Discover Rome: Exploring the Roman Forum

Discover Rome

Once a marshy area characterized by several waterways flowing into the Tiber River to the southwest, including the Velabro, the Roman Forum now stands as one of the world’s most significant archaeological parks. Alongside the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, it forms the beating heart of ancient Rome.

Historical Evolution of the Roman Forum

The origins of human activity in the Roman Forum date back to protohistoric times when it served as a necropolis. Evidence of this early use includes cremation tombs discovered near the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.
The unsanitary conditions of the area prompted settlers to establish settlements on the neighboring hills of the Palatine and Capitoline. As urbanization progressed, the Forum became integrated into the proto-urban settlement.
The large-scale drainage of the area occurred during the regal period, notably under the Etruscan king Tarquinius Priscus, who oversaw the construction of the Cloaca Maxima, the city’s largest sewer system. This era also saw the division of the complex into two sections: the Comitium for political and judicial activities and the actual forum for market purposes.

During the Republican period:

significant developments transformed the entire forum area. Construction began on two sacred buildings, the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Castor and Pollux, in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. The forum underwent several renovations following the sack of Rome by the Gauls around 390 BCE.

The most substantial expansion occurred after the Second Punic War, marked by the construction of four basilicas dedicated to legal activities: the Basilica Porcia, Fulvia-Aemilia, Sempronia, and Opimia. These administrative buildings aimed to alleviate overcrowding in the Comitium, which had become too small for the city’s needs.

During the Sullan era (1st century BCE)

 a restructuring and regularization of the forum area took place with the construction of the monumental Tabularium, possibly intended to house state archives. In the same century, towards the end of the Republican period, Julius Caesar initiated significant interventions. The Comitium disappeared, partially replaced by the Forum Julium. The Curia Hostilia was rebuilt in a new location (Curia Julia), becoming the new seat of the Senate. Additionally, the long sides were renovated with the new Basilica Julia and the reconstruction of the Basilica Fulvia-Aemilia.

In the age of Julius Caesar and the early imperial period

interventions were more cautious, although the square increasingly took on a dynastic character, losing its political function.
From the 3rd century CE onwards, construction activities in the Roman Forum regained momentum. The arch and equestrian statue of Septimius Severus dominated the square, along with the seven honorary columns on the southern side, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Tetrarchy. Notable additions included the monumental Basilica of Maxentius located northeast of the forum.

The last transformations in the life of the Roman Forum saw the conversion of numerous pagan buildings into Christian churches and the construction of new churches. Prominent among these new places of worship are the churches of Saints Cosmas and Damian, St. Hadrian (Curia Julia), and Santa Maria Antiqua.

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