The Roman Forum (in Latin, Forum Romanum; and in Italian, Foro Romano) was the commercial, political, administrative, judicial, and religious center of Ancient Rome for several centuries. And the Palatine Hill (in Latin, Collis Palatium or Mons Palatinus; and in Italian, Palatino), one of the seven hills of the Italian capital, was the place chosen by the Roman emperors to install their palaces.
Dozens of houses and monuments (such as temples, basilicas, and arches) were built in a 2-hectare area, in addition to other buildings and public structures. And, nowadays, these ruins make the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill one of the largest urban archaeological complexes in Europe!
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- Brief History of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- How to Get to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- What to See at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- Foro Romano
- Portico degli Dei Consenti
- Tempio di Vespasiano
- Tempio di Saturno
- Arco di Settimio Severo
- Basilica Giulia
- Basilica Emilia
- Tempio di Castore e Polluce
- Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua
- Tempio di Vesta
- Tempio di Antonino e Faustina
- Tempio di Romolo
- Casa delle Vestali
- Basilica di Massenzio
- Arco di Tito
- Tempio di Venere e Roma
- Foro Romano
- More Posts about Italy
- More Posts about Archaeological Sites
- More Posts about World Heritage
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Brief History of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Roman Forum was the heart of Ancient Rome. Its projection began in the 7th century BC, with the emergence of the Kingdom of Rome (in Latin, Regnum Romanum), and lasted through the Roman Republic (in Latin, Res Pvblica Romana) and the Roman Empire (in Latin, Imperium Romanum).
The last monumental addition made to the Roman Forum was the Column of Phocas, erected in 608 AD to honor the Byzantine Emperor Phocas. This means that this valley between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill has been frequented for over a millennium! Even so, it’s known that many of the structures had already been abandoned or converted into Christian churches, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (in 395 AD).
In the Middle Ages, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill had been transformed into a quarry of marble and travertine. Many of these materials were reused to build other buildings in Rome (including Saint Peter’s Basilica, in Vatican City). And dozens of ruins ended up hidden underground.
Historical interest in this area emerged only at the end of the 18th century, with archaeological excavations taking place throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. And these successive intervention campaigns made it possible to restore and preserve some of the most iconic monuments of the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill!
Did you know that the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were part of Italy’s second set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 4th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Paris (France), between September 1st and 5th, 1980.
Only one other Italian site was announced in the session: the Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.
Nowadays, Italy is the country in the world with the most UNESCO sites: it has fifty-eight heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization!
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit five of them:
- Cinque Terre (1997)
- Historic Centre of Florence (1982)
- Historic Centre of Rome and the Properties of the Holy See (1980) – Castel Sant’Angelo, Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- The Porticoes of Bologna (2021)
- Venice and its Lagoon (1987)
How to Get to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are located in the Via della Salara Vecchia, one of the most touristy avenues in Rome. And from here, you’re very close to many other popular archaeological sites such as the Foro di Nerva (350 meters), the Foro di Augusto (450 meters), the Foro di Cesare (450 meters), the Foro di Traiano (500 meters), and the Colosseum (600 meters).
In my opinion, Rome is a true “open-air museum” and therefore deserves to be explored on foot. Nonetheless, if you prefer to travel by public transportation, you can reach the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill by bus (numbers 85, 87, and 118; Fori Imperiali stop) or subway (line B1, Colosseo station).
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are open every day of the year (except on the holidays of January 1st and December 25th), from 9 am to 5:30 pm (in March), from 9 am to 7:15 pm (from April to August), from 9 am to 7 pm (in September), from 9 am to 6:30 pm (in October), or from 9 am to 4:30 pm (in November and December).
As for tickets, they cost €18 (adults) or €4 (young people aged between 18 and 25, who are citizens of the European Union), and those under 18 don’t pay for entry. Besides, it’s important to note that this ticket gives you access to the entire Parco Archeologico del Colosseo, which includes the Colosseo!
TIP: Since the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are amont the most visited tourist attractions in Rome, I recommend that you buy your ticket in advance to avoid the endless lines at the site. And if you want, you can also check other types of tickets on the official website of the Colosseum Archaeological Park!
