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The Imperial Fora of Rome: The Forum of Trajan

 

The Imperal Forums.docx

The Roman Imperial Forums at the height of the Empire. Art from Wikipedia.

 

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

As I walked along the Via dei Fori Imperiali past what remains of the Forums of Augustus and Nerva toward the Piazza Venezia I see more ruins: a space littered with broken and fallen columns, a curved high wall, and a tall Imperial column. This is all that’s left of the last and most immense complex of all the Imperial Forums to be built by any of the ancient Roman emperors, the Forum of Trajan.
The history of this forum begins not with the Emperor Trajan but with one of his predecessors, Domitian. At that time in Rome a new city center was growing north of the Forum at the Campus Marius. Domitian saw that his forum could be the connector to this new center and the old. The most logical site to build his forum to complete his purpose was the vacant land between the Capitoline and Quirinal Hills. The problem was that there was a small saddle hill between these two hills that needed to be leveled. To accomplish this project it would require moving more earth than what Julius Caesar had to move when building his forum.
So extensive was this leveling that it hadn’t been finished at the time Domitian was murdered in 96 AD. This undertaking was so difficult that Domitian’s successor Nerva abandoned the site, selecting the already level street between the forums of Augustus and Vespasian for his forum (see my post on the Forum of Neva). It would be the more ambitious Emperor Trajan who would finish the leveling and to build his forum on this site.

The Imperial Forum of Trajan

The ruins of what remains of Trajan’s Forum today. Photo from Wikipedia

Trajan began construction on his forum in around 112 AD, using the spoils he had acquired from his conquest of Dacia (todays Romania). Trajan commissioned his favored architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, to do the design and building. Apollodorus had also built two triumphal arches for Trajan and is credited as being the finishing architect on the Pantheon, the one we see today.

 

Trajan's Market

The supporting wall today known as Trajan’s Market. Photo from Wikipedia.

When removing the saddle hill Apollodorus found that the eastern side of the forum ran right up to the high rock face created when they cut into the Quirinal Hill. This unstable face was three stores high and needed to be reinforced. Apollodours solved this issue by including the cliff side into his design. He built an enormous hemicycle brick-faced complex up against the cliff side that completely covered and supported the hills from collapsing. This structure held offices, halls and other commercial usages. There were two wide hallways that ran between the complex against the cliff and the main forum buildings. Today this wall complex is referred to as Trajan’s Markets, however archaeological evidence does not support that this was ever used as a traditional marketplace.
As with all Roman forum designs the main area of Trajan’s Forum consisted of an enormous open interior square that at its center stood a large equestrian statue of the Emperor. This square was surrounded by columned porticoes, with the western and eastern sides being curved. The porticos on the long side featured statues and reliefs of Trajan’s conquests as well as portraits of previous emperors and Trajan’s family.
On the north side of the square stood the Basilica Ulpia. Ancient Roman basilicas were not used for religious purposes, as later Christian basilicas. Roman basilicas were places that housed the offices for the administration of justice, commerce, and also where the Emperors conducted their business.

The ruins of the Forum of

What remains of the columns of the Basilica Ulpia. The base of Trajan’s Column is in the right foreground. Photo by the author.

 

 

Trajan’s basilica was the largest ever built in ancient Roman, measuring 385 feet by 182 feet. Its columns and walls where made of marble and measured 164 feet high, and its roof was made of gilded bronze tiles. As you entered the basilica from the forum’s great square you’d come into its center great nave surround by four columned aisles. On each of the basilica’s sides were libraries, one in Greek and the other in Latin. Those entering or leaving the forum by its main entrance on the north side would have been greeted by the magnificent Column of Trajan.

Trajan's Column

Trajan’s Column today. Photo by the author

Trajan’s Column is the best preserved of the ancient Roman victory columns. It was inaugurated at the same time as Trajan’s Forum in 113 AD. Including its base the column stands 115 feet high. The column is constructed by a series of twenty Carrara marble drums 12.1 feet in diameter and weighing 32 tons. The columns famous frieze, depicting the Roman’s battle with the Dacian’s, wraps up and around the total height of the column, it would measure 620 feet long if stretched out. The columns capital block weights 53.3 tons and had to be lifted the 112 feet to its top, no simple feat for the ancient Roman builders. When it was inaugurated the column was crowned with a statue of Trajan, but this statue vanished sometime in the middle ages. Today a statue of St. Peter sits atop the column, placed there by Pope Sixtus V in 1587.
Here are a couple of facts you may not know about Trajan’s Column: the column is hallow and features a 182 step spiral staircase going up to a viewing platform at the top. Ancient Romans could get a tremendous view of the city and its forums from there. Access to the stairs was through a door in its base. The climb was illuminated by forty window slits along its height that provided sunlight for those climbing up. Also Trajan’s Column was the first ever recorded usage of a spiral staircase. This was a fact that I didn’t know when I visited. I have a passion for these staircases, so without knowing I was looking at the very first spiral staircase in the world.

 

 

The base of Trajan's column

The base of Trajan’s Column which it is said to have held the emperors ashes. The door leading to the spiral stairs are on the opposite side. Photo by the author.

