A walk through history: our top list of Roman beauties
Discover all the fascination of Ancient Rome with a visit to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill
Walking around Rome is like strolling through an enormous open-air museum, and this is one of the reasons people from all over the world come to visit our city. One of the best, most fascinating itineraries for seeing the remains of Ancient Rome is a walk along Via dei Fori Imperiali, which runs from Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum, to explore the world’s biggest, most significant archaeological site – the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. The sight of this area leaves even those visitors most prepared for such beauty speechless, because it is not just a tour of an individual monument, but a walk dotted with ruins where the greatness of Rome’s history and traces of the past can be experienced at first-hand.
Originally marshland, the Roman Forum is home to nearly all the Empire’s greatest public and sacred buildings. These include some of the most ancient Roman temples, such as the those of Saturn or Castor and Pollux, and various basilicas, such as the Basilica of Maxentius, and the even older Basilica Aemilia, founded in the 2nd century BC, the remains of which can be seen to the right of the Via dei Fori Imperiali entrance. Construction of the Roman Forum, which was the hub of Roman public life for over a thousand years, was begun in the 7th century by Tarquinius Priscus, who built the Cloaca Maxima, a grandiose system of sewers to drain the valley’s swampy lowlands. He also laid the first paving of the Forum and the Comitium area, the site of the city’s political assemblies, around 600 BC. Building of the first temples, those of Saturn and of Castor and Pollux began during the early years of the Republic (590 BC), but the greatest development of the Forum occurred after the end of the Punic Wars, which gave Rome unopposed dominion over the Western Mediterranean, and following wars in the East, also of the entire Eastern area. The crisis of the Republic and the passage of power into the hands of the monarchy led to urban redevelopment that involved the construction of the Imperial Forums, and specifically the Forums of Caesar, Augustus, Trajan and Nerva.
The Roman Forum was originally a marketplace, and then, as the city gradually acquired power and wealth, became the heart of the city itself, a place for public speeches and meetings, an academy of culture and art. The word
forum comes from the Latin fero, I bring, from the verb to bring, alluding to the fact that merchandise was brought to the market to be sold. Many centuries would pass before the Forum area reverted to being a market, and in particular a livestock market, known from the mid-16th century by a new name, Campo Vaccino, a place where cattle and sheep were bought and sold.
Entrance to the Roman Forum is from Via Sacra, under the Arch of Titus, or from the Campidoglio under the Arch of Septimus Severus. Despite both being decorated with scenes of triumphs and conquests, the arches are very different to one another.
The Arch of Titus, situated next to the Colosseum, has a single cornice and is dominated by the great original inscription, which leaves no doubt about who the monument is dedicated to. The arch was built by Domitian for his brother Titus, son of Vespasian, after his death in 81 AD, to celebrate his victorious campaign in Judea in 71 AD. The Arch of Septimus Severus, on the other hand, dates to 203 AD and celebrates the first ten years as emperor. The arch, in travertine marble and brick, has three archways and is over 20 metres high and 23 metres wide. Each facade features four columns resting on high piers, and relief panels celebrate Septimus Severus’s victories in Parthia and Arabia. Starting this summer on an experimental basis, a new itinerary has been inaugurated combining the Roman Forum and the Imperial Forums in a single walk through one of the world’s most impressive and famous archaeological sites. The itinerary is scheduled to come on stream in 2020.
Once they have completed their tour of the Roman Forum, the same ticket will give visitors admission not only to the Imperial Forums, but also the Palatine Hill, the most famous of Rome’s seven hills, which stands between the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus, and where legend says Romulus ploughed the furrow in which he would found Rome.
Between the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 7th centuries BC, the Latins came down from the Alba Longa Hills and settled on the Palatine to defend and control passage across the Tiber to the Tiber Island. When the city expanded, the valley at the foot of the hills, which then housed a necropolis, was incorporated into the urban fabric and became the Forum, the centre of political-administrative life.
With the expansion of the primitive settlement on the nearby hills, the Palatine, as well as being the site for a number of temples, was chosen during the Republican era for the private residences of wealthy aristocrats due to its central, salubrious position. During this period, the Palatine was transformed into an elegant residential neighbourhood. Among those who lived there were Marcus Valerius Maximus, consul in 505 BC, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, consul in 95 BC, and the lyric poet, Catullus. In the Imperial era, Augustus, who was born on the hill, transformed it into the site of the imperial palaces, building himself a spacious house there. His successors built even more sumptuous palaces.
After this walk through history, you can take a break to enjoy a gelato in one of the many ice-cream shops in the area. A few steps from each other in Via Cavour are La dolce vita and Flor, both worth trying. While if it’s lunchtime, you can opt for Taverna dei Fori Imperiali or La Casetta in Via Madonna dei Monti, a traditional Roman restaurant with excellent desserts – it needs to be booked, however, as it’s very popular and always full. If you want to enjoy a panoramic view over the area, you should go to Hotel Forum, behind Via Cavour, and go up to the top floor for a splendid view from one of Rome’s most beautiful terraces. For a sophisticated dinner, on the other hand, chose Madre, a trendy restaurant in Largo Angelicum.