Exploring the Roman Forum

Nestled between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, or the Forum Magnum, is one of the top Italian attractions and an important archeological site. It was built over 2,000 years ago when the Roman Empire was at its peak, flaunting various marble temples, basilicas and vibrant public spaces.  There are two triumphant arches in the Forum which are significant.  However, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Roman forum took time to develop gradually over many centuries despite the efforts of great emperors including Caesar and Augustus.

RomanForumDownsizedThe government masonry and cut stone structure flaunts a Roman classical style that would have gone extinct had an anonymous 8th century traveler not reported its deterioration. It wasn’t until 1367 that ancient monuments received the attention they deserved. At the time, Pope Urban V had returned from Avignon and was inspired to excavate the monuments buried under the debris for their moral lessons and building new structures in Rome. Due to different excavation efforts and quarrying projects, today’s Forum features remains from different centuries.

Regardless, the Forum is a testimony to Roman builders’ skills. Originally, the site it was built on was a marshy lake that contained the water from surrounding hills. The fifth emperor of Rome Lucius Tarquinius Priscus relied on the sewage system, the Cloaca Maxima, in Ancient Rome Cloaca Maxima to drain the lake. Then, whenever sediments collected and the ground surrounding the building would rise, residents would either remove them or pave over the debris.

In addition to the 130 by 50 meter rectangle structure, a number of major monuments, buildings and ruins attract Roman architecture enthusiasts to the area — including the Roman Senate, the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, and the Rostra-which was a very important podium in which an orator would announce the day’s news. Temples were a must with forums, which is why the ruins of numerous religious structures can be seen till this day at the Forum Magnum. One example is that of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, which was built in 495 BC as an offering to the twins of Gemini following Romans’ victory at the battle of Lake Regillus. The octostyle temple featured eight Corinthian columns on the short sides and eleven on the longer ones. It had a single cella decorated with mosaics while the building itself was covered with tufa slabs.

As basilicae were also common around government structures, the Roman Forum had its fair share. Only two stand today: Basilica Aemelia and Basilica Julia. Both were famous for their beautiful materials and decorations. However, they shared the same architectural features of other Roman basilica, which are numerous columns to support a truss roof, a central aisle or nave, and clerestory that allows windows down the length of the nave walls.

Complementing these are state buildings, such as the Tabularium. Founded in 78 BC, the building was constructed to house official state archives before it was turned into a salt store. The Tabularium is famous for its trapezium shape and eleven arches. Basalt rocks rise from the pedestals to create a façade, the latter which can be accessed through three large entrances shaped as an arcade and lined with half columns (Doric columns). However, storing salt there caused the once-magnificent structure to corrode with time.

Unfortunately, the delay in preserving these architectural beauties and others within the Forum has caused them to become ruins. However, the masterpieces of artists such as Van Heemskerck, Pannini and Lorrain have managed to immortalize some structures prior to their deterioration. The Forum itself has become a work of art thanks to Giambattista Piranesi’s Vedute di Roma etchings. Therefore, viewing these artistic creations may actually give people an idea of how these structures looked like during their glory years.

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Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

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