Nestled between the Capitoline Hill and the Palatine Hill, a stone’s throw from the Colosseum, the Roman Forum (or Forum Romanum in Latin) is the largest archaeological site in the Italian capital.
Formerly the nerve center of the city, the Forum occupied a leading role in the political, religious and commercial life of ancient Rome.
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Brief history of the Roman Forum
The birth of the Roman Forum
Until the 7th century BC, the current location of the Roman Forum was a vast marshy area of 8 hectares (20 acres) used as a necropolis by the communities settled on the Capitol, the Quirinal and the Palatine, sheltered from the floods of the Tiber.
The first traces of development of the site date back to the end of the 7th century AD (around -616) when the Etruscan king Tarquin the Elder had the swamps drained and the area covered with beaten earth. The forum then began to be laid out and is divided into two and then three sections:
- The Comitium, devoted to the political and judicial activities of the city
- The south of the Forum, dedicated to commercial activities
- The Régia, which concentrates religious activities
The Roman Forum under the Republic
The Roman Republic is proclaimed in 509 BC. Over the following centuries, the Roman Forum spread and improved: the ground was paved, many sanctuaries and monuments were built.
In the 2nd century BC, Rome was the capital of a vast empire extending to the borders of the Mediterranean basin. The forum, political, commercial and religious center of the city, therefore had to live up to the prestige of the capital. The site was entirely restaured and expanded with the construction of new buildings and the renovation of old temples. The Roman Forum became an enclosed space at the request of Sylla (consul then dictator then again consul of Rome).
The Roman Forum under the Empire
At the beginning of the Roman Empire, the Roman Forum grew increasingly monumental due to large construction projects. Over time, the site lost its political and commercial functions to become only a religious and honorary space.
Augustus had a temple built in homage to Caesar, triumphal arches were erected as well as commemorative monuments like the column of Phocas.
The Emperors deserted the Roman Forum to build “personal” Imperial Forums on the fringes of the site: the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Augustus and the Forum of Trajan.
The Roman Forum since Antiquity
In the Middle Ages, the Roman Forum was abandoned and became a vast grazing area. The ancient monuments of the site were looted and the materials reused for new constructions: the bronze doors of the Curia can now be found in the Church of Saint John Lateran.
After nearly 10 centuries of oblivion, the Roman Forum awoke from its long slumber at the beginning of the 18th century with the first archaeological excavations. In the 19th century, the site was subject to more extensive excavations, in particular at the request of Napoleon III.
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Visiting the Roman Forum
While many of the buildings of the Roman Forum have now disappeared, a number of monuments have stood the test of time. Among these, be sure to have a look at:
The Via Sacra
The Via Sacra is arguably the most famous and oldest street in ancient Rome. It runs through the Roman Forum from east to west. Lined with many temples and sacred buildings, it welcomed military parades and religious processions.
The Arch of Septimius Severus
Nestled at the foot of the Capitol, the Arch of Septimius Severus is a triumphal arch erected in 203 AD to celebrate the military victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons, Caracalla and Geta.
The Curia Julia
Built in 29 BC at the request of Julius Caesar, the Curia Julia hosted the meetings of the Roman Senate. Partly destroyed in a fire in the 3rd century AD, it was restored during the reign of Emperor Diocletian.
The Basilica Æmilia
Built in 179 BC, the Basilica Æmilia was modified several times over the following centuries. Surprised to find a basilica on an ancient site, before the emergence of Catholicism? In ancient Rome, a basilica was a civil building, intended for financial, commercial or judicial activities. It therefore had no religious function.
The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Located between the Basilica Æmilia and the Via Sacra, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was built in 141 AD at the request of Emperor Antoninus Pius to honor his deceased wife, Empress Faustina. When the emperor died, the temple was also dedicated to him.
The Temple of Vesta
A short walk from the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Temple of Vesta is a very old temple – it is believed to date originally from the 7th century BC – circular in shape and dedicated to Vesta, goddess of home and family. Destroyed in a fire, the temple was rebuilt in the 2nd century BC. It was adjacent to the House of the Vestal Virgins where the priestesses in charge of the rites and the maintenance of the temple lived.
The Temple of Romulus
Built at the beginning of the 4th century AD at the request of the Emperor Maxentius in honor of his son. Very well preserved, the temple was integrated into the basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano in the 6th century, hence its excellent state of preservation.
