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Ancient Rome - The Roman Forums and Palatine Hill





 Ancient Rome - The Forums and Palatine Hill

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The Roman Forums   and Palatine Hill

 Temple of Antoninus and Faustina looking north towards the Capitoline Hill


Exploring the Roman Forums is an activity popular with almost all  visitors to Rome.  The Forums allow us to look backwards in time and imagine what it was like to be here when the Roman Empire was at its peak.

There are so many ruins in the Forums that it is almost impossible to categorize the amazing variety of sites that you will see.  As a consequence, touring the Roman Forums can be very confusing.

Be sure to buy a guide to the Forums or one of the detailed maps being sold near the entrance. The number of arches, temples, and assorted ruins is large and the layout is complex. Some of the ruins are more noteworthy than others and we describe many  of the more popular sites below.


Everywhere you look in the Roman Forums there is something noteworthy.  While names of the monuments may be unfamiliar to you as we begin our tour, you will likely have identified several as your favorites before you reach the end of the page.

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           The Arch of Septimus Severus (left) and the Temple of Saturn (right)

The photographs above and below will help show you how rich the Roman Forum is with ruins and how complicated it to determine what you are seeing. 

The view above is from the Capitoline Hill , which is to the north of the Roman Forums. (Note: Some of the most interesting views for the Forum can be seen from Capitoline Hill, so schedule time for some photography when you visit there.) On the left is the triumphant Arch of Septimus Severus (early 3rd century AD ), with the ruins of the Basilica Julia (center) built for Julius Caesar (50 BC ) and the columns of the Temple of Saturn (right), the oldest known temple in the Forums .  The original temple was constructed around 500 BC and rebuilt around 50AD, only to burn and be reconstructed in the 3rd century AD on the foundations of the earlier building. 

          The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Temple of Romulus (round center) and the Temple of Maxentius (upper right)

In the photograph above, the arches at the top left are the Temple of Atoninus Pius and his wife Faustina (with the church of San Lorenzo built on the ruins - ), the round building, in the center, is the Temple of Romulus  and the large arch at the top-right marks the Basilica of Maxentius (emperor in the early 4th century AD) and Constantine , while the Atrium of the Vesta (the Vestal Virgins) is in the foreground .  Antoninus was the adopted son and successor to Hadrian, and was followed the throne by Hadrian's and his own adopted son Marcus Aurelius. 

The Arches of the Forums

The arches in the Roman Forums, seem to dominate the area because of their size that may have allowed them to stand the test of time better than other monuments. Most of the arches have complex decorations. so take some time to examine their details.

Located between the Colosseum and the Roman Forums, Constantine's Arch (early 4th century AD ) is the largest and best preserved of the ancient Roman arches.  Its friezes, which are decorated in high relief, provide a sense of history and symbolize the grandeur of the Roman Empire.

            The Arch of Constantine in the Roman Forums        Details from one of the panels at the top of the Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine, is one the three arches from the Roman Empire in Rome that have survived to modern times. The arch, which is remarkably well-preserved, was erected to commemorate Constantine's defeat of Maxentius, in a battle that restored peace to the Roman Empire.   The arch was constructed using materials from other arches and temples. Constantine, later moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople (formerly named Byzantium, now known as Istanbul, Turkey) and drained resources from Rome in the process.

The Arch of Titus (right) is situated at the highest part of the ViaThe Arch of Titus in the Roman Forums Sacra (the major street in ancient Rome) and was built to commemorate the Roman re-capture of Jerusalem in 70 AD .  The arch was built by Domitian  to honor his brother Titus. The inside of the arch (the soffit) is highly detailed and worth a close look.  Many of the reliefs on the arch are restorations undertaken in the 19th century, as the monument had been incorporated in another building, which was later demolished.