Also after Trajan died, and was deified by the Roman Senate, his ashes were place in a gold urn and entombed in the columns base.
The magnificence of Trajan’s Forum lasted long after the empire had divided. In 352 Ad, on his first visit to Rome, Eastern Roman Emperor Constantius II remarked of the beauty of equestrian statue of Trajan in the center of the forum. he said that he would like one like that made of him. With him on this visit was the Persian prince Hormisdas, who quipped, “But first, my lord, you have to build a stable to match this, if you can.”
Again, Mussolini’s Via dei Fori Imperiali has paved over most of Trajan’s, and Apollodorus of Damascmus, magnificent accomplishments.

 

 

The Forum of Trajan with todays streets

Where Trajan’s Forum stood with todays streets. Art from Wikipedia

 

I’ve included a drawing from Wikipedia showing the streets of Rome with what was Trajan’s Forum overlaid on it. Today you can still see Trajan’s Column, Basilica columns and the wall of Trajan’s Market, but not the sight that Constantius and Hormisdas witnessed.

 

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The author standing on the closed Via dei For a Imperiali near the Colosseum.

Besides having covered much of the Imperial Fora with the busy four-lane Via dei Fori Imperiali the heavy trucks, their vibrations, and exhaust fumes continue to threaten what is left of the glory of Rome. However there are groups of citizens, archeologist and scientists who are trying to convince Rome’s city government to undo what Mussolini did and remove the road. And although nothing major has happened to correct these problems Mayor Ignazio Marino of Roma did close the southern section of this road by the Colosseum to motor vehicles in 2013.

 
This ends by posts of the Imperial Forums, but not the Roman Forum itself. My next post will be, Where was Julius Caesar murdered?

 

 

 

 

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The Imperial Fora of Rome: Emperors Vespasian and Nerva

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

In my previous post I stated that when Mussolini built the wide Via dei Fori Imperial he paved over almost 84% of the five Imperial Forums. The two that were most affected by this were those of the Emperors Vespasian and Nerva. When looking for where those two forums stood you need to go to the corners where the Via Cavour and the Largo Corrado Ricci joins into the Via dei Fori Imperial. It is there, on each of the Via dei Fori Imperial, that you’ll find what remains of these two Imperial Forums.
We will begin our search for these two Imperial Fora with…

 

The Forum of Vespasian, or the Temple of Peace

Temple of Peace

The façade of the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano.   with the holes from which the Forma Urbis Romae hung.

Vespasian had already begun construction on his other grand building projects, such the Flavian Amphitheater, todays Colosseum, when he decided in 75 AD to build a grand showcase to show off all his booty taken from the Jewish Temple of Herod in Jerusalem. It is believed that one of those items was the temple’s magnificent Menorah.
Unlike Caesar and Augustus, Vespasian didn’t start off to build a traditional forum; he never designed it to have a civic function as a true forum would. For him it would only be a place for him to exhibit the spoils from his Jewish War. Because he had no desire to construct a forum he called it, the Temple of Peace. It wasn’t until much later when the Imperial Fora’s were being classified that it become known as the Forum of Vespasian.
The site chosen by Vespasian was just to the south of the forums of Caesar and Augustus next to the main entranceway that connected the Roman Forum with the Subura district. His Temple of Peace was designed completely different than any of the others with a large apsidal hall at the bottom of the portico, with a row of columns separating the portico from the temple building itself. Also its plaza was not paved, rather filled with gardens, pools and statues.
The temple building faced Rome’s Velian Hill and the Colosseum. Another lost feature of the Temple of Peace was the Forma Urbis Romae, a map of ancient Rome on a giant marble slab hung from one of its walls. This wall is now the façade of the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano. You can still see the mounting holes from which that map hung.
The Forum of Nerva, the Transitorium

The Temple of Minerva in the Forum of Nerva

What remains of the Temple of Minerva from the Forum of Nerva

Taking the area of the main entryway to the Rome Forum from the Subura, the street between the Vespasian, Augustus and Caesar forums, Emperor Domitian used this location to build his forum. Domitian began construction at around 85 AD; but like Caesar’s it would be left to his successor to be finished, the Emperor Nerva in 97 AD.
However unlike Caesar’s Forum, which retained his name, Domitian’s forum was officially named the Forum of Nerva after the emperor who completed it.
The long and narrow passageway that the forum occupied was the ancient Roman street, the Via Argiletum. Along it housed the shops of booksellers and cobblers. The Forum of Nerva would become the new monumental entrance to the Roman Forum. Also with its location between the other forums Romans citizens now had easy access to all of them though the Forum of Nerva, and because this unifying design it was popularly called the Transitorium.
The Forum of Nerva was almost 430 feet long by 148 feet wide, making it the smallest Imperial Forum. It featured protruding columns along its walls instead of an arcade. On the eastern end of the forum, behind its monumental entrance, was the Temple of Minerva. This temple remained intact until 1606 AD, when Pope Paul V demolished it for building materials for the Acqua Paola fountain and the Borghese chapel.
Today there’s not much left of these great temples and gathering places to be seen. They’ve become lost and almost invisible from all the commercial buildings and traffic that engulfs them. But if you take the time to seek them out you’ll be rewarded.

