Located on Via della Salara Vecchia, near the intersection of Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Cavour, in Rome.
Overall Score: A
Cost: € 12 for adults, free for children under 18, plus € 2 online booking fee (Reduced price of € 7.50 is only for EU residents aged 18-25)
On the first Sunday of the month, admission is free for visitors during ordinary opening hours. Price includes admission to Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. Ticket is valid for 2 days. Click here for more ticket information
Fun Potential: C (children and in fact, some adults, won’t fully understand the significance of what they’re seeing)
Hours: Open every day of the year, excluding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The Forum opens at 8:30am and closes one hour before sunset. Click here for more information.
Scroll to the end of the post for Roman Forum tour tips!
A visit to Rome includes many stops and tours of old ruins and crumbling relics. The amount of history here is remarkable. If you’re even a little into history, you’ll love seeing the 2,000+ year old center of Roman civilization that stood for centuries – the Roman Forum.
Next door to the great Roman Colosseum stands the ruins of the Roman Forum. Unlike the Colosseum, that still looks very similar today as it did when it was built, the Roman Forum only bears a small resemble of what it once was. This protected, rectangular plaza sits in a valley between two large hills in the center of Rome. Though the area was first developed around the 7th century BC, the Forum was constantly a work in progress, growing in size as the centuries passed. Eventually, the Roman Forum became the center of public life, being the primary location for people to conduct business, give speeches, witness trials, and see their government in action.
Not long after the fall of Rome around 500 AD, the Roman Forum was stripped of its lead roofs, as well as marble and stone. These items were then used as materials for other construction sites. Time, neglect, destruction, as well as later being used as a cattle field, all contributed to the Forum’s current state. Fortunately, excavations began in the early 1800’s, leaving us with what we see today.
This incredibly ancient and preserved historical site encompasses quite a large area, well below the street level. While breathtaking, the Roman Forum is a bit confusing, simply because you are looking at a jumble of ruins.
When you visit the Roman Forum, it’s best to hire a guide or use an audio tour. There are very few signs that explain the ruins. It’s also helpful if you read up a little on the Forum so you can understand what you’ll be seeing when you walk in.
We entered the Forum by way of the Via dei Fori Imperiali. After you go through security and buy your ticket (if you have not done so already), you will descend a large staircase into the Roman Forum. (There is a ramp which descends into the main area, however overall access for wheelchairs and strollers is difficult.)
If you are using an audio tour, make sure your audio tour starts from where you enter. We used Rick Steves’s Audio Europe app for our audio tour and were extremely confused as we had no map. We didn’t know where we were standing in relation to where the audio tour started, so we began the audio tour in the wrong place. There is so much to see here, and so much to take in. Try to enjoy the immense history in this location, the age of the ruins, and the significance of historical events that occurred here. It’s definitely a wonder to behold!
Here are a few highlights from my trip!
Once one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Basilica Aemilia was first built around 179 BC; like most buildings in the Forum, it ended up being built multiple times. This basilica was once used for banking, commerce, courts, and for public speaking. You will first see the basilica as you descend the stairs at the Via dei Fori Imperiali entrance to the Roman Forum.
The Temple of Julius Caesar doesn’t look like much now, but this was the site where Caesar was cremated in 44 BC. After he was appointed dictator of Rome for life, Julius Caesar was brutally attacked and stabbed 23 times by multiple people, including senators. A few years after his death, Caesar was deified and a temple for worshipping him was built on the site where he once laid and was cremated. Only the altar of this temple remains. People still throw flowers on the altar, in memory of the revered politician and military general.
Official documents and deeds, called “tabulae,” were kept in the Tabularium. It was originally built in 78 BC and contained the offices of city officials. This structure looks out over the western end of the Roman Forum, and is positioned on Capitoline Hill.
The ruins from the Temple of Saturn (see above) are only 8 columns that give a good depiction of the building’s size. This temple was originally built around 497 BC, but the one standing is the third temple built. Saturn was the god of agriculture and wealth, and his temple housed Rome’s gold and silver.
The construction of the Basilica Julia was dedicated by Julius Caesar two years before his death, but was later named after him. This area was a well-known meeting area for Romans, with shops, government offices, and judicial courts located here.
While writing this post, I learned that in a few areas around the basilica, you can find what looks like various game boards inscribed into the marble. Below are some photos I found on the internet that show the game boards. Imagine Romans sitting here and playing games over 2,000 years ago!
