Walking through the Roman Forum is a truly special experience. One treads where caesars once walked, where vestal virgins kept sacred fires burning, where senators politicked, where shop owners hawked their wares, where prostitutes boasted of their bawdy talents, and where hustlers swindled. After all, the Roman Forum was the heart of political, legal, religious, and commercial life. To roam down the via Sacra (the Sacred Way) is to step back in time. Although the colorful marbles that once adorned the buildings have long been stripped away by vandals and the Vatican, a white-washed ghostly imprint of Rome’s center still exists.
Every time I walk through the Roman Forum, I imagine how impressive the buildings would have looked in their heyday. Many were quite monumental, soaring high and showing Roman architectural prowess. Triumphal arches were intricately carved to recount military achievements. Temples to various gods punctuated the landscape. Legal buildings were a stone’s throw from market stalls. As crowded as the Roman Forum can seem today, it boggles the mind to think of how it must have looked when these edifices were in their glory and not merely fragments. As one shuffles along the via Sacra with scores of other history buffs, you get the sense of how crowded it would have been during the Republican or Imperial era.
Some of the archaeological remains that can still be seen are:
- Tabularium (seat of the archives)
- Arch of Titus (shows Titus’ siege of Jerusalem and the spoils of that war–look for the depiction of the golden Menorah that was seized)
- Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine (this huge space with gigantic arches would have been used for a variety of public functions)
- Temple of Antoninus and Faustina (thanks to its later use as a Catholic church this temple is still quite intact)
- Temple of Vesta (near the remnants of the House of the Vestal Virgins)
- Temple of Julius Caesar (people still lay flowers here to commemorate the former ruler)
- Curia (Senate meeting house)
- Rostra (large platform where speakers could deliver orations)
- Arch of Septimius Severus (chronicles the Parthian victories)
- Temple of Saturn (little left standing except for what was basically the front porch, but the Greek columns are impressive)
I recommend getting there earlier if you can, especially if you’re visiting Rome during the warm spring and summer months. If you’re not going on a tour, you may want to purchase a guidebook that shows the forum as it presently stands and provides overlays that allow you to envision what it would have looked like intact. With such a picture book, you can see how vividly-colored the buildings were, how tall they stood, and how close they were to one another. The Roman Forum is a Rome attraction that should not be missed. To wonder through an archaeological site as important as the Foro Romano is a touching experience. Its remnants remind of us of the greatness of humankind, while the fact that Rome fell warns us to not make the same mistakes. A walk through the Roman Forum both humbles and empowers—it is truly one of the best things to do in Rome.
How to get in: the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum are all on one ticket. You have two days to visit all three sites (one visit per site), but must visit Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum at the same time. At the time of publication, tickets were 12€ for all three sites. You can book Roman Forum tickets online for a slight additional fee. If you do not, I would recommend using the Palatine Hill entrance as your purchase location since it generally has the least amount of traffic. By all means, do not try to get tickets at the Colosseum first–the line at that ticket office can be hours-long. Also, the Roma Pass might be a good value since a 72 hour pass is 38.50€ and includes admission to two sites on the circuit and free public transportation (Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill only count as one site). A tour can provide skip-the-line access and a great overview of the site’s history.
Taking a tour: We’ve visited the Roman Forum independently several times, but really enjoyed The Roman Guy (now the Tour Guy) tour we took. Our guide really helped place the ruins in context. If you go, you can save 5% on many of The Tour Guy’s small-group tours with our link. If a tour isn’t your style, I would recommend downloading Rick Steves Audio Europe app and his tour of the Roman Forum (free). There is a map of the Forum on his app (and here); Steves provides a good overview of the history of the area and brings alive major points of interest along the way.
What to bring: comfortable walking shoes and a bottle of water.
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