 

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The Imperial Fora of Rome: Julius and Augustus Caesar

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

When I visited the Roman Forum I had no idea that there were other forums separate from the main forum, each with their own unique histories. I couldn’t imagine that there were other magnificent forums buried right under my feet as I walked along the Via dei Fori Imperial from the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. In fact there are five separate forums built between 46 BC and 113 AD, by ancient Rome’s most famous emperors, that are today almost hidden that make up what is referred to as the Imperial Foras.
Sadly, when the fascist dictator Mussolini built the wide Via dei Fori Imperial he paved over almost 84% of the forums of the emperors Nerva and Trajan and severely dividing the other others to make this road, all so that he’d have a clear view of the Colosseum from his office window.
So what is the history of these forums, what did they look like, why were they built, and what can been seen of them today?
To answer these questions we need to go back to the end of the Republican era of Rome, and the reign of Julius Caesar. So join with me now to rediscover the Imperial Fora, beginning with…

 

The Forum of Caesar

 

The ruins of the Forum of Caesar

The Forum of Caesar as seen today. The forum’s open plaza is in the foreground, the colonnade can be seen in the background, and in the back center is what remains of the Temple of Venus.

As you walk along the west side of the Via dei Fora Imperial just south of the Via di San Pietro in Carcera you’ll notice behind the Curia Julia rows of smaller columns and a section of three taller columns connected with a capital. At first you’d think that these are just more of the main Roman Forum, but there not. They are actually what remain of a later and completely separate forum, the Forum of Julius Caesar. This was the first of the Imperial Fora.

 

The ruins of the Temple of Venus of Genetrix

These three columns are what remain of the Temple of Venus in the Form of Caesar. 

 

As Rome grew its original forum became over crowed with new and larger government buildings and temples. Soon the forums purpose as a marketplace and gathering plaza for its citizens became lost. Seeing this Julius Caesar decided to construct a large forum bearing his name next to the exciting forum.
Caesar meant for his forum to be an extension to the original Roman Forum so he chose its site to be at the base of the Capitol Hill and behind his Curia Julia, the Senate House. Caesar began construction at around 46 BC, purchasing a large number of houses that were located on the proposed site. Also vast amounts of earth had to be moved to level the area for its open plaza and temple. To pay for this Caesar used the spoils from his Galli Wars for its construction.
The design of the Forum of Caesar was a large rectangle with a paired colonnade (these are the smaller columns seen) running along the east, south and west sides of the open plaza. At the north end sat the crown jewel of his forum, the Temple of Venus Genetrix (its remains are the taller columns with the capital) who he believed he was descended from. Within the temple were statues of the goddess Venus, Caesar and also one of the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. The temple and forum were inaugurated in September of 46 BC, but was most likely it was not finished when he was assassinated in 44 BC. Completion fell to his adopted son, and the first emperor of Rome, Augustus Caesar.

 
If you look across the Via dei Fora Imperial from the Forum of Caesar on the north corner where the Via Cavour comes in you’ll see what is left of the Forum of Augustus, the second of the Imperial Fora to be built.

The Forum of Augustus

 

Forum_of_Augustus_drawing

The Forum of Augustus and its Temple of Mars as it was in ancient Rome.

After completing the building projects started by Julius Caesar in the Roman Forum and also finishing the Form of Caesar August turned to the building of his own forum. After Augustus had defeated Brutus and Cassius, two of the murderers of Caesar, at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, he vowed to build a temple to honor the Roman war god Mars. This temple he would make the centerpiece of his own forum.
It would take over forty years for the Forum of Augustus to be completed due to postponements because of Roman politics. The still uncompleted forum and temple was finally inaugurated in 2 BC.

 

 

Forum of Augustus

What is left today of the Temple of Mars in the Forum of Augustus. 

Augustus also built his forum in the traditional rectangle design, and had it run adjacent and at a right angle to the Forum of Caesar. It consisted of an open plaza surrounded by a colonnade that included a most unique feature, two large covered hemicycles on each side with a double columned portico and niches on the back wall. These niches held statues of famous Roman leaders and of Augustus’ ancestors. Some of the inscriptions that were below those statues can still be seen and read.
At the back of the forum was a tall wall that still exists. This wall separated the Forum of Augustus from Rome’s Suburra district, a neighborhood that you wouldn’t want to venture at night. This wall also acted as a firebreak to protect the forum from the all too frequent fires that broke out in the Suburra.

 

In front of the wall was the location of the temple to Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger). This temple was built entirely of Carrara marble, with eight columns along the front and both sides. It is said that one its rooms held Caesar’s sword and his legions standards that had been recovered by Augustus from the Parthians. Standing in front of the temple was a forty-five foot tall statue the Emperor Augustus.

With the additions of the forums of Caesar and Augustus Rome’s city center had expanded nicely to fit its needs then. But soon Rome would need to grow again and there were emperors also ready then to make their marks with their own forums.

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The Roman Forum, Part II – A walking exploration

 

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The Forum Romanum looking north from the Arch of Titus

 

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

I really had no idea how much there was to see at the Roman Forum. And how much of our western traditions and government had begun in that valley. I was really unprepared for what was laid out before me as I walked its ancient streets. Luckily I had taken a lot of photos so that when I got home I was able to read up on the history of what I had seen so that I can now share that with you. However in a few cases I didn’t have a good photo of what I considered an important building or temple, in those cases I’ll identify where the photo I posted came from.So walk with me now as we explore the Forum Romanum.