One of the ruins that caught my eye in the center of the forum, was hiding underneath a low, metal slanted roof. This was the Lacus Curtius (Lake of Curtius), the remains of an old pool in the ground that has multiple stories of its origin. One tells of a lightning strike that hit here. Another, is that giant chasm in the earth opened in this spot, and could only be closed after a human sacrifice; a man named Marcus Curtius leapt into the chasm, sacrificing himself to save Rome. No one knows if these stories (and others) are true. It seems most likely that because this area was once swampland, Romans left a small pool of water here for horses and to throw coins in, asking the gods to keep Rome safe.
As the Forum Square was an open plaza between buildings, it seemed a natural place to place statues of notable Romans. These statues of important Romans were mounted atop large columns and prominently displayed. A few of these honorary columns remain, but without statues.
The Arch of Titus, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the Arch of Constantine are the only remaining triumphal arches left standing in Rome. Located within the Roman Forum and pictured below are the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Septimius Severus. The Arch of Constantine can be found outside the Forum, near the Colosseum. The arches, built to pass over roads, were usually created to celebrate victories or ceremonial events.
The Arch of Titus, located at the eastern end of the Roman Forum, was built to celebrate Emperor Domitian’s older brother Titus and his victory during the Siege of Jerusalem. The Arch of Septimius Severus, located on the opposite end (western) of the Forum, was constructed to celebrate the victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons during Rome’s conflicts with the Parthian Empire. These arches are marvelous displays of Rome’s early engineering.
The Temple of Vesta is recognizable by its rounded shape. It was once a round temple, devoted to Vesta, the goddess of hearth, home, and family. Inside, a fire was kept burning constantly, signifying Rome’s immortality. The Vestal Virgins (see below) were responsible for keeping the fire going.
The Vestal Virgins were considered priestesses of Vesta, goddess of hearth and home. These women were committed as Vestal Virgins while children and took a vow of celibacy for 30 years. Their primary job was to keep the fire going in the nearby Temple of Vesta. All of Rome believed that this ongoing fire was tied to the success and wealth of the city, and believed if it was extinguished, Rome would also be finished. The House of the Vestal Virgins was a three-story palace with 50 rooms, as well as a beautiful courtyard containing two pools. In addition to keeping the fire lit, they guarded sacred objects, protected wills and important documents, and tended to water gathering and food preparation for rituals and holy events.
Near the Temple of Vesta stands the Temple of Castor and Pollux (also known as Tempio dei Dioscuri). Castor and Pollux were twin brothers (known together as the Dioscuri) that were gods, in both Greek and Roman mythology. Legend says that these two brothers helped the Romans win an important battle and later announced their victory where the temple stands today.
The Temple of Antonius and Faustina is very different from most buildings in the Roman Forum because it is largely intact. The reason for this is that the building was used as church during the Middle Ages. This temple was built by Emperor Antonius who named it after his late wife Faustina, who was deified. After the Emperor’s death, it was renamed for both the Emperor and the Empress.
Next to the Temple of Antonius and Faustina is the Temple of Romulus. This temple, with its original bronze doors, was built by Emperor Maxentius and dedicated to his son Valerius Romulus, who was deified.
You’ll also find a scattering of decorative stone pieces lying around the Roman Forum. These pieces were once part of buildings, decorative columns, or portions of a decorative frieze (usually a horizontal band of sculpture at the top of a building). So many of these pieces are well-preserved.
Unfortunately, due to heat and fatigue, my tour of the Roman Forum was less than complete. There are plenty of other sights to see in the Forum like the Curia (the Senate house in Rome that you can go inside!), the Basilica of Maxentius/Constantine (we saw it but took no photos), the Temple of Venus and Rome, as well as Palatine Hill. Be sure to follow my tips below to avoid having to cut your tour short!
Whether or not you are touring on your own or in a group, it’s helpful to be able to see what the Roman Forum once looked like back in its glory. Near the Roman Forum, we purchased the book Rome Reconstructed by Guiliana Coletta, after our Colosseum tour guide used it for illustrative purposes. The book has illustrations on what the area/buildings looked like overlaid on current images. It’s similar to a children’s book in that there are holes and flaps on the pages. We found it very helpful to better imagine the sites as they were with the help of this book! The book includes info and pictures of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, as well as other historic sites. I included some photos below.
The Roman Forum offers up so much history from ancient Rome that it shouldn’t be missed. Just be sure to follow my tips and do a little bit of research to ensure a problem free visit!
Have you visited the Roman Forum? How’d you like it? Tell me about your experience in the comments!