inside. The front had a terrace and a niche with an altar where Caesar was cremated, a few meters from the podium from which Marco Antonio made the his famous speech were the symbols of his defeat: the beaks of the ships that Octavian had defeated at Actium.


Augustus also had his own forum built and will be venerated in a beautiful temple, covered with precious marble with gilded bronze statues. All the statues and bas-reliefs were painted, if an ancient Roman could visit the museums where ancient works are kept today he would be shocked to see that all the colors have been lost. (See Augustus of Prima Porta)

Over the centuries the forum became the symbolic center and place of glorification of the dead emperors. In the central part there were 7 large columns to honor important people; today remains that of the Byzantine emperor Phocas who had donated the Pantheon to the pope. Last monument erected in the forum in 608 d. C. in the already medieval period, Italy was a kingdom of the Goth barbarians engaged in the war against the Byzantines.

Others are the symbolic monuments in the forum, venerated and sacred.

"Pliny the Elder narrates that three sacred trees dominated the square at the center of the Roman forum were a fig tree, under which the she-wolf Romulus and Remus would be suckled, the vine and the olive tree, that is, the wine and oil to symbolize strength and the sap of Rome. "

One of the most ancient and mysterious monuments of the forum is the Lapis Niger one of the least known, at the time of ancient Rome this point was sacred since according to tradition it would be the tomb of Romulus. It is a U-shaped altar with a base for a statue next to it and a stone with an inscription in the archaic Latin alphabet which turns out to be the oldest Latin inscription ever found and it is a curse. Evoking the infernal divinities, the inscription cursed anyone who dared to violate this place, here was buried Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome who, according to legend, was killed right here.



In the Republican age, the whole area overlooking the part was buried, fenced and covered with a black marble floor, hence the name Black stone.

Also in this northern part there was another place of reference for Rome, the golden milestone, the starting point of all the consular roads that branched into the Empire, a fragment of the base remains but it was a large cylindrical covered stone. of gilded bronze from here began a road network of one hundred thousand kilometers that connected the various provinces of the empire.

When it is said that “All roads lead to Rome” it should be said that they lead to the miliarium aureum or rather that they start from it! The Via Trionfale still follows this concept today, the house numbers refer to the distance from the Capitol and it is perhaps the only road in Italy to measure a distance, the house numbers reach 14500 ...

In the forum there was a very special symbolic place, near the Arch of Septimius Severus this semicircular structure was the umbilicus urbis, the center of the Empire and was the 0 point of their world. They thought there was a point of contact between the world of the living and that of the dead, the so-called mundus that perhaps was on the Palatine but we have no certain evidence ... It was a cavity whose end could not be seen, for 3 days the year


 it was left open to let the souls out and food and clods of earth were thrown inside in memory of the founding of the city.




In the Forum there is certain evidence of another place considered a link with the afterlife, the Lacus Curtius, now full of earth but originally it was a deep crack in the ground (due to a fault that extends along the entire hole).

The best known access to the afterlife, however, was not in Rome but near Pozzuoli was Lake Averno a basin of volcanic origin, the sulphurous fumes kept animals away and the plants did not grow ... it had a ghostly aspect and from here Virgil in the Aeneid sends his hero to the world of the dead.


