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The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum was the spiritual and political heart of the Roman empire. In its heyday (which lasted hundreds of years) it was a collection of temples, monuments, markets, and public gathering places in which much of the city’s commerce and public life took place. The Forum Romanum (aka Roman Forum) was where business was done, Emperors honored, gods prayed to, and many a political reputation won and lost. The Forum was the center of civilization in the ancient world and remains the most famous civic center in history. These days it is a giant, jumbled monument to the past greatness of Rome as well as a living excavation site in where archeologists are still digging up the secrets of the past.

Pointing out a detail on the Arch of Titus.
Pointing out a detail on the Arch of Titus.
A view of the Roman Forum and Arch of Septimus Severus.
A view of the Roman Forum and Arch of Septimus Severus.
Detail from the under side of the Arch of Titus.
Detail from the under side of the Arch of Titus.
The Arch of Septimus Severus.
The Arch of Septimus Severus.
Pointing out a detail on the Arch of Titus.
A view of the Roman Forum and Arch of Septimus Severus.
Detail from the under side of the Arch of Titus.
The Arch of Septimus Severus.

What to See in the Roman Forum

The Arch of Titus

In the first century, A.D. Emperor Titus suddenly fell ill and died, leaving the way open for his younger brother, Domitian, to step into the role. Historians still debate whether or not Domitian had a hand in his brother’s mysterious illness so you can imagine what people were saying at the time. To head off any naysaying Domitian built a giant arch to commemorate his brother’s military victories on the edge of the forum. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s beautifully carved with relief scenes of Titus’ many military victories, including his famous siege of Jerusalem, and it became the model for all triumphal arches to come after it – including, most famously, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Slightly less famous but no less grand is the Arch of Septimius Severus which sits on the other side of the Forum Romanum.

The Via Sacra

Passing under the Arch of Titus and down the length of the Forum is the Via Sacra, essentially ancient Rome’s Main Street. It was built from large paving stones, some of which are still in place today, and ran from the Colosseum to the top of the Capitoline hill. Any ancient Roman from the history books would have come to the Forum to leave their mark on the city so to walk on these ancient stones today is to tread in the footsteps of Rome’s greatest emperors, academics, philosophers, and artists.

For more on famous Roman roads check out our blog on the Appian Way.

The Temple of Vesta

We won’t lie: there isn’t much of this temple left. But the handful of Corinthian columns still standing would have been part of a large, circular building marking the spot where once stood the home of one of Ancient Rome’s most interesting cults. This was the temple of the Vestal Virgins: women of (relatively) high standing in Roman society who were considered the mortal representatives of the hearth, home, and family goddess, Vesta. What did being a Vestal Virgin entail? For starters, 30 years of celibacy. Their daily jobs revolved around protecting sacred objects, performing public ceremonies, book-keeping for the state and, most importantly, maintaining the sacred fire that burned within the temple. This had a spiritual as well as utilitarian purpose because anyone in Rome was allowed to take a flame from the sacred fire if they had accidentally let the hearth go out at home. In return for their services the Vestals were allowed to own land (a rare right for women), considered VIPs wherever they went and allowed to marry after 30 years of service. The downside was that breaking their vow of celibacy meant death by being buried alive.

The Temple of Caesar

The Temple of Caesar is another ruin that might underwhelm until you know the history. Then it becomes larger than life. Two years after Julius Caesar was murdered by his fellow Roman Senators, they decided to deify him (Roman politics was a very mercurial business). This meant officially declaring him a God and beginning to worship him – the first such Roman citizen to receive the honor. Every god needs a temple and for their new god the people of Rome chose the spot upon which Julius Caesar had been cremated. Not enough of the temple remains to say much about its architecture but its consecration is recorded as a legendary celebration that featured the very first public displays of hippos and rhinos in Rome.

Peek into the Sewer

Of all the architectural marvels of ancient Rome, the Cloaca Maxima is arguably the most important and least appreciated. It was one of the world’s first large-scale sewer systems (its name literally means ‘”largest sewer”) and without it, there would have been no Roman Forum. When the first inhabitants came to Rome the area we now call the Forum was a mosquito-infested marsh. One of the first jobs of the Cloaca Maxima was to drain this and other low-lying areas, making them inhabitable and paving the way for more development. Perhaps most impressive of all, not only can you still peek into the Cloaca Maxima in the forum, it’s still working. That’s right – parts of Rome’s modern sewer system are still connected to the ancient drainage pipes of the Cloaca Maxima. Never has effluvia been more impressive.

Tips for Visiting the Roman Forum

Opening Times

The Roman Forum (like the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill) opens at 8:30am every day and always closes one hour before sunset, which means that the closing times vary throughout the year. It is closed on December 25th and January 1st. Below is the list of closing times according to the time of year as well as special holiday times:

from 8:30am to one hour before sunset (exceptions: Good Friday 8:30am – 2:00pm, June 2 1:30pm – 7:15pm):

8:30am – 4:30pm from January 2 to February 15

8:30am – 5:00pm from February 16 to March 15

8:30am – 5:30pm from March 16 to last Saturday of March

8:30am – 7:15pm from last Sunday of March to August 31

8:30am – 7:00pm from September 1 to September 30

8:30am – 6:30pm from October 1 to last Sunday of October

8:30am – 4:30pm from the last Sunday of October to December 31

Rules

Like many of the other famous Roman attractions, visitors can enter the Roman Forum with small bags and medium-sized backpacks. But any luggage, large backpacks, or bulky bags are strictly prohibited. In order to enter with a bag, you must open it and allow security to inspect it. Because of the security at the entrance, you should always arrive 30 minutes before the reservation time specified on your ticket.

There isn’t much in the way of plaques or supplementary info at the Roman Forum so if you want to really appreciate what you’re seeing, read up before hand, rent an audio guide, or go with a guided visit.

Remember that there is little shade in the Roman Forum and spring, summer, and early fall in Rome can be scorching. Use plenty of sunscreen and bring a good hat – it can be the difference between a little kiss of sun on your cheeks and a day laid up in the hotel from heat stroke.

How to Buy Roman Forum Tickets

You can buy Roman Forum tickets  on the day of your visit at the entrance to the Forum on Via Fori Imperiali. You can also buy your tickets at any of the nearby offices on the Via di San Gregorio, Largo Salara Vecchia, Piazza del Colosseo, or Via Sacra.

Pro tip: If you want to visit the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill together, the ticket office of the Forum usually has the smallest lines, so avoid the crowds at the Colosseum and buy your ticket for all three attractions there.

You can also buy Roman Forum tickets in advance at the website

To skip any lines and enjoy the presence of an expert guide, you can go with a guided Roman Forum tour that will buy all tickets in advance so you don’t have to worry about it.

The Best Time to Visit the Roman Forum

The off-season, October through April, is the least crowded time to visit the Forum but you risk the occasional storm. A normal rain shower won’t close the Forum but because it’s a low-lying outdoor attraction it is still prone to flooding (remember that it originally had to be drained so people could use it at all). Particularly adverse weather can and will close it for the day. You can generally count on good weather and larger crowds in the high season and for this reason booking your ticket in advance is especially important when visiting between May and October. Unlike the Colosseum, you don’t need to prepare for long entrance lines if you already have a ticket. The line into the Roman Forum is rarely long and always moves at a clip.

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