What to See at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
First of all, it’s important to mention that the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill are an extensive archaeological complex, with almost a hundred points of interest to explore. I will only describe the most interesting ones, but these are the buildings and structures you can visit in the Roman Forum:
- Portico degli Dei Consenti (or Portico of the Harmonious Gods)
- Tempio di Vespasiano (or Temple of Vespasian)
- Tempio della Concordia (or Temple of Concord)
- Tempio di Saturno (or Temple of Saturn)
- Vicus Jugarius (or Street of the Yoke-Makers)
- Milliarium Aureum (or Golden Milestone)
- Rostri (or Rostra)
- Umbilicus Urbis Romae (or “Navel of the City of Rome”)
- Volcanale (or Vulcanal)
- Arco di Settimio Severo (or Arch of Septimius Severus)
- Lapis Niger (or Black Stone)
- Via Sacra (or Sacred Street)
- Colonna di Foca (or Column of Phocas)
- Basilica Giulia (or Basilica Julia)
- Lacus Curtius (or Lake Curtius)
- Sacello di Venere Cloachina (or Shrine of Venus Cloacina)
- Basilica Emilia (or Basilica Aemilia)
- Tempio del Divo Giulio (or Temple of Caesar)
- Arco di Augusto (or Arch of Augustus)
- Tempio di Castore e Polluce (or Temple of Castor and Pollux)
- Fonte di Giuturna (or Spring of Juturna)
- Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri (or Oratory of the Forty Martyrs)
- Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua (or Old Church of Saint Mary)
- Rampa Imperiale (or Imperial Ramp)
- Tempio di Vesta (or Temple of Vesta)
- Tempio di Antonino e Faustina (or Temple of Antoninus and Faustina)
- Sepolcreto Arcaico (or Ancient Burial Ground)
- Tempio di Romolo (or Temple of Romulus)
- Casa delle Vestali (or House of Vestals)
- Via Nova (or New Street)
- Portichetto Medievale (or Medieval Portico)
- Basilica di Massenzio (or Basilica of Maxentius)
- Arco di Tito (or Arch of Titus)
- Tempio di Venere e Roma (or Temple of Venus and Roma)
Portico degli Dei Consenti
The so-called Portico of the Harmonious Gods was made up of twelve marble columns, with a similar number of halls behind them. Although only seven of these rooms have survived to the present day, it’s known that they were dedicated to each of the twelve main gods of Roman mythology: Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Minerva, Mars, Ceres, Phoebus, Diana, Vulcan, Venus, Mercury, and Bacchus.
According to historians, this enigmatic structure already existed in the 1st century BC. Even so, the ruins you see date from the end of the 1st century AD, having been reconstructed in the middle of century IV AD and, more recently, restored during the archaeological excavations of the XIX century. Interestingly, this is believed to have been the last working pagan shrine in the Roman Forum!
Tempio di Vespasiano
The Temple of Vespasian was built in 79 AD by Emperors Tito and Domitian, to honor their father (Emperor Vespasian).
Of the only three remaining columns, it’s still possible to recognize the rich decoration of its Corinthian capitals, as well as the frieze of part of the architrave. Among other details, there are plant motifs, sacrificial objects, and symbols of the late Roman Emperor.
The inscription (now incomplete) records the moment when the Temple of Vespasian was restored: at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, more specifically during the governments of the emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla (his first-born).
Tempio di Saturno
The Temple of Saturn is one of the oldest monuments in the Roman Forum and also one of the most famous on this archaeological site.
Established at the foot of Capitoline Hill at the end of the 6th century BC, this monumental building housed the Aerarium (the treasure of Ancient Rome).
Inside, there was a wooden statue of the Roman god Saturn, who in Greek mythology was called Cronos. Nevertheless, both this sculpture and much of the Temple of Saturn disappeared over time.
Currently, only eight Ionic columns and the respective frieze and architrave remain, which used to make up the entrance portico.
Arco di Settimio Severo
The Arch of Septimius Severus was inaugurated at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, to commemorate the victory led by this Roman emperor, in the war against the Parthian Empire. Situated at the northwest end of the Roman Forum, this triumphal arch is about 23 meters high, 25 meters wide, and almost 12 meters deep!
The Arch of Septimius Severus was created from travertine and marble, two rocks widely used in classical architecture. On its two facades, it has three arched entrances, a row of eight columns (four on each side), and a set of inscriptions, reliefs, and sculptures.
The Curia was the place where senate assemblies were held in Ancient Rome. This robust building is often nicknamed the Curia Julia, to distinguish it from the first two Roman curias (the Curia Hostilia and the Curia Cornelia).
Now, it’s easy to understand that the construction of the Curia Julia was sponsored by Julius Caesar, just as the two previous were promoted by Tullus Hostilius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and Faustus Cornelius Sulla.