Beliefs and superstitions

Many people wore bronze phalluses around their necks, bearers of life and fecundity ... over time this shape has transformed into the horn that we carry today. The Romans were extremely superstitions and performed many propitiatory rites in order not to antagonize the divinities. In the morning it was important that the strings of the shoes were intact, if one had tripped on the threshold it would have been a bad omen ... at the table one was careful not to pour oil and salt and wine because it was badly worn they were riches not to be wasted. The Romans attached great importance to propitiatory and purification rites. In the Parioli district in 1999 an important discovery was made, 10 meters below the street level a basin was found, what remains of the sacred source dedicated to the Nymph Anna Perenna. Here the ceremonies in his honor were held and at the bottom were also found some disturbing figurines modeled with a mixture of honey, milk and flour stored in lead containers one inside the other and sealed with resin by hand. The prints were studied and belonged to a woman. Roman law prohibited black magic, that intended to harm one's neighbor and the penalties were severe but love spells were allowed. A wax figurine was used, symbol of the person to be influenced who was approached to the fire and melted, as well as the heart of the loved one would have melted, in the second part a clay figurine was used that with fire hardened as well as the heart of the loved one. loved one would harden to anyone else. Potions and filters were also in vogue. The amulets were widespread with particular regard to the red coral which was thought to be the congealed blood of the Medusa's head according to the Greek myth, Perseus was able to behead it using the reflection of his image in the shield. Thus, using the blood of those who petrified with their eyes, they protected themselves from the evil eye.

Two thousand years ago it was in the Roman forum that the justice of Rome was administered within huge structures of which only ruins remain, right here the fate of many people was decided there are those who have been declared innocent, those guilty and sentenced to death in the Colosseum or sent to break stones in the quarries. Today the courts were demolished in the Middle Ages but on the stairways you can still see the games engraved in the marble, they are the lusory tabules used by those who wanted to pass the time like our chess or fillet; that's all that's left of the courtrooms. What did these classrooms look like? Two huge buildings were built in the forum: the Basilica Emilia and the Basilica Giulia the largest in the forum and at the time were used for commercial and judicial affairs.



On the

stairways it was easy to see false witnesses waiting to be hired for some trial ...

Very little remains of the Basilica Giulia, under it there is an environment excavated by archaeologists and we know that the Sempronia Basilica was built on a previous basilica of the Republican era, which in turn stood on the house of Scipio Africano, at the bottom of the room there is it is a very narrow gallery with a roof-shaped ceiling which used to be a water conduit, there is an arterial water draining system.



Source of Giuturna

The most famous water source in Rome, near the House of the Vestals who went here to draw water for their sacred celebrations. The monument was studied by archaeologists but below there are many tunnels not yet investigated. The ancient conduits were as wide as corridors and large enough to accommodate a standing man. The ventilation shafts were real manholes. The pedarole provided support for the feet and elbows and were used to climb the pipes. In the subsoil it is possible to reconstruct the various layers and the changes that have taken place over the centuries.

Digging among the temples, the ancient face of the forum was discovered, it was a swamp and here the inhabitants of the primitive inhabitants buried their dead; Skeletons of children were found inside tree trunks and surrounded by funeral objects, bowls, amphorae and small objects dating back to the 9th century BC. in the Protohistoric era. The Forum did not yet exist there was a humid valley where the clans that controlled the ford of the Tiber Island buried their dead, the area was covered by dense woods and marshes. In 1905 Giacomo Boni (Venetian architect) discovered the necropolis next to the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and he was responsible for the enhancement of the forum as an archaeological site. It was he who brought to light the Ara of Caesar, the Fonte di Giuturna or the Lapis Niger and other monuments; he fought for their protection. He died in 1925 and did not participate in the heated discussion on the opening of the Via dell’Impero which, with a pickaxe, cut the area of ​​the holes in two. Under the direction of Boni between 800 and 900, innovative excavations were conducted in many respects and carried out with a scientific method. The first aerial photos of the forum were taken thanks to the use of the balloon in 1899 used by the military genius. The excavations brought to light many finds from the most ancient eras including hut cinerary urns thanks to which we now know the homes of the first Romans, but the most enigmatic find was found in the center of the Forum near Lake Curtius, two skeletons of the end from the Bronze Age (1200-1000 BC) an adult man in a hare and a 14-year-old girl killed with a blow to the head suffering from down syndrome which at the time inspired fear. Can we think of human sacrifices? It is an enigma because such an ancient dating would force us to backdate the occupation of the valley of the forum and not all scholars agree.

In the late royal era under the Tarquini, the entire area was drained from the marshes with the construction of the Cloaca Maxima and was paved, the memory of the necropolis was lost.




