Everything you need to know about the Roman Forum
Once the centre of public and political life in Ancient Rome, the Forum is now the most impressive archaeological site in the Eternal City, attracting more than 4.5 million visitors every year. Located close to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill in the historic centre of Rome, the Forum is a sprawling labyrinth of ancient ruins, including the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Titus and the House of the Vestals.
The Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill both offer spectacular views of the Roman Forum, but to truly appreciate and understand the Forum, you have to visit the archaeological site and walk among the ruins. It’s only when you’re walking in the footsteps of the Ancient Romans along the Via Sacra that you begin to get a sense of the Forum’s importance. You’re standing in the very centre of the ancient city, surrounded by the remains of famous temples and political buildings. The people of Rome witnessed the funeral of Julius Caesar here, along with the execution of Cicero and countless triumphal processions.
A visit to the Roman Forum offers a unique insight into the lives, politics and beliefs of the Ancient Romans. After the Colosseum, make sure you take a walk through this magnificent archaeological park, in the shadow of imperial ruins.
What Is It
The Roman Forum was a large rectangular forum in the centre of the ancient city, the location of important courthouses, temples and monuments, and the home of the Senate. It was not the only forum in Ancient Rome, but it was undoubtedly the most important. It was here that triumphal processions, gladiatorial battles, trials and public speeches all took place, and the Forum remained at the heart of the city’s political life until the fall of the Roman Empire.
Today, the Roman Forum is a large archaeological site, which can be visited using the same ticket that allows you to enter the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. The ruins of some of the most significant buildings, such as the Temple of Saturn and the Basilica of Maxentius, are still easily identifiable, while other buildings have been reduced to evocative fragments. It could be argued that the Forum is the best place to experience Ancient Rome, as it’s one of the few places in the modern city where you’re surrounded by antiquity on all sides. Transported back in time by the explanations of your guide on a Roman Forum tour, you can see the city through the eyes of the Ancient Romans…
History of the Roman Forum
The site of the Roman Forum was originally a marshland. It was drained using the Cloaca Maxima – one of the world’s first sewage systems – and converted into a public meeting space and marketplace, known as the Comitium.
Around the 5th century BC, the space gradually expanded and transformed into the Forum, through the construction of important temples such as the Temple of Saturn. It became the centre of public and political life in the city, the site of important ceremonies, trials and public speeches. Over the centuries it also became the location of some of the most important buildings and monuments in Rome, from the Senate House to the Arch of Titus.
During the medieval era, the area fell into decline, and large parts of the Forum were covered by debris. It became known as the Campo Vaccino (“cattle field”), and the remains of ancient buildings were taken and used for the construction of feudal towers and castles.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Forum was rediscovered. In 1803 the archaeologist Carlo Fea started to clear the area, and excavation work has been continuing ever since.
Facts About the Roman Forum
-Before the Roman Forum existed there was a public meeting space called the Comitium. You can still see a remnant of the ancient site – a 5th century BC shrine known as the Lapis Niger (“black stone”). The altar is inscribed with a warning not to defile the site, due to its sacred nature. It is believed that the early Romans venerated the Lapis Niger as the location of Romulus’s death, or possibly even his tomb.
-The funeral of Julius Caesar took place in the Roman Forum. His body was cremated in front of huge crowds, who later ran through the streets of Rome with flaming torches, in search of Caesar’s assassins. Caesar’s ashes were buried in the Forum, at the Temple of Caesar. Although the exact location of his tomb is unknown, people still leave flowers at the altar today.
-Look out for the sacred fountain known as the Spring of Juturna. The water was believed to have healing powers, and a shrine (still visible today) was built on the spot where the divine twins Castor and Pollux are supposed to have stopped to let their horses drink.
-There’s a gateway to hell in the Roman Forum. Or so they say... The Lacus Curtius – an ordinary-looking pile of stones – was believed by the Ancient Romans to be an entrance to the underworld. According to legend, a young Roman soldier named Marcus Curtius once rode his horse into the pit. His sacrifice saved the city of Rome, and the site was named in his honour.
-Below the Forum, you’ll find not only the entrance to hell, but also the first large-scale sewage system in the world. The Cloaca Maxima was used to drain the marshland before the Forum was constructed, and it made large parts of the city inhabitable. The sewer also made a convenient dumping ground for bodies – most notably the emperor Elagabalus and Saint Sebastian. The ancient sewer has been incorporated into the modern system, which means that it’s still in use today. You can get a glimpse of the stairway leading into the sewer near the Basilica Julia.
-Not many people know that there’s a medieval church in the Roman Forum, Santa Maria Antiqua, which was recently opened to the public. It’s the oldest surviving Christian monument in the Forum, and it contains some beautiful frescoes. Nearby is the Imperial Ramp, leading up to the Palatine Hill.