 

The Temple of Venus and Rome

 

the-temple-of-venus-and-rome-across-from-the-colosseum

The remaining columns of the Temple of Venus and Rome. The largest temple in Rome in its time.

 

At the southern end of the Forum you’ll see a set of columns sitting above street level across from the Colosseum. These are what remain of the Temple of Venus and Rome.

The Temple of Venus and Rome is believed to have been the largest temple in ancient Rome. It was dedicated to the divine Julian family (which traced its legendary beginnings to the goddess Venus) and to the Imperial City of Rome. Construction begun in 135 AD by the emperor Hadrian and completed by his successor, Emperor Antonius Pius in 141 AD.

This temple was constructed on top of the largest man-made podium of its time. On the temple’s two longer sides were two columned porticos running along it. Its southern end faced the Colosseum and the northern the Forum. Both the north and the south ends featured long stairways going down to the streets across from the Colosseum and to the Forum. Inside the temple were a statue of Venus, which faced out toward the Colosseum, and a statue representing Rome facing the Forum.

To build this temple Hadrian had to remove what remained of the vestibule of Nero’s Golden House. Even the gigantic statue “The Colossus of Nero” had to be relocated to make room for it. It was written that it took twenty-four elephants to move the Colossus. Coupled with the impressive Colosseum, the Colossus of Nero, and the Temple of Venus and Rome the Colossus Square must have been spectacular to see.

As with many of the building in the Forum the Temple of Venus and Rome suffered by being stripped of its marble and stone for use in other buildings. Earthquakes and fire also helped with its destruction. It was an earthquake in the ninth century that finally destroyed what was left of the temple. The first Christian church to be built on the temple’s ruins was in 850 AD, it was then rebuilt in 1612 as the Church Santa Francesca Romana.

Today the terrace of the temple has been restored, and is open to the public.

To get into the Roman Forum proper from the south you enter off the Great Square of the Colosseum and walk up the Via Sacra. The Via Sacra was the main road through the ancient Forum. In the distance as you walk you’ll see our first stop, the Arch of Titus.

The Arch of Titus

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The Arch of Titus 

The Arch of Titus is the oldest of the tree surviving triumphal arches in Rome. It stands on the highest spot of the Via Sacra, and being over 50 feet in height it gives a commanding presence to the Roman Forum below. Dedicated in 85 AD by Emperor Domitian, in honor to his brother Emperor Titus who died in 81 AD. The arch commemorates Titus’ victory in the Jewish Revolt. In that war the city of Jerusalem was captured and the revolt finally crushed with the fall of the Masada fortress in 72 AD.

The reliefs on the arch depict the emperor’s triumphal procession into Rome with the spoils taken in that war. These reliefs were originally in color and the arch was topped with a bronze quadriga when it was first dedicated.

What helped preserve the Arch of Titus is that it was made part of the fortress of the Frangipani family in the eleventh century. You’ll notice that some of stone of the arch has different shades to it. This is because when Giuseppe Valadier worked on restoring this arch, between 1821 and 1823, he used travertine to replace the missing sections instead of marble to distinguish what was replaced from that of the original marble.

Palatine Hill

the-palatino-as-seen-from-the-forum

The ruins on Palatine Hill as  seen from the Forum

As you pass by the Arch you’ll see ruins on the left going up the side of a hill, and what looks like restored building on its top. This is the Palatine Hill, the legendary birthplace of Rome. Remains of bronze-age huts have been found on the hill, which gives proof that the hill had been inhabited from a very early time. But what’s really historical about these ruins you see are that they are what remain of the palaces of the first Roman emperors.

The first emperor to have his residence on Palatine Hill was Augustus Caesar in 44 AD. But it was his successor, the Emperor Tiberius, who would build a true imperial palace. The following emperors, Caligula, Claudius and Nero would continue to expand the complex.

Palatine Hills was another area that if I had done a little more researching for our visit I would have made time to explore it. As it was there was a lot more in the Forum itself to see.

The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina 

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The columns from the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

After you have walked down the dirt incline to the excavated Imperial level of Forum the first impressive structure you see on your right is the remains of the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. What grabs your attention is that it seems to be two building in one, and you would be a correct in that assumption. This is another example of the medieval usage of a foundation from a ruined Roman temple for a Christian Church.

 

closeup-of-the-temple-of-antoninus-and-faustina-showing-how-high-the-church-door-is

Notice how high the bottom of the church’s green door is, that was ground level before being excavated.

 

The church building behind the columns is the twelfth century church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. The building you see today is from when the church was rebuilt in 1601. If you look closely at the temple’s remaining columns you can see grooves where they tried and tear them down to build the church.

In the close-up photo notice how high the church’s door is from the temple’s base. That was the level of the ground before the Forum was excavated.

The Temple of Caster and Pollux

the-temple-of-castor-and-pollux

“The Three Sisters”

Not too far from the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, on the opposite side of the Forum, are the three remaining columns of the Temple of Caster and Pollux. This temple was one of the first to be built in the Forum. The first temple is believed to have been constructed in 484 BC by the pre-republic dictator Postumius, to honor the mythological twin brothers that legend says helped Roman to defect the Tarquin Kings. The ruins seen today are of the temple rebuilt by Emperor Tiberius in the first century AD. These three columns are popularly known as “The Three Sisters.”