In its struggle to become a power, Rome had to fight always different enemies the 3 columns of the forum are a symbol of it. When he had to fight against the Etruscans and the Latins, two beautiful ones were seen during the battle


 young men at the head of the cavalry and made it win at the same time two identical young men were seen entering the forum to make their horses drink, they were the twins Castor and Pollux the Dioscuri sons of Jupiter to whom a temple was dedicated of which only remain the three columns. The temple at the time was impressive, it appeared five centuries before Augustus and the Senate met several times, it was the seat of the weights and measures office and here the changes were fixed. It was also known why the fathers gave their children names here.



A short distance away stood one of the most revered temples in Rome, the Temple of Vesta where the Vestals were located where the sacred fire of Rome was kept and did not keep a statue but the fire that evoked it, destroyed several times by the fire. The current appearance is due to Giulia Domna wife of Septimius Severus who ordered its reconstruction. It was round because it recalled the ancient huts with a hole on the top for the escape of smoke, it had a frieze that recalled symbols connected to the cult: bucrania, ponytails, jugs, mirrors and olive branches.

In an underground compartment were kept the objects that Aeneas would have brought back from Troy including Palladio, the statuette of Minerva to guarantee the universal dominion promised to Rome.

Next to it was the House of the Vestals where the 6 priestesses lived, a kind of convent with a courtyard in the center of the pools and a portico around it. Consecrated to the cult of the goddess, they were chosen from among the patrician families, they were girls between 6 and 10 years old and had to respect chastity for 30 years otherwise they would have been brought to the Quirinale area (campus scelleratus) and buried there alive in an underground chamber with a lamp and let it starve. However, they had many privileges and were revered with all honors. The fire kept in the temple should never go out, the flame was a symbol of eternity and as long as it remained lit Rome would exist. And if by misfortune he died, the guilty vestal would be sacrificed to the goddess. The order of the vestals was so respected that it continued to exist even after the advent of Christianity, it only became extinct in the fourth century AD. C. Two treasures were hidden in the remains of their house, the first consisted of 397 gold coins and was buried during the fifth century; half a millennium later, an official of the pope hid 835 silver coins to protect them from looting.

Rome became more and more powerful and the forum became the symbolic place of the city. SPQR (Senatvs PopvlvsQve Romanvs) the Senate was located in the Curia and has remained intact because it was transformed into a church in the 7th century AD. C. The entrance portal was in sculpted bronze. What we see is a copy because it was moved to the secondary door of San Giovanni in Laterano. The environment was very bright thanks to the large windows, and the polychrome marble, even the floor was made of marble from all over the world. In the Republican age, the fate of Rome was debated here; it was here that the most important decisions were made; becoming a senator was an honor reserved for those who had held important positions.


The Senate from the beginning was made up of fathers of families, that is, those with more experience; the term derives from senex (elderly) but you could become a member from the age of 32 and it was a life-time office.

The senate usually met on the 3rd, 9th and 15th day of each month, voting was by majority and we moved from one top to the other of the classroom depending on whether we were in favor or against the subject. he was struggling.



With the end of the Republic the 


 senators gradually lost importance, the senate had to submit to the will of the emperor. It was the longest-running institution in Roman history, it remained active even after the collapse of the Western empire even though it remained a small municipal assembly. When the senator went to the senate and crossed the forum he was recognized by the red shoes (calcei); they had sumptuous residences as evidenced by the domus found under Palazzo Valentini.