The Arch of Septimus Severus (below, left) at the northern end of the Roman Forums , dates from the third century and has a central arch with a lateral arch on each side. The top of the structure was once adorned by statuary of Septimus Severus and The Arch of Septimus Severus at the north end of the Roman Forumhis sons, Caracalla and Geta.  Severus and his sons won important battles against the Parthia (a historic kingdom in the Middle East centered near present day Iraq) and the arch was a celebration of their victory.

The Temples of the Forums

The ancient Romans worshipped various gods and goddesses and built imposing temples to honor those they particularly feared. Examples of the most important of these include the temples of Saturn, Castor and Pollux, and another commemorating the goddesses Venus and Roma. Some temples were named for emperors who were later deified; the most important of these are the ruins of the Temples of Caesar andTemple of Vesta in the Roman Forums Vespasian.

Vesta the virgin goddess of home and health, is linked with the famous Vestal Virgins who guarded her flame.   The Romans believed that the flame was directly linked with the well-being of Rome and that the Empire would decline if the flame were ever extinguished.  The Vestal Virgins were quite warlike in their dedication to the protection of the flame.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux (the twin brothers from Greek mythology who were the sons of Zeus and Leda) was rebuilt several times but did not survive the ravages of time and the practice of using parts of one temple in the construction of something new .

          Temple of Castor and Pollux  Temple of Venus and Roma in the Roman Forums

The Temple of the deities Venus and Roma was designed by the Emperor Hadrian and built on the Palatine in the 2nd century AD. although damage required rebuilding  in later periods .

If you have the opportunity, take a look at the Forums at night when the area is illuminated, but do so only if you are with a group or part of a tour as the area can be "dicey" late at night.  Others prefer to capture the forums at sunrise and note that the morning glow adds to the beauty of the Forums. In either case, head to the Piazza Venezia, and take the Cordonatta (steps), on the right side of the Monument Vittorio Emanuele II, up to the top where you can catch dramatic views of the Forum area.

By the way, Domus Aurea, the golden house of Nero located at the base of the Equiline Hill, has been closed to the public due to flooding and concerns about its stability.  Rumors are circulating that it will not reopen until  after 2012, at the earliest.


Palatine Hill

The Palatine Hills  is packed  with ruins and excavations,  but is less interesting than the Forums.  However, the Palatine is a terrific place for getting away from the crowds and imagining what life must have been like in ancient Rome. The Palatine Antiquarian Museum (Museo Palatino) displays Roman sculptures excavated from the various houses on the hill and is worth a short visit.

In March of 2008, after over 30 years of restoration, four rooms from the house of Augustus Caesar, known also as Octavian, were opened to the public, possibly for the first time in over 2,000 years. These rooms had been lost to history for approximately two millennia  (since around 30BC) when rediscovered around 1970. The frescos in the complex are reputed to be some of the finest ever found and to rival those discovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum.   Augustus's fame, in part, was tied to the capture of Egypt when his forces defeated the armies of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

Visits are limited to 5 at a time due to the size of the complex and the fragile condition of the property. The ticket required for the guided tour of the house, also covers the Forums, the Palatine and the Colosseum. This is one of the most popular attractions on the Palatine and the wait can be long, so queue up early.  The House of Augustus is open only on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 3:30, but always check locally for opening hours.

Circus Maximus

To the west, the Palatine Hill overlooks  the somewhat desolate Circus Maximus , of which little remains of the original structure. The circus was a track for horse/chariot racing and its tight oval shape is still relatively well-defined between the Palatine and Aventine Hills.   If you want a general overview of the Circus Maximus, the Palatine is the best place for a peek, as it is not worth the time to actually wander the Circus, which is now a public park.

          Circus Maximus with the Palatine Hill in the background

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Roman Forum Tickets

Note: In 2008, the Italian authorities began charging for entrance to the Roman Forum. Anyone intending to visit must purchase a combo ticket that covers entrance to the Forum, Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

See Select Italy for advanced tickets. Otherwise, you can buy them locally, but may run into long lines.


















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