The Basilica Julia basilica-julie

If you turn around and face north from the Temple of Caster and Pollux you’ll see a large open area with the stumps of column bases in rows, and ruined brick walls at its north end. This is what remains of the large Basilica Julia. Constructed by Julius Caesar in 54 AD, it was the main government building that housed the seat of the Centumviri. This was the people’s court in the time of Imperial Roman. The original building was destroyed by fire in 9 BC, and then rebuilt in 2 AD. In its day it measured over 331 feet long and almost 161 feet wide. Today it is but a field of rubble.

the-ruins-of-the-basilica-julia

The Temple of Saturn the-temple-of-saturn

When you see travel brochures and photos of the Roman Forum they most likely will feature the columns of the Temple of Saturn. The Temple of Saturn was the first temple built on the Forum. Although there is some question as to the exact date that it was constructed it is thought to be at around 497 BC. This temple was also used as the treasury for the Roman Republic, and where the standards of its legions were kept.

As with most of the temples and building of the Forum this one was also rebuilt. The ruins today are those of the temple of 42 BC. It was in front of this temple that you’ll find the base of Augustus’ column Miliarium Aureum or Golden Milestone, which marked the center of Rome, and from were all roads lead from.   

The Arch of Septimius Severus the-arch-of-septimius-severus-built-in-203-adIn front of the Temple of Saturn stands the magnificent Arch of Septimius Severus. This triumphal arch is the best preserved of the three arches in the Forum. Constructed by the Roman Senate in 203 AD to honor the Emperor Septimius Severus,and his sons Caracalla and Geta, on their victories over the Parthians, what is now Romania.

This arch stands 75 feet high and 82 feet wide, and is unique in that it has three arched passages. The larger center passage is a little over 39 feet in height, with the two side passages at around 23 feet high. When it was first constructed there was a flight of stairs going through the central passage. Made of marble it features four deep reliefs representing scenes of the Parthian war. At the top in the center of the arch is a large relief of Mars, the god of war. There were two statues of winged Victory on each side that are now lost to history. You can still read the inscription on the arch that says, “Dedicated to Septimius Severus and his sons.” As with the Arch of Titus this was also topped with a bronze quadriga, this one with statues of the Septimius and his two sons. However after Emperor Severus death Caracalla, who didn’t want to share the power with his brother, had Geta killed and removed his name and image from the arch.

The arch is in very good condition because it was incorporated into a Christian Church in the middle ages. Even after the church moved it continued to protect the arch from being stripped of its stone and marble.

The Via Sacra was the main route of the triumphant parades of the victorious generals and emperors. They would start at the southern end of the Forum with the procession ending at the foot of Capitoline Hill, near where the Arch of Septimius Severus stands.

The Rostra

the-rostra

The Rostra as seen from the side

It’s not hard to miss what remains of one of the most important structures for Roman citizens. This was the one place where they could stand and speak their mind, the Rostra.

The Rostra was the name given to the platform from which orators would stand when addressing the crowds in the public assembly area, the Comitium. This platform was originally called the tribunal until after Roman’s first major sea victory at Antium in 338 BC. Some of the spoils taken from that battle were six bronze ramming prows from the enemy’s ships. These prows were attached to the front of the tribunal as trophies. The Latin word for prow is rostra; from then on the platform became known as the Rostra.

 

the-rostra-platform

The front of the Rostra

 

In 52 BC Julies Caesar rebuilt the government area after it was destroyed by fire. He detached the Rostra from the Comitium and moved it to its present location on the west side of the Via Sacra. The project wasn’t completed by the time of Caesar assassination so it was completed by his successor Emperor Augustus in 42 AD. The back of the Rostra had curved steps for the speakers to walk up. Besides the ships rostra’s the Rostra was also covered with reliefs and topped with a marble railing.

Many of the famous speeches from Roman history were made from this Rostra. In 44 AD Marc Antony made his famous speech to the Roman Citizens at Julius Caesar’s funeral.

Today we call a speaker’s podium a “Rostrum” which comes directly from the Roman Rostra.

You can see the ruins of the Rostra near the Arch of Septimius Severus and across the Via Sacra from the Curia Julia. Since I missed knowing about the Rostra when we were there I needed to go through in my photos and find an image I could use. The photo of the side of the Rostra is mine that is blown up from the photo of the arch and temple of Saturn. The front view photo comes from penelope.uchicgo.edu/grout/emclopaedia_romana/romanforum.

The Curia Julia

 

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The Curia Julia as seen today. Photo from Wikipedia

 

The Curia was where the Roman Senate met during the Republic and Imperial ages. It was the third important piece of Roman government, along with the Comitium and Rostra. The Comitium, with its Rostra, was originally located in front of the Curia. Before and during the time of Julius Caesar this senate meeting place was called the Curia Cornelia.

In 44 BC Julius Caesar began redesigning, relocating and rebuilding the Forum’s governmental area. He replaced the Curia Cornelia with his, the third Curia, Curia Julia. However, like the Rostra, work had not been completed when Caesar was assassinated. As he had done with the Rostra Augustus completed the Curia Julia’s construction. During the Imperial period the Curia Julia had a raised colonnaded porch across its front.