In 64 Ad a fire devastated the entire area, on the night of July 18 a spark flared up from the Circus Maximus and spread quickly, creating the largest fire in the history of Rome. The capital burned for 6 days and to follow for another 3 days it flared up in the properties of Tigellinus, prefect of the praetorium and right arm of Nero, his home ended up in smoke. Nero takes the opportunity to confiscate the area and to build his pharaonic residence which draws on him the suspicions of having started the fire. The Domus Aurea extended over 3 of the 7 hills (Palatine, Esquiline and Celio), nothing like this had ever been seen and will never be seen in Rome. The facade alone measured over 400 meters, the rooms were more than 150. The palace was surrounded from a forest of 80 hectares where fallow deer, deer and wild boar roamed free, there were streams and a pond while a colossal statue that depicted Nero as the sun god stood in the center of the complex. But even the Domus Aurea was destined to leave few traces of itself, Nero commits suicide in 68 and his successors remove his works. The lake where the Colosseum was later built was also drained. Vespasian thus returned to the people an area that had been used privately by Nero.


One of the most evocative monuments of the Forum is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, built in the 2nd century AD. century by the emperor Antoninus Pius to dedicate it to his wife who died prematurely and was deified.

The columns are of cipollino marble and in the upper part you can see the grooves of the ropes with which they tried to fall, the temple was then transformed into the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda.




Many different qualities and colors over 50 different, from Turkey came the purple marble and the pavonazzetto (in great demand, light with black veins) from Tunisia the yellow one, in the quarries of Greece they extracted marbles with iridescent colors such as black, green and red red granite from Egypt. Extract from convicts sentenced to forced labor.

Travertine was extracted a few kilometers from Rome, on the Tiburtina near Tivoli, more porous and coarser than marble was the white gold of imperial Rome which was rebuilt with this stone. The marble represented the greatness but also the condemnation of the forum, from the Middle Ages onwards it was in fact demolished to plunder it of its marbles. For centuries the travertine was pulverized to obtain lime, the finest marbles were reused to create the works of Renaissance and Baroque Rome.

Between the Via Sacra and the Clivo Palatino there is a very particular site 50 cells (the ergastula), perhaps they were the rooms for the slaves of the family of Marcus Aurelius Scaurus praetor, consul and censor husband of Cecilia Metella, of which the sumptuous house rose above.


 But perhaps they were the rooms of an inn or perhaps a brothel where you could go with prostitutes.

Roman civilization owes its place in history also to its legions, which protected and allowed the expansion of Rome. There is a monument in the forum that shows us the faces of the most powerful army of antiquity. The arch was commissioned by the emperor in 203 AD. to celebrate the victory over the parts of Rome's bitter enemies (located between Iraq and Iran); it is an arch with three arches over 20 meters high and entirely covered in marble. On top there was a bronze quadriga, in the decoration there are battle scenes, the emperor's speech, the river gods and the seasons. The enemy leaders appear in chains and we do not know what happened to them


In the forum Rome celebrated its victories, the final stop was the Capitol and the arches of Triumph were placed in the Via Sacra. The arch of Titus (saved from being incorporated into the medieval fortifications of the Frangipane) was erected by Domitian in honor of his brother Tito, who was deified on the outside winged victories and a continuous frieze with the triumphal procession, inside a coffered vault with the apotheosis of Titus carried to heaven by an eagle. It was all painted. In the two internal panels we see how the parades took place, the goddess Rome drives the horses of Titus's chariot followed by the personifications of the senate and the Roman people. In the background you can see the fasces, the arch was erected to celebrate the triumph over the Jews in 70 and 71 AD. when the Roman legions put down the revolt that broke out in Palestine and besieged Jerusalem. On that occasion the Temple of Solomon was destroyed of which only one wall remains, the wailing wall.

The soldiers carry the booty among which the 7-branched candelabrum (the menorah) stands out, the route of the procession of triumphs was precise and was intended to show the strength of Rome. It was made up of prisoners in chains, captured loot and exotic animals with painted signs describing the battles. Next to the victorious general there was a slave who held a laurel wreath suspended over his head and repeated a warning in his ear "Remember you are a mortal".

The gold brought as booty from the various battles won by the Roman legions was melted, in the case of Trajan the chronicles speak of tons of gold that was part of the famous treasure of Decebalus. By loot, however, also meant works of art from the subjugated countries.