The Temple of Saturn
The Temple of Saturn is one of the oldest buildings in the Roman Forum. It was built between 501 and 497 BC: at the very end of Roman monarchy or at the very beginning of the Republic. Dedicated to the god Saturn (equivalent to the Greek god Cronos, god of time and death), it was restored several times over the following centuries.
The Temple of the Dioscuri
The only remains of the temple of the Dioscuri (or temple of Castor and Pollux) today are 3 Corinthian columns erected on a podium. Originally built in the 5th century BC, it was restored numerous times in the following centuries, particularly in the 2nd century BC.
The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
Surprisingly well preserved, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was built at the request of Emperor Maxentius but completed by his victorious rival, Emperor Constantine, at the beginning of the 4th century AD.
Like the Basilica Æmilia, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was a civil building that did not hold religious functions.
The Column of Phocas
Built in 608 AD, the Column of Phocas (13.6 meters high) was probably the last monument built on the Roman Forum. It pays homage to the Byzantine emperor Phocas, who donated the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV.
The Portico Dii Consentes
Located northwest of the Roman Forum, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill and a stone’s throw from the Temple of Saturn, the Portico Dii Consentes is a portico – a covered gallery flanked by two colonnades – built in the 2nd or 3rd century BC before being restored in the 1st century AD.
The Arch of Titus
Built in 81 AD by Emperor Domitian in homage to the military victories of his brother, Emperor Titus, in Jerusalem, the Arch of Titus is a triumphal arch over 15 meters high. It marks the entrance to the forum from the Palatine Hill.
The view of the Roman Forum from the Capitol and the Palatine Hills
To fully take in the grandeur of the Roman Forum (or Forum romanum), Captain Ulysses warmly recommends admiring the view of the site from the Capitoline Hill (where you’ll find the sumptuous Capitoline Museums ) as well as from the Palatine Hill (access to the Palatine Hill is included in the entrance ticket for the Roman Forum and the Colosseum).
At sunset, the panorama is particularly splendid!
Getting to the Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is located between the Colosseum and the Piazza del Campidoglio. The nearest metro station is Colosseo on line B.
Please note that unlimited access to public transport is included in the Omnia Card and Roma Pass. Find out more here.
Opening hours of the Roman Forum
The opening hours of the Roman Forum vary according to the seasons:
|Last Sunday in October – February 15||8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.|
|February 16 – March 15||8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.|
|March 16 – last Sunday in March||8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.|
|Last Sunday in March – August 31||8:30 a.m. – 7:15 p.m.|
|September 1 – September 30.||8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.|
|October 1 – last Saturday in October.||8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.|
The ticket office closes one hour before the site closes.
Admission tickets and guided tours
You can either:
- visit the site on your own
- opt for a guided tour
It all depends on your priorities. If you prefer visiting tourist attractions at your own pace, visiting the site on your own is perhaps your best option.
If you are fond of historical anecdotes, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends a guided tour. Especially since the guided tours are, from the Captain’s point of view, particularly interesting when it comes to ancient sites where it can be somewhat difficult to imagine what things looked like centuries ago.
Anyway, the Captain can only recommend booking either your entrance ticket or your guided tour in advance. The Roman Forum is one of the most popular sites in Rome and the queues at the entrance can often be quite endless. For information, the entrance to the Roman Forum is also included in the Roma Pass.
Find out more:
- Colosseum + Roman Forum + Palatine Hill combined skip-the-line ticket
- guided tour of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
- Roma Pass
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions!
🎟️ Activities: as for booking visits and tourist activities, Captain Ulysses recommends three websites: GetYourGuide , Tiqets and Civitatis. Guided tours, cruises, skip-the-line tickets, tourist activities… there’s plenty to choose from!
🎫 Citypass: if you are staying in Rome for several days, it may be worth investing in the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card . As well as entry to some of the capital’s most iconic sites, these passes include access to public transport.
🚐 Transfers: if you want to arrive in Rome serenely, you can book your transfer from the airport to the city centre in advance. A car will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the city. For more information: transfers in Rome.
🚌 Local transport: Rome has a comprehensive public transport system: metro, bus and tram. Access to public transport is included in the Roma Pass and the Omnia Card. If you wish, you can also opt for a hop-on hop-off bus tour which stops at all the top tourist attractions in Rome (audio guide included).
✈️ Flights and trains: to book your flights to Rome, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
As for trains, the Captain recommends Trainline to book your tickets.