The history of the Roman Forum: the centre of the Ancient World

The Roman Forum was the hub of commerce and trade in the Ancient World and has been dubbed the most celebrated meeting place in the world – and indeed in all history. The Roman Forum developed over many centuries in the valley between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills and was originally a sodden marsh until it was drained into the River Tiber. Funny to think that one of the most important and powerful Empires was founded on swampland! According to tradition, the Forum was founded as a result of the conciliation of two rivals, Romulus (founder of Rome) who ruled the Palatine Hill, and his nemesis Titus Tatius, who controlled the Capitoline Hill. Their original Forum was used as an open air market place but it was the Comitium which later held public speeches, civic trials and assemblies; driving the Forum into a different politically charged space. Later, in the Republican era, the Senate wanted to expand the Forum's piazza and so purchased private property to turn it into public use. From the 5th century BC, the first temples were constructed – namely the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Castor and Pollux, as well as the Temple of Concord in the century later, expanding the growing central hub of Ancient Rome. The earliest basilicas were introduced into the Forum in 184 BC which began the process of ‘monumentalizing’ the site. The first basilica to be added to the Roman Forum was the Basilica Fulvia at the north side of the square in 179 BC; nine years later the Basilica Sempronia was constructed on the south side. As the Forum developed with more public buildings and monuments, slowly the public gatherings and important political celebrations that were held in the Comitium moved into the Forum – such as the popular comitia tribute assemblies, funerals of Roman nobility and popular games. It was during the reign of Sulla that major work was undertaken on the Forum including the laying of marble stones – raising the plaza level by almost a metre – how we see it today. In 63 BC Cicero delivered his famous speech to the conspirator Catiline in the Forum. But it was the oration given at Caesar’s funeral – which you’ll recognise from Shakespeare’s play – delivered at the speaker’s podium, the New Rostra, that was probably the most significant and memorable event that has lived in history. The burning of Caesar’s body then took place in the site where the Temple to the Defied Caesar now stands, built by the Emperor’s great-nephew Octavius, aka, Augustus. It was Augustus who later gave the Roman Forum its final form; adding the Temple of Divus Iulius and the Arch of Augustus in 29 BC. Jumping ahead to the medieval era in the 6th century (AD), some of the monuments within the Roman Forum were turned into Christian churches. By the 8th century the whole Forum was filled with these new religious buildings, transforming abandoned and ruined temples into Christian shrines. It was during this time that travellers to Rome noted that the Roman Forum was already falling apart and although the memory of its former glory lasted, the once powerful imperial site was now referred to as Campo Vaccino – meaning cattle field – as it was falling into disuse, ruin and under layers of years of debris. It was also during this period that builders and architects dismantled the surviving buildings to use the original material for the construction of towers and castles in the local area. Later on in the 13th century, the Roman Forum was used as a dumping ground for old medieval buildings – and the Roman practice of building new neighbourhoods over old ruins meant the old Roman Forum was almost nowhere to be seen, with a significant rise in ground level. It wasn’t until the 18th century that any type of excavation work really began thanks to the early efforts to recreate the outline of the Roman Forum by artists in the late 15th century, later supported and completed by antiquaries. Excavation and restoration was only really first attempted in 1803 by Carlos Fea, who began clearing debris from the Arch of Septimus Severus. Archaelogists under Napoleon’s regime then helped carried on his work, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Roman Forum was fully excavated! So when you know the history of the Roman Forum, you can appreciate the history and change that the Roman Forum has witnessed over these thousands of years. Just think about it, the marble and cobbled paths and streets that you walk through are at the real level at which it stood during the Imperial period - now that should make you stop and think. With the OMNIA Card you can discover the ancient world of the Roman Forum for free. You can even skip the queues and jump straight to the front and explore the centre of Empires past. If you want to visit the Forum Museum, to discover more of the ancient world and Roman Forum, including ancient artifacts and old sculptures,, show the OMNIA Card to the ticket staff and you can get free and fast track entry to the Coliseum and museum included as well. It’s your answer to the best sightseeing experience in Rome!

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