Visiting The Roman Forum
How To Get To the Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is right between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, in the historic centre of Rome. The simplest way to reach the Forum is to take the metro to Colosseo (Line B). When you exit the station, the Forum is in front of you, to the right. You could also take a bus that stops near the Colosseum, such as the 75, 87, 51, 81, 85. Via dei Fori Imperiali (the road which connects Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum) is mainly closed to traffic at weekends, so you may have to take the metro or walk. Rome is best seen on foot, so why not walk to the Roman Forum through the city centre? The best way to enter the Roman forum is perhaps to go at the cross road between Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Cavour, unless of course you are on a Ancient Rome tour and you have a specific meeting point!
Tickets for the Roman Forum
Tickets for the Roman Forum cost €12 and include admission to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill.
- A – BOOK ONLINE — We highly recommend buying your tickets in advance online, in order to avoid queues at the ticket desk. Print your tickets and bring them to the Roman Forum. Be careful to read the small print when you buy your ticket, as you may have to visit the ticket desk to get your order code scanned.
- B – TICKET OFFICE — Buy your tickets from the Palatine (Via di San Gregorio) or at the Roman Forum itself (Largo Salaria Vecchia, near the crossroad between Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Cavour). Note that while it’s possible to buy tickets at the Colosseum, the queues tend to be much longer.
- C – BOOK A TOUR (recommended) — Save yourself the hassle of worrying about queues and tickets, and book a guided tour of the Roman Forum. We offer both shared and private tours of the Roman Forum, which include visits to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. On our shared tours you can choose from a tour that includes a visit to the Colosseum Underground or a Domus Aurea tour featuring the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine. Visiting the Roman Forum with an expert tour guide is the ideal experience, as you’ll get to learn all about the fascinating history of the Forum and see sections that are often missed or overlooked.
What To See At The Roman Forum
There’s lots to see on a Roman Forum walking tour, but these are some of the most famous sites, which you definitely shouldn’t miss:
· Temple of Saturn - One of the most iconic Roman ruins - the huge columns of the Temple of Saturn tower over the Forum. In Roman times the temple was home to an enormous hollow statue of Saturn. It was also used as the city’s treasury.
· House of the Vestals – This was once the residence of the Vestal Virgins, the priestesses who took a vow of chastity and tended the sacred flame of the goddess Vesta. You can walk through the remains of the house and gardens, and see some beautiful ancient statues.
· Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine – A late addition to the Forum, this vast structure was constructed in 312 AD. It was the largest building in Rome, designed to hold many people, and was used as a courthouse and meeting hall. The form of the basilica was later adopted by Christians when they were designing the first churches.
· Curia Julia (Senate House) – The construction of the Curia Julia was ordered by Julius Caesar, and building work was interrupted by his assassination. It was a meeting place for the Senate, and was undoubtedly one of the most politically important buildings in Rome. The building owes its survival to its conversion into a church in the 7th century.
· Via Sacra – Amazingly, you can still walk on the time-worn cobbles of the Forum’s main road, and even see the marks from the carriage wheels. Triumphal processions took place along the Via Sacra, but in daily life there would have been a throng of ordinary people going about their business, from politicians to prostitutes.
· Arch of Titus and Arch of Septimius Severus – These magnificent triumphal arches sit at opposite ends of the Forum. The Arch of Titus was built in the 1st century AD to commemorate the victories of Titus during the Siege of Jerusalem. Look closely and you can see graphic representations of scenes from the battle. The Arch of Septimius Severus was built just over a century later to commemorate the military victories of Septimius and his sons, Geta and Caracalla. After Caracalla had Geta assassinated, he removed all images and references to his brother from the arch.
-There’s not much information on display around the Forum, and many visitors wander around without really knowing what they’re looking at. Going with a tour guide will help you to make the most of your visit, but if you choose not to take a tour, at the very least bring a guidebook.
-The Roman Forum gets very hot during the summer months, and there’s little shade. Consider visiting first thing in the morning, when it’s cooler, and don’t forget to bring a bottle of water and some sunscreen.
-You’ll be walking on lots of uneven ancient cobblestones, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
-The best views of the Roman Forum are from the top of the Palatine Hill and the Capitoline Hill. Visit the Capitoline Museums to check out the view of the Forum from the Tabularium or, even better, visit the Capitoline Hill late at night. Gazing over the illuminated ruins of the Forum after midnight is an unforgettable experience.
Interested in reading more about the Roman Forum? There are plenty of written things online and offline, but you might want to start from valuable resources like the ones we mention here below. We look forward to meeting you in Rome soon to visit the Roman Forum!