A EuroTraveler Guided Tour through the Roman Forum

Trip Start Sep 20, 2005
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Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Sunday, December 7, 2008

Now that we've traveled 2000 years back in time to the age of the Gladiators and when Rome ruled the civilized world, it's time to continue our journey and discover the center of civic and economic life, the Roman Forum.  Across the square from the Colosseum are the gates that lead to via Sacra or Sacred Way which is the ancient road that follows through the heart of the Roman Forum and stretches from the Colosseum to the Capitoline Hill.  You are surrounded by ancient and imposing remains of structures that at one time were the centers of life for all of the citizens of Rome.  Our travels will take us to a few of these ancient sites and as we tour, I will provide a little history and background on those mentioned.  
 
Before we made our way inside the gates of the Forum, I want to point the Arch of Constantine  that stands to the left as we exited the Colosseum square.  The arch was erected in 312 A.D. to commemorate Constantine's victory over his brother, Maxentius, at the battle at the Milvian Bridge.  It was during this battle over who would rule Rome that Constantine destroyed a bridge over the Tiber river while Maxentius and his armies were fleeing Constantine's army.  Needless to say, all on the bridge perished.  The arch shows reliefs depicting various scenes of the battle. [ Now, at the time we visited the Forum, there was no admission charge to enter however, times have changed.  I discuss those details at the end of my posting along with other tips to help you make the most of your time there.  
 

Once inside the gates of the forum and starting our journey along via Sacra, we passed under you second of the three arches known as the The Arch of Titus.  The Roman Senate constructed this arch after the death of the emperor in memory of his conquest of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. 
 
Further down via Sacra and up to the right, rises the remains of the Basilica di Massenzio (or di Constantino) begun by Constantine's brother, Maxentius, in 306 -312 AD who met his end as discussed above.  Today, only one side aisle of this imposing basilica remains but you can get a true sense of the magnitude of the place when you stand in the open field with the remains on your right, because at this point, you are standing in what was the central of three naves of the structure.  The building in its day was gargantuan!  Do not confuse this basilica as a place of worship because at the time, basilicas were constructed to house public meetings and this particular building was one of many in the Forum alone.  However, the architecture demonstrated here inspired the great architects of the Renaissance including Bramante's St. Peter's Basilica so basilicas were destined for religious significance after all.  Note that there are many guidebooks sold around the entrances to the ancient sites that show you the before's and after's of many of the ancient sites.  I strongly recommend them because it provides a glimpse of the current day remains overlaid by images of what these places looked like in their day.  Very cool!  
 
After exploring the basilica we headed back down the hill and to our right stands majestic columns that belong to the Temple of Antonius and Faustina.  The Emperor constructed this building in memory of his wife in 141 A.D. and today, it is one of the best preserved buildings in all the Forum.  During the middle ages, this building was converted into a church, San Lorenzo in Miranda.   

Due volte in una vita.....Just to digress for a bit, I must tell a story of incredible coincidence that took place at "Antoinette's Column."  What is the historical significance?  Well, during our first visit in 2005, we met a tour guide here just across the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, by the remains of an old column.  Her name was Antoinette and although we doubted her credentials as an authentic tour guide, we decided to hire her for an hour tour based on her incredibly vast knowledge of the Forum and her somewhat manic descriptions she imparted of every structure, every column, every statue and any other remains we happened upon.  She told us the history, the age (Imperial, Republic, etc.), the ruler of the time and so very much more.  Her knowledge was not only her passion but I believe an obsession.  For reference materials, she carried a little plastic bag with old books and scraps of papers to show us how life was and how the buildings looked in their day.  Actually, we believed she lived in the Forum because of her obsession.  In 2005, we paid her for her services and bid our farewell. 
 
When we came back during this visit, we thought how funny it would be if we ran into her again.  For the two days in Rome, Matthew searched high and low in the Forum in hopes of finding our Antoinette.  So, came the time for this visit and once inside the gates, we made our way to "Antoinette's Column" in hopes that we would meet up with her again.  Prior to this moment, Matthew was constantly asking all kinds of people if they knew Antoinette but no one did.  Suddenly, at the column, Matthew looked around and yelled out her name and as I turned around to see who he was talking to this time around, to my astonishment, there Antoinette was!  What an amazing coincidence!  What are the chances after a whole year had passed that we would run into her again?!  I simply couldn't believe my eyes!  She didn't remember us but it didn't matter, we told her we certainly remembered her though.  Although we didn't officially hire her for a tour this time around, we got one anyway so we gave her money and bought her a guidebook to replace some of the same scraps she still carried around in her little plastic bag.  And, I must say that she did look so much more cleaned up this time.  I guess her tour guide business was paying off.  That column will always be known to us as "Antoinette's Column". God Bless her!  
 
Now, back to our tour.   After Antonius and Faustina, we made our way to the remains of the Temple of Vesta, the home of the Vestal Virgins who guarded the sacred flame.  The building dates back to 8th century B.C. and was originally built to guard the Palladium and other sacred objects brought to Italy by Aeneas.  Six virgins were selected to live here and if one of them let the flame burn out, she was buried alive.   


Continuing our way down via Sacra, we happened upon the remains of the Temple of Caesar, built by Octavian in memory of his uncle, and the  Temple of Castor and Pollux built in 484 B.C. The three Corinthian columns (refer to the Colosseum posting for more information about column design) are from the 1st of 2nd century A.D. Further down on the left is the Temple of Saturn on the left and the Curia Julia or Senate Building  on the right.  The green doors on the fašade are replicas because the original doors now adorn the San Giovanni in Laterano basilica mentioned in my Hidden Treasures posting.  

Finally, at the end of via Sacra, stands the third and final in the series of the Roman Forum arches, The Arch of Septimius Severus for the Emperor who ruled in 193-211 A.D.  

 
Up the hill on the right is the exit to Capitoline Hill where you can find Romulus and Remus standing tall in the piazza designed by Michelangelo. 
 
So this wraps our tour of the Forum.  Now some tips.  When you add the Roman Forum to your Roman Holiday itinerary, be sure to take along a guide book or purchase one there, or better yet, hire a tour guide so you can appreciate the structures and understand the roles they played so long, long ago.  Lots of guidebooks are available at the Colosseum as well as the entrance to the Forum.
 
Also, in March 2008, the city of Rome closed the Forum to the public and now charges admission to fund ongoing restoration efforts, a very worthy cause.  You can purchase a combo ticket that includes access to both the Colosseum and Forum and depending on the exchange rate; the tickets usually cost approximately US $17-$18.   I strongly urge you to pre-purchase your tickets online before you go because the queues can usually grow quite long for the Colosseum.  Believe me.  When we toured a couple of years ago, we waited for about half an hour.  
 
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