Emperor Domitian made restorations to the building between 81 AD and 96 AD. After fire heavily damaged it in 283 AD it was rebuilt by Emperor Diocletian between 284 and 305 AD; it’s this building that you see today. The building was saved from being destroyed when it to was converted to a Church in 630 AD, and because of this it’s one of the best preserved buildings of the Forum.

During my visit to the Forum I didn’t take any photos of the Curia Julia because I thought it was a contemporary building, because it looked so good. I didn’t find out its significance until I was doing research for this post. The photo posted here is from Wikipedia.

 The Mamertine Prison

 

mamertin-prison

The Mamertine Prison lies below the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (the orange building in the background) as seen from the Roman Forum

Our pastor knew that we had been to Roman, so after the service where his sermon was on Saint Paul’s imprisonment he asked if we had been to the Mamrtine Prison. My wife and I looked at each other having never heard about this place while in Rome.

It was in this ancient Roman prison were tradition has that both Saint Paul and Saint Peter were kept before being martyred by Emperor Nero. The history of Christianity is also an interest to me and I felt bad that I had missed an opportunity to visit this site.

So I wondered: where was the Mamertine prison, had we walked past it without knowing? So the search was on. My finding told told me that it was at the foot of Capitoline Hill, which we had walked around many time during our visit. I checked all the maps and brochures we had brought back and found nothing of its location. Finally in working on this post I found a map that showed its where it was.

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The front of the Church of San Giuseppe, and the site of the Mamertine prison. Photo from Wikipedia

Mamertine prison is at the north end of the Forum; just a few yards pass the Arch of Septimius on the Via del Tullinano. Today the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami sits over its ruins. I understand that you can reach the cells where the Saints were supposed to have been imprisoned by going through the church.

There’s a funny part to this story; when I was on the Via dei Fori Imperiali taking photos of the Forum of Caesar I was standing only twenty yard from it. This is another reason to make sure to do your research before going on a trip. The photos posted here is a blowup of the one I took of the Arch of Septimius, the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami is in the background, and the one showing the front is from Wikipedia.

The Temple of Vesta the-temple-of-vesta-cropped

 

As we left the northern end of the Forum walking along the Via Sacra back toward the Arch of Titus, we stopped to view a temple ruin that was a semicircle with a wall behind its columns. In its time this was the most sacred of all the temples in the Rome Forum, it was the Temple of Vesta. It housed the eternal Sacred Fire of Rome. This fire was kept lit by the six Vestals, who were selected as children from the most prominent of the Roman families.

On the first day of the New Year all Romans would extinguish the fires in their homes and come to this temple to relight them from its sacred flame. There was a hole in the center of the temple’s roof, as with the Pantheon, to allow the smoke to escape.

The remains that you see today date from the time of Emperor Septimius Severus, between 193 and 211 AD. It is thought that this temple served well into the 13th century before also succumbing to the fate of having its marble and stone quarried. This reconstructed portion of the temple is from the 1930’s.

 The House of the Vestal Virgins

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Next to the Temple of Vesta, toward the foot of Palatine Hill, we can walk around a well maintained garden surrounded by ruins and statues. This is what remains of where the Vestal Virgins lived.

The ruins you see are from the complex built by Emperor Septimius Severus. It featured a two floor columned portico which completely surrounded the courtyard garden, that is still well maintained today. The second floor contained the private rooms of the Vestals while the lower rooms held the kitchen, flour mill, ovens and the servant’s quarters. It is believed that this building became the proto-type for our modern convents.

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The statues of the head vestals in the courtyard of the House of Vestal Virgins. The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina in the background

 

Today only the foundations remain and the courtyard garden. Along each side of the courtyard stand the statures of what were the head vestals.  You can still read the inscriptions of what each’s virtues were.

This post only features a fraction of the many temples and buildings in the main Forum Romanum. Starting with Julius Caesar, and then with some of the emperors that followed, the Forum was expanded to other Imperial Forums.

 

Next posting- Beyond the Roman Forum: The Imperial Fora

 

 

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The Roman Forum, Part I- The center of an empire

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

Ancient history is my passion and the Roman Empire period for me is right up there with that of the ancient Greeks. So when my wife and I were planning our trip to Rome and Italy a visit to the Roman Forum was a must. Our hotel, the Grand Hotel Palatino was a perfect location for our stay, it being only a short four block walk down the Via Cavour to the Forum and the Colosseum.

As we walked along Rome’s Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which borders the Forum, and gazed down at the ruins of what was once the magnificent center of the mighty Roman Empire it was hard to visualize what it must have looked like in its glory days, because of its condition today. But it was at this place that the Roman Republic was born, where the Caesars walked and their legions marched. The Roman Forum was the unquestionable center of the Rome and the world.

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The Forum Romanum at the Imperial Age level along it original street, The Via Sacra. This is looking north toward Capitoline Hill.

What I didn’t know was the fascinating history about the site where the Forum is located long before it became Rome. What I found was that the area is a low-lying valley between the Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline hills. In prehistoric times this valley was a marshy wetland due to the runoff from its surrounding hills. For those living on those hills it was a place to bury their dead and graze their animals. That changed in the 7th century BC when the last two Etruscan Kings built a drainage canal from the valley to the Tiber River. This canal was named the “Cloaca Maxima.” At first it was an open air canal but the Romans later covered it. This great engineering feat is still in use today.

