If you’ve ever wondered just why it is that we call message boards on the internet forums, or why the word seems to be used for places that are just too busy to be real, wonder no more. If ancient Rome were a body, its Forum surely would have been its heart.
A bit of history
Once an Etruscan burial ground, the Forum became the heart of the Roman Republic by the 7th century BC. The bustling downtown marketplace was, for a few centuries, the host of buyers, sellers, politicians, lawyers, worshippers and priests, and just about anybody else you could imagine. The area itself was a vast open complex with many buildings housing the various trades people and even includes the very spot where Caesar met his infamous fate — now Tempio di Giulio where ‘you too’ can visit one of the most iconic murder scenes in history.
The Forum was a public space that was much like any urban community plaza or square one could find today, playing many roles all at once while still being an economic hot spot. It was where people could go about their daily business and get their free wheat — part of the Roman political ideal of bread and circus. (The circus, of course, would have been the games at any of their amphitheaters including the Coliseum.)
Part of what makes the Forum so remarkable is exactly how incredibly populated it would have been on any given day. Serving as a place of business, a place of worship, and a place of governance, the Forum was where any citizen, slave, woman, or child would be able to participate in Ancient Roman life. The various buildings are in various states of upkeep, some entirely in ruins, but it’s not difficult to imagine how busy and loud and exactly like modern-day life it would have been all that time ago.
Touring the Roman Forum
Being at the heart of Ancient Rome, the Forum is conveniently situated close to other historical sites, like the Palatino, one of the seven hills of Rome, and allows for a fun and open experience walking between buildings and ruins and taking in the old world. Palatino is said to have been where Rome was first founded, and so it makes sense that the Forum should be the site of so many important ancient buildings and plazas.
If you enter the Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali, you will certainly notice the impressive columns dating from the year 141 AD surrounding a 17th century Baroque church – San Lorenzo in Miranda (San Lorenzo de’ Speziali in Miranda).
On the other side, you will see the ruins of Basilica Aemilia. The project of this civil basilica erected in 179 BC on the site of a 5th century BC butcher’s shop was initiated by a Roman general – Marcus Fulvius Nobilior. The edifice was later on completed by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.
Heading towards Via Sacra, you will have the opportunity to tour some more Ancient Rome landmarks and relive the life of Caesar’s times, when the senate met in the Forum, and the government laid its foundations in both stone and law at the heart of the area, in the Comitium and the Curia.
The Rostra was a platform overlooking the Piazza del Foro, the main area of the Forum, from which politicians and holy people would speak to the crowd and to which Rome owes its great tradition of oration. Marcus Tullius Cicero may very well have stood in the Forum, unknowingly planting seeds of dissent as his voice cast over the vast mobs of people clamoring about. Of course, for more serious and private affairs, the Curia served as the actual house of the senate, where city senators would meet to discuss matters of war and empire.
The Forum is where one could find Rome’s Vestal Virgins, women who were chosen by lottery to spend 30 years as chaste virgins serving the eponymous goddess of hearth and home at the Tempio di Vesta. In fact, the area was notably diverse in it uses. Processions were held in the forum for special events like religious ceremonies, holidays, and (perhaps the most important) military victories.
Temples dedicated to Saturn and Polluce (Tempio di Castore e Polluce) were host to religious ceremonies while military victories could be celebrated beneath the Arco di Settimio Severo or the Arco di Tito, arches that are the very essence of Roman craftsmanship and architecture.