There is a very unique part of Roman history that you will want to visit between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill near Rome. The Forum Romanum or the Roman Forum, may be one of the most ambitious archaeological projects of all time. By way of background, long before the first century AD, this area known as the Roman Forum was the premier political and cultural hot bed for the Roman Empire.
The Roman Forum was under construction for literally hundreds of years but by the seventh century BC, it was already an important center of culture for the Empire. By the beginning of the first millennium, the Roman Forum began to take on its final form under the guidance of Octavian, the son of Julius Caesar.
The Forum is more than one building but in actuality dozens of temples, arches, businesses and other structures that were so extensive that it was frequently referred to as Forum Magnum or The Great Forum by people who knew it well. The Forum was originally built on marsh land that had been drained for this purpose. It provided a central meeting place for trade, legal discussion and negotiation, as well as debate and dialog about the great social and philosophical issues that the citizens and royalty of Rome had on their minds.
After the Roman Empire fell in the early fifth century, the Roman Forum fell into such decay that, by the Middle Ages, the grounds had become pastures for grazing cattle. It took the Renaissance to discover the area again and to set in motion one of the longest restoration projects in history, which began early in the eighteenth century and is still ongoing right now.
Today if you did get to tour the restored parts of the Roman Forum, the greatness of those buildings would be evident in the vast assortment of buildings.
The archaeologists that have headed up the restoration have done a good job of repairing the paved streets and taking away the debris of hundreds of years of neglect so that the Forum can once again be enjoyed by everyone. If you plan a visit, be aware that there is no way to see the entire Roman Forum in one day. But even if you can only spend a few hours here, that visit will be enough to allow you a glimpse into how life was lived at the height of the glory of the Roman Empire.
To get an idea of the ambitious scale that the Romans always brought to projects of this size, one just has to look at the “Temple of Venus and Roma”. This massive temple in the Forum was designed and built by Emperor Hadrian himself, and from a vantage point on a tall plateau, it has a perfect view of the majestic Colosseum.
Almost as amazing is the Temple of Concord. This temple is devoted to peace and upon its completion in the western quadrant of the Forum in 367 BC, it became a popular site for Roman citizens. At one time the Temple of Concord was rich with expensive statues adorned with gold and silver but even now it stands as a testimony to the power and prowess of the mighty Roman Empire.
There are dozens of other structures to explore in the Forum, including the Temples of Pollux, Saturn, Vepasian and Castor. When combined with the huge diversity of buildings, you can get a real feel for what the Roman architects and emperors wanted from this ambitious project. But the Forum is about so much more than just a collection of temples.
Many of the walkways are lined with arches, including the Arch of Septimus Severus and Titus. The Romans invented and perfected the arch, and no one has improved on that design for at least 1000 years.
The Roman Forum was also a place for political dialog and The Rostra was a perfect place for a Roman politician to state his case. If you stand under the Rostra, you can get a feel for what it was like to live in those times. Along with temples, many shrines such as the Lapis Niger (or Black Stone) and the Via Sacra demonstrate the creative imagination that Roman builders were capable of bringing to a project.
If you go to Rome and return having not seen the Roman Forum, your trip was incomplete. This amazing accomplishment is a striking example of the heights that man can reach when working together, and how quickly such genius can be lost if we are not careful.