Unlike most structures in the Roman Forum, the Curia has remained almost intact until today, as it was converted into a church in 630 AD. And it seems unthinkable, but the Church of Sant’Adriano al Foro Romano has maintained its religious activity for more than thirteen centuries!
The Basilica Julia was built by Julius Caesar – hence the name – to replace the Basilica Sempronia (one of the four original basilicas in the Roman Forum). It’s important to mention that, in Ancient Rome, the basilica was a civil and multifunctional building, able to accommodate all types of public services (political, commercial, social, etc.).
In the case of the Basilica Julia, it’s known that it was the seat of civil law courts and some tavernae (shops with the most diverse economic activities). Unfortunately, little remains of the structure, with the exception of the foundations, floors, a single column, and a corner with about a dozen arches.
If you want to explore the ruins of yet another civil basilica, then all you have to do is head to Basilica Aemilia, another of the four original basilicas of the Roman Forum. By the way, the remaining two were called Basilica Porcia and Basilica Opimia.
And even though today you can only glimpse some archaeological remains, the truth is that the Basilica Aemilia was a gigantic building, approximately 100 meters long and 30 meters wide!
There is no consensus among historians, but it’s thought that this kind of “business center” was built from the foundations of two earlier basilicas: the Basilica Fulvia and the Basilica Paulli.
Tempio di Castore e Polluce
The Temple of Castor and Pollux (also known as the Temple of the Dioscuri) was dedicated to the two brothers who, according to Roman mythology, formed the Gemini constellation.
Legend has it that Castor and Pollux were seen in the Roman Forum – more precisely in the nearby Fonte di Giuturna – watering their horses. This apparition happened after the two helped the Romans to win the Battle of Lake Regillus against the Latins and Etruscans.
As a form of gratitude, the dictator Aulus Postumius Albus Regillensis established a temple next to the Spring of Juturna, from which three columns with Corinthian capitals are still preserved.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua
The Old Church of Saint Mary was the first Christian monument in the Roman Forum. Built between the 5th and 6th centuries, it includes the Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri (a small place of prayer, visible from the Tempio di Castore e Polluce). At the same time, it was here that the Rampa Imperiale was located, the monumental access to the complex of imperial palaces on Palatine Hill, about 50 meters long!
Inside this religious building, you’ll find pagan mosaics (from the 4th to the 6th centuries) and Byzantine frescoes (from the 6th to 9th centuries), in addition to the oldest Roman representation of Santa Maria Regina (created in the 6th century). Apart from that, archaeological excavations from the beginning of the 20th century uncovered graves from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, decorated with countless pagan objects!
Tempio di Vesta
As the name implies, the Temple of Vesta is a monument dedicated to the goddess Vesta, the personification of the sacred fire in Roman mythology. Founded in the heart of the Roman Forum, this circular temple was guarded by the Vestal Virgins (a group of priestesses, who were recruited as children and had to serve the goddess for thirty years).
The cult of the goddess Vesta is one of the oldest and most sacred in Rome, although it was one of the few that were exclusive to women. The Temple of Vesta was rebuilt several times and the current ruins date from the end of the 2nd century AD, the period in which the then emperor Septimius Severus had the building restored after it had been hit by fire.
Tempio di Antonino e Faustina
The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina faces the Via Sacra and is located right in the center of the Roman Forum.
Built by Antonino Pio in 141 AD to honor his deceased wife Faustina, it ended up being rededicated to the couple after the death of the emperor in 161 AD.
Sometime between the 7th and 9th centuries, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was transformed into the Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda.
This action ended up helping to preserve the work, of which the ten magnificent Corinthian columns stand out.
Tempio di Romolo
Located between the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the Basilica of Maxentius, opposite the Via Sacra and the House of the Vestals, the Temple of Romulus is a structure whose origins divide historians. Now, a large part claims that this temple was built by Emperor Maxentius, in memory of his son Valerius Romulus.
On the other hand, there are those who argue that it was a construction designed by Romulus himself, the first king of Rome. The truth is that the Temple of Romulus was attached to the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian in the first half of the 6th century. And its architecture also distinguishes itself from other temples, thanks to its circular brick floor plan!
Casa delle Vestali
In my opinion, the House of the Vestals is the most stunning place in the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – which is why I chose a photograph of this location as the featured image (or cover image) for this guide. Also known by its Latin name Atrium Vestae, this was the address of the Vestal Virgins, the group of priestesses who watched over the Temple of Vesta.