After the valley was drained it became the central gathering place for the people on the hills. Legend has it that Rome’s first King Romulus, Rome’s legendary namesake, had his fortress city on the Palatine Hill and his rival, King Tatius, had his city on the Capitoline Hill. Legend goes on to tell that the two sides were in constant war with each other. That was until the Sabine women prayed for the fighting to stop. Romulus and Tatius did stopped their fighting and formed an alliance. Whether or not the legend has some truth or not an alliance was indeed formed between the two peoples and that was the start of what would become Rome.

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The marble Arch of Septimius Severus built in 203 AD to commemorate the Emperor’s victory over the Partians. It stands at the northern end of the Forum. In the background is the church Santi Luca e Martina.

Throughout the time of the Roman Republic the Forum continued to be expanded with government buildings and temples added around the Foro, or public square. One of the earliest temples was the Temple of Saturn in 497 BC.

The foot of Capitoline Hill was set aside for the government of Rome. It was there that the Curia (the meeting place for the Roman Senate) and the Comitium (the place of the people) were located. This was the governmental center of the Roman Republic. We get the name Capital for the center of our governments from Capitoline Hill.

Starting with Julius Caesar, and with the Emperors that followed, the Forum was expanded even more and rebuilt to fit the ego of the Caesar that was in power. For centuries the Forum Romanum was the undisputed the center of the Roman Empire. This is most evident when Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, placed a large column in the Forum that he named Miliarium Aureum, or the Golden Milestone. This was to mark the center of Rome, and then also the center of the Roman Empire. Augustus decreed that that was starting point for all roads leading out of the city out into its empire. It is also where the saying, “All roads lead to Rome,” came from.

 

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Visitors stroll along the Forum’s Via Sacra, where the citizens of ancient Rome walked. In the background on the right are the three columns of what remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. On the left side of the Via  Sacra the row of columns is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The large column on the right in the foreground is the Column of Phocas. Off in the distance you can see the Arch of Titus, which stands at the south end to the Forum.

The Forum was the scene of political upheavals, funerals, triumphant parades, and before the Colosseum was built, gladiatorial battles. As the Roman Empire split and declined so did the importance of Rome the city and the Forum Romanum. At around the 8th century BC the marble from its buildings and temples started to be  taken for other building projects. Some of the buildings of the Forum were partly saved when they were converted into Christian churches. As the site further deterated it became a dumping ground and slit from the hills once again covered what was left. The valley took on a new name, Campo Vaccino or cattle field. The once magnificent Roman Forum had gone back to its original use.

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The remains of the north walls of the Basilica Julia at the foot of Capitoline Hil

In the early 1800’s, during the Napoleonic regime, some efforts were undertaken to unearth portions of the Forum. But even into the 20th century the Roman Forum was neglected. Part of the ancient Forum was destroyed by Benito Mussolini when he paved over a large section by Capitoline Hills for the Via Dei Fori Imperiali.

Today, things are looking better for the Forum Romanum. There is now ongoing excavations and preservation work being done. The area between the Arch of Tito, on the south end by the Colosseum, to the Arch of Septimius Severus, on the north end at the foot of Capitoline Hill, is now open to foot traffic.

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My wife standing on the original paving stones of the Forum Street.

On our visit to the archaeological site my wife and I entered at the south end. We walked down through the centuries of dirt and debris to what was the street level during the Imperial age, the time of the Caesars. We now stood on the very stones that the citizens of ancient Rome had walked on.  You can’t but be in awe at what history took place around these stones over two millennia ago. For these ruins, even in their broken and fallen condition, were part of the very foundation of the western world that we now live in.

 

  

My next posting I will highlight some of the temples and building in the Forum Romanum that you must see when you visit there.

 

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The Church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome Italy

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

 

In an ancient and historic city like Rome there is always something right under your nose that you could miss if you don’t keep eyes open and listen to other. As tourists we sometimes only focus on the main sites and literally walk past others of equal or greater historical value.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post our hotel in Rome was the Grand Hotel Palatino on the Via Cavour. The Palatino is just a few blocks from the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Many times my wife and I would leave the hotel and walk down to those famous ancient sites, ignorant of what we were passing. At breakfast one morning another guest at our table asked, “Have you been to the St. Peter in Chains Church?” “The what,” I asked. She explained that it had Michelangelo’s the famous statue of Moses. We told her we had not and asked where it was located. Her answer makes my point, “Across the street from the hotel and up a few steps.”

 

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San Pietro in Vicoli, Saint Peter in Chains Basilica

And she was absolutely correct in her directions. Across the Via Cavour was the narrow Via di San Francesco di Paola, which was more of a walkway in that location than a street. And she was also correct about the short set of steps up. At the top steps the walkway expanded into a street that vehicles could drive on. And there, as our tablemate had said, was San Pietro in Vicoli, Saint Peter in Chains.

