For much of Rome’s history - from the time of the fabled king Romulus to the would-be king Julius Caesar - the Roman Forum lay at the beating heart of the ancient city. The Roman Forum served as a marketplace, open tribunal and, with its many temples, a center of worship. But things weren't always peaceful.
During the tumultuous civil wars of the Roman Republic, its many basilicas and tribunals were also scenes of sedition, scandals, and acts of political intrigue. It was here that the Senate plotted against Julius Caesar, and through here that some of Caesar's later successors were dragged to their death and executed by the mob. What makes this history all the more surprising is that the Roman Forum was once nothing more than uninhabitable swampland.
From its earliest history, the Roman Forum served a religious purpose. In the shadow of the Temple of Saturn stood the home of the Pontifex Maximus and his priestesses, the Vestal Virgins. By tending to the sacred hearth fire of Vesta, these young women ensured the survival of the Roman state. Rarely did the neglect their task. But when they did, the consequences were fatal.
During the course of the Roman Republic, returning generals adorned the Roman Forum with monuments funded by their conquests. Borne in chariots, triumphant generals would process along the Via Sacra, throwing spoils to adulating crowds as they made their way to the Capitoline. The Arch of Titus, at the Roman Forum’s entrance, shows precisely this scene on its inner reliefs.
For the five centuries spanning from the 6th century, the numerous temples, basilicae, speaking platforms (rostrae) and council chambers sprung up across the Roman Forum. The Republic’s most prestigious families all left their trace. The Basilica Aemilia was one. But a more famous family, Caesar’s Julian family, have left a more enduring legacy - the Basilica Julia.
By the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman Forum had become cluttered with monuments. The lacspace drove Caesar and his successors to build their own fora (the Imperial Fora) adjacent to the old Forum. But its decline didn’t spell its death. Subsequent emperors continued to adorn it. One of the last examples was the Arch of Septimius Severus.
With the rise of Christianity, many monuments in the Roman Forum were converted into churches. The Church of Saint Cosmas and Damian was one, transformed from a temple to the emperor Romulus (though it has kept its ancient bronze doors). The Church of Santa Maria Antiqua was another.
Discover the Roman Forum and unearth its hidden secrets through one of our Rome Tours. Explore the extended site on our classic ancient Rome with Colosseum tour. Or explore the Roman Forum after unearthing the secrets buried beneath the Colosseum on our Colosseum VIP Underground tour.
8:30 AM - One hour before sunset - Daily
“As an archaeological treasure trove, the Roman Forum is unique - not just in Rome, but in the world. The sheer wealth of attractions can seem almost overwhelming. That’s why our experienced guides focus only on the highlights, condensing it to what you find interesting and what you want to know. ”
- Walks Inside Rome