The residential and spiritual complex of the House of the Vestals consisted of several halls and rooms, arranged around a large patio decorated with arcades, fountains, and statues of the most famous Vestal Virgins. There are records that there was a kitchen, a mill, a pantry, and some tavernae, in addition to marble floors and complex heating systems!
Basilica di Massenzio
These monumental ruins you see in the photo belong to the Basilica of Magentius, once the largest building in Ancient Rome. Its name is due to its promoter – Emperor Magentius – who started the works in 308 AD. These were completed four years later, already under the government of Emperor Constantine.
The Basilica of Magentius was the last civil basilica to be built in the Roman Forum, hence it’s also called the New Basilica. After its megalomaniac dimensions, it’s mainly known for having housed the “Colossus of Constantine” (a statue about 12 meters high, whose fragments can still be admired in the Palazzo dei Conservatori).
Arco di Tito
The Arch of Titus is another triumphal arch that adorns the Via Sacra, the main artery of the Roman Forum. However, this monument predates the Arch of Septimius Severus, as it was built at the end of the 1st century AD.
The work was commissioned by Emperor Domitian to honor his late brother (Emperor Titus) and his victory in the so-called Great Jewish Revolt. And here, too, you can admire the sculpted relief panels and inscriptions on the façades and inside the arch!
With more than 15 meters high and 13 meters wide, and almost 5 meters deep, the Arch of Titus served as a model for the design of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Tempio di Venere e Roma
The Temple of Venus and Rome is located at the eastern end of the Roman Forum, on the so-called Velian Hill and a few meters from the Colosseum. Conceived by Emperor Hadrian around 121 AD, it was only finished two decades later, by order of Emperor Antoninus Pius.
Like so many other buildings in the Roman Forum, the Temple of Venus and Rome was adapted to form the Chiesa e Monasterio di Santa Maria Nuova in the 9th century. These days, this religious temple is known as the Basilica de Santa Francesca Romana.
It doesn’t hurt to repeat that the historic complex of the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill can’t be visited in a hurry, due to their considerable dimensions and their numerous archaeological attractions. In fact, I spent 5 hours at this UNESCO World Heritage site! And on Palatine Hill, you can see these palaces and monuments:
- Orti Farnesiani (or Farnese Gardens)
- Teatro del Fontanone
- Uccelliere (or Aviary)
- Domus Tiberiana
- Tempio della Magna Mater (or Temple of Magna Mater)
- Villaggio di Capanne (or Hut Village)
- Tempio della Vittoria (or Temple of Victory)
- Cisterne Arcaiche (or Archaic Cisterns)
- Casa di Livia (or House of Livia)
- Casa di Augusto (or House of Augustus)
- Tempio di Apollo (or Temple of Apollo)
- Criptoportico Neroniano (or Neronian Cryptoporticus)
- Domus Flavia
- Casina Farnese (or Farnese Lodge)
- Casa dei Grifi (or House of the Griffins)
- Museo Palatino (or Palatine Museum)
- Domus Augustana
- “Stadio” Palatino (or Palatine “Stadium”)
- Complesso Severiano (or Severan Complex)
- Terme di Massenzio (or Baths of Maxentius)
- Arcate Severiane (or Severan Arcades)
- Terme di Eta’ Severiana (or Severan Baths)
- Chiesa di San Bonaventura (or Church of San Bonaventura)
- Vigna Barberini (or Barberini Vineyard)
- Chiesa di San Sebastiano (or Church of Saint Sebastian)
- Tempio di Elagabalo (or Temple of Elagabalus)
The Farnese Gardens are considered the first private botanical gardens in Europe. It all started in 1542 when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (nephew of Pope Paul III) began to buy these lands north of Palatine Hill. At that time, the site was completely in ruins and covered in wild vegetation.
In 1565, Alessandro Farnese began to outline what would become the Farnese Gardens: Italian gardens with flower beds, underground passages, artificial caves with waterfalls (the so-called nymphaeums), suspended walkways, panoramic terraces, and picturesque paths decorated with ancient sculptures.
Teatro del Fontanone
The Teatro del Fontanone was one of the structures that made up the property of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. It currently functions as an official entrance to the Farnesian Gardens.
If you’re in the Roman Forum, you can reach the Teatro del Fontanone by going up a series of ramps and stairs from the Via Nova.
Almost at the top, you’ll find a large panoramic terrace with an imposing architectural façade. Here, you can see niches that once housed statues of gods, as well as a large waterfall in the center.