 

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The main alter with is its frescos

 

Built in the fifth century this minor basilica is rather unassuming on the outside when compared to Saint Peters, Sant’Agnese in Agone, or the other majestic churches of Rome. But once you enter you’ll be surrounded by the colorful beauty of its many frescos. But it’s not the frescos, or even the holy relic that this basilica is named for that brings the tourists here, it’s the statue of Moses.

 

 

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This fresco was on the ceiling of the main aisle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelangelo’s statue of Moses

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There is a wonderful history behind this work of art, but first of all it wasn’t sculpted as a standalone. Michelangelo was first commissioned by Pope Julius II to create a funeral monument and tomb for him. The original design was to be massive, with 40 statues. However Pope Julius II had a big ego, and in his drive to immortalize himself with giant projects he kept pulling Michelangelo off working on the tomb to do other projects, like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo did not consider himself a painter, but rather a sculpture, causing a deep friction between them. Because Julius kept veering off to other projects his tomb and monument was not finished at the time of his death in 1513, and so the complete monument was never finished. Julius’ well to do family had the finished portion of the monument, with the statue of Moses, moved to Saint Peter in Chains because of the Pope’s love for this small basilica.

 

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The entire portion of the funeral monument with the statue of Moses. This is just one part, imagine what the entire tomb would have looked like if finished

 

Michelangelo considered his statue of Moses to be his best work. The statues surface looks more like it was brushed on rather than chiseled. It was said that Michelangelo saw this statue to be so lifelike that he asked for it to talk when he had finished it. There is also a controversy about the statue’s horns. Moses seems to have two horns coming out of his forehead. Some scholars believe that the reason for these horns could be due to a miss translation in the book of Exodus. In the most common translation of Exodus it says that Moses came down from Sinai with two rays on his forehead. This is the translation of the Hebrew word “Karan” or “Karnaim” meaning “rays.” However the confusions by Michelangelo could have because he thought the Hebrew word was “keren” which means “horns.” No one really knows what Michelangelo’s intentions were. It is also said that Michelangelo hid his profile, and those of his patrons in Moses’ beard as a joke.

The Chains of St. Peter

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The Reliquary holding the chains that bond St. Peter

 

The statue of Moses overshadows what I think is an equally interesting and historical artifact housed in this church, and what this basilica is named and constructed to house. That would be the relic of the chains that supposedly bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem and Rome. 

The story is that Empress Eudoxia, wife of Roman Emperor Valentinian II, had gotten the chains that held St. Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem from her mother, who had gotten them from the Bishop of Jerusalem. Eudoxia then gave those chains to Pope Leo I, who already had the chains that bound Peter while he was imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in Rome before he was martyred. Legend says that as Pope Leo was comparing the two chains they miraculously fused together.

This relic is kept in a reliquary under the main alter. You can go down a few steps at the front of the alter for a closer look. And at peek tourist time it may be easier to view those that the statue of Moses.

So as you travel to historic cities and countries don’t forget to look across the street and up a few steps, you may be surprised what you’ll find there.

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Rome’s Piazza Navona, site of the Circus Agonalis

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

The one thing I really love about traveling around the world is being able to combine the history of the cities, counties and the people with how they were and how their are today.

 

Over the centuries Rome has had the ability of reforming, or reusing, many of its sites and building for different uses, so it is with Piazza Navona. Located north of the Rome Forum and just a couple of street west of the Pantheon, Piazza Navona is one of the most spectacular and famous of the many squares in Rome today.

As you enter this Piazza from one of the small streets that encircle it you’re exposed to the many different colors of the building that surround it. Piazza Navona is one Rome’s liveliest areas with its many shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants, and night clubs. The Piazza also features three outstanding fountains and the magnificent Baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.

 

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Piazza Navona, with Sant’Agnese in Agone church and the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the background

 

The most impressive of the three fountains is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) at the squares center.  Commissioned at the request of pope Innocent X, this fountain was constructed between 1647 and 1651. Designed by Berini this fountain features four figures that are reprehensive of the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. The four statues circle a rock that supports an Egyptian obelisk which once stood on the spina of the Circus Maxentius.

 

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The Fountain of the Four Rivers, with its Egyptian obelisk in the center. The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in the background. 

 

The other two fountains are the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune fountain) at the north end of the piazza and the Fontana del Moro (Moor fountain) at the south end.

At the center, across from the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is the church Sant’Agnese in Agone. This church was also a commission of pope Innocent X. The façade of this beautiful church was designed by Boromini, the Fountain of the Four Rivers designer’s ravel. The church was completed in 1670.

As you walk around this spacious piazza you’ll wonder how, in the very crowded city of Rome, that they were able to build such a larger square. And you’ll also notice that the south end is slightly curved. This is because before this was a piazza it was an ancient Rome Circus.

Built by the Rome Emperor Domitian in 86 AD, this stadium had a larger arena than the Colosseum, which opened six years earlier. First named the Stadium of Domitian, after the emperor, it was later changed to the Circus Agonalis (competition arena). As with most Roman circuses this one was used mainly for races, sporting and festivals.

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The Neptune Fountain

 

Over time the stadium began to be called ‘in agon,’ then ‘novne,’ and finally ‘navona.’ Sometime in the fifteenth century the abandoned arena was paved over to create the present square. Still today you can see remnants of the old circus. There are guided tours that take you underground to view the circuses ancient foundations.  

 

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