Project Description

Fora Imperatorum: Rome’s Expanding Downtown

Discover the majesty of Imperial Rome’s urban sprawl, the growing downtown that Romans called the Fora.  We’ll explore them in chronological order to better understand Rome’s urban planning and public works.  So we’ll start with Julius Caesar’s Forum, where we’ll admire how his architectural ambitions were an extension of his political genius: he was the first person to alleviate the serious problem of overcrowding in the old Roman Forum.  How?  By building a new one and doubling the space available for shops and administration.  He also gets the credit for starting the ‘forum trend,’ which all self-respecting emperors then followed.

Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian (later known as Augustus), built a splendid Forum embellished with a temple dedicated to Mars, the god of war.  Why Mars?  What was the message?  Wasn’t Augustus the harbinger of a Golden Age?  We’ll discuss how Octavian’s Forum reflects his early politics, and how those politics changed.  After that, we’ll tackle Vespasian’s Forum, more properly known as the Templum Pacis (the Temple of Peace).  It served principally as a museum, where Emperor Vespasian displayed the trophies of his war in Judea.

We’ll pay homage to the elderly Emperor Nerva, who succeeded in immortalizing himself and his two-year reign by inaugurating the Forum Transitorium.  His architects squeezed it into the space remaining between his predecessors’ fora, creating a sort of corridor or long passageway (which is what transitorium literally means in Latin).  For fear of insulting Nerva, I won’t point out that his predecessor, Emperor Domitian, had the Transitorium started and perhaps nearly completed!)

Emperor Trajan, however, created the most complicated and multi-functional Forum Complex of them all.  To make space for his giant project, construction workers moved over 61 million cubic meters of dirt!  We’ll discuss this and other engineering miracles while ancient Roman administrators, store owners, and people shopping bustle around us.  Finally, while ancient Romans said nihil novi sub sole (there’s nothing new under the sun), Trajan’s architect Apollodorus of Damascus proved them wrong!  Besides engineering what was then the longest bridge to have been built in Europe (it was just over a kilometer long and spanned the Danube), he also invented a new type of commemorative monument: Trajan’s Column (on which, among battle scene and campaigning, he had his Guinness Book of World Records bridge depicted!).  How cool is that?

Expenses: at the moment, the only Forum accessible to the general public is Trajan’s Complex (the Basilica and so-called Markets). When the archeological area hosts exhibits, the entrance fee is euro 14; under normal circumstances, it is euro 12.  Children are eligible for discounts. 

At times, the Forums of Caesar and Augustus are accessible by special request.  Please see “the cost” section of this webpage for more information related to special requests and their fees. Meanwhile, the Imperial Fora pair up with the Roman Forum for a longish half-day. They can also be paired up with the Colosseum or the Pantheon (in the nearby Campus Martius area) in order to explore imperial politics and architecture in greater depth.  After focusing on Trajan’s Column, visitors may want to hear about Marcus Aurelius’s Column, which (like the Pantheon) stands nearby in the Campus Martius area.

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