There is a small ruin in the Forum that you almost miss. It consists of fragmented marble, toppled columns and creeping plants. It looks no different from a hundred ruins all around it. But it is - for this tiny patch of ground is the Imperial Rostra. The Rostra which once was at the heart of the Forum and where Mark Anthony gave the funeral oration for Julius Ceasar, Cicero lampooned his political enemies and the heart of the ancient world was governed. That is what is so fantastic about The Roman Forum - even the smallest of ruins are important. Columns that would be pride of place in any national museum are simply littered around. And the towering columns, ruined walls and crumbling basilica's form one of most spectacular city attractions in the world. At the top of each visitors wish-list should be the Forum.
The Forum still lies at the centre of Rome. It now forms an archealogical park that extends over a 1/4 mile from Piazza Venezia in the north to the Colosseum in the south. The west it is bordered by the Palatine and Capitoline hills and to the east is the grand Via dei Fori Imperiale which is closed to traffic on Sundays and seperates the Forum from Trajans markets and column. It is now free and Romans use it as a cut-through on their journey's across Rome (just as they did in its heyday). There are five entrances of which I think the one to the south from the Colossum is the most impressive as you walk on huge ancient flagstones and enter the Forum through the epic Arch of Titus.
One important note is bring a good guidebook. The ruins, and there are a lot of them, are not labelled and you will not know what you are looking at. TIME OUT and ROUGH GUIDE have excellent maps and descriptions in their books. But best of all is attach yourself to a guided tour. These cost about 8,000 lira and can really bring the Forum to life. When the guide brings himself to a crescendo on the murder of Ceasar and you can envisage it yourself then you know it is money well spent.
We approached from the south where the Arch of Titus stands guard. From here you get sweeping views of the Forum (see photo). To the left are a myriad of red broken walls and ruins sweeping up to the Palatine hill. Ahead was a great open mass of arched columns, baroque domes, broken basilica's, pine and palm trees and hundreds and hundreds of ruins. It was difficult to know where to start. The scale of the place is amazing - I did not expect it to be so big; the abandoned temples and ruins dwarfed people. You could house a thousand tourists in the Forum easily. The Forum was the great marketplace, political meeting point and place of worship for the Roman Empire. Every deity had a temple here and citizens would pass this way to worship at the temple of Castor and Pollux, buy ingredients at the marketplace or vote or debate at the Senate house (Curia). All classes mixed in the Forum from Vestal virgins to the lowliest Numidian slave. You are standing at one of the centres of the world...
The Arch of Titus is probably the best place to start(see photo)and is older then the Arch of Constantine outside (we debated whether this Arch inspired all the other Arches around the world - Marble Arch in London? the Arch de Triomphe in Paris?)And the relief's of Titus' sack of Jerusalem looked well preserved. The Forum can get very hot so take advantage of the foutains that are strategically placed around and if you follow the dusty trail from the Arch it leads to the russet-red Basilica of Maxentius built to deify Constantine. The temple was vast but the octagonal ceiling was still intact. Next door was the temple of Romulus which was in a wonderful state of preservation and very byzantine looking. Another spectacular temple followed - the Temple of Antonius and Fausta. Still in a near intact state of preservation with a cracked marble portico.
The foundations of the counting house and temple of the Basilica Emilia were next door. But the most famous building in the Forum - the Curia - pulled in most of the crowds. This was where the Senate met and must be one of the most historic buildings in the world. I was surprised how small it was - how could it have held all those hundreds of senators?. At the northern end of the Forum are the most spectacular ruins - the Arch of Septimus Serverus, the Temple of Saturn and the Column of Phocas. I could not get over the size of these columns - you could easily stand on one of them with room to spare. After the immense ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux you have completed a circle of the Forum. There is the house of the Vestal virgins nudging onto the Palatine hill nearby. This was closed for excavations though I did glimpse the white marble statues in the garden. If a vestal broke her vows of chastity she was buried alive. Somehow I don't think they'd get many takers nowadays.