Interestingly, the two pavilions that crown this monumental ensemble once served as aviaries!
The Domus Tiberiana was the first of several imperial residences built on Palatine Hill. By the way, did you know that the word “palace” has an etymological origin in the name of this hill in Rome?
This palatine complex from the first half of the 1st century AD was where Tiberius, the second Roman emperor, lived.
But the multi-story arcades you see on the north façade were an addition by Emperor Hadrian, about a century later.
Unfortunately, few traces of the Domus Tiberiana remain. This is because it was in this place that Cardinal Alessandro Farnese installed the Farnesian Gardens.
Villaggio di Capanne
This Hut Village was discovered in an archaeological excavation in the mid-20th century and seems to be directly related to the foundation of the city of Rome. Dating back to the 8th century BC, the two huts found had walls of beaten earth and roof made with interlaced branches and supported by a structure of wooden posts.
This prehistoric settlement is situated in a more remote part of Palatine Hill, facing the Tiber River. And, according to historians, this location seems to coincide with the description of the residence of Romulus himself, made by several authors of Classical Antiquity!
The Archaic Cisterns of Palatine Hill are just a few meters away from Village Hut. They are two circular cisterns from the 6th century BC, which occupy a small area of the shrines of Magna Mater and Victory (the Tempio della Magna Mater and the Tempio della Vittoria, respectively).
Made of tufa and with an inner lining of plaster, the Archaic Cisterns had one difference between them: one was uncovered and was accessed by a ladder, while the other had an ogival roof. However, dozens of ceramic fragments were discovered inside both – which presupposes that they weren’t always used to store water!
The Domus Flavia is probably the most impressive imperial residence on Palatine Hill. Completed in the year 92 AD, its first owner was Emperor Domitian, one of the members of the so-called Flavian Dynasty who gave it his name.
As opposed to the neighboring palatine complexes, the Domus Flavia was used for state events and not as the main residence of the Emperor. Among the ruins, don’t forget to visit the famous Aula Regia, as well as the outer colonnade, the peristyle, the elliptical nymphaeum, and the Casina Farnese (or Casino del Belvedere, in the photo)
The Palatine Museum (or Palatine Antiquary) is an archaeological museum, which brings together some of the best artifacts found in archaeological excavations on Palatine Hill, from the 19th century to the present. Among the findings, are the marbles with plant motifs, the colorful frescoes depicting historical battles, the terracotta friezes with reliefs alluding to Roman mythology, and the busts of emperors and their relatives stand out.
Opened around 1930, the Palatine Museum occupies a building built on the former Convento delle Monache della Visitazione. In turn, this convent was built in an area of the Domus Flavia. And on the lower floor of the antiquary, it’s still possible to observe the different phases of the foundations of the imperial residence!
The Domus Augustana corresponds to the most private part of the Domus Flavia, that is, the area where the emperor’s chambers were located. Comprising two floors, the upper floor was organized around a peristyle with colored marble columns and a swimming pool in the center, to which a small temple accessible by a small bridge was added.
This colonnaded courtyard contained a series of living and banqueting rooms, for the exclusive use of the emperor and his guests. On the other hand, the lower floor was where the private apartments of the imperial family were located, whose panoramic terraces offered privileged views over the Circus Maximus.
The Palatine “Stadium” was the last structure of Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana to be built. Despite this, it occupies about a third of the total area of the complex! Made almost entirely of bricks during the rule of Emperor Domitian (late 1st century AD), it underwent some renovations under Emperor Hadrian (first half of 2nd century AD) and Emperor Septimius Severus (early 3rd century AD).
In the past, stadiums weren’t exactly sports venues as they are now, but recreational gardens with flower beds and decorative sculptures. The Palatine “Stadium” was like a kind of “curved avenue”, used by the emperor for strolling on foot or in a litter. On the eastern side, the ruins of the semi-circular exedra of Septimius Severus still survive, which provided unobstructed views over the wide garden.
The Severan Complex is the furthest part of the Roman Forum and concerns the expansions that Emperor Septimius Severus made to the Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana. In short, the land between the eastern side of the Palatine “Stadium” and the Circus Maximus, at the southeastern end of Palatine Hill, was used.
The ruins are not many and they have quite deteriorated, but they show traces of former sumptuous rooms and lush gardens. It’s true that, at that time, the lack of physical space on Palatine Hill was already notorious, so the additions were made thanks to a system of vaulted substructures.
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