The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome.
It is located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills.
Its size was 250 by 170 meters (820 by 560 feet).
Under the empire, when it primarily became a center for religious and secular spectacles and ceremonies, it was the site of many of the city’s most imposing temples and monuments.
The Roman Senate was also housed in a building in the Roman Forum.
It was for centuries the center of Roman public life: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs.
The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history.
The original, low-lying, grassy wetland of the Forum was drained in the 7th century BC with the building of the Cloaca Maxima, a large covered sewer system that emptied into the Tiber, as more people began to settle between the two hills.
The Roman kingdom’s earliest shrines and temples were located on the southeastern edge. These included the ancient former royal residence, the Regia (8th century BC), and the Temple of Vesta (7th century BC), as well as the surrounding complex of the Vestal Virgins, all of which were rebuilt after the rise of imperial Rome.
Forum developed gradually, organically, and piecemeal over many centuries. This is the case despite attempts, with some success, to impose some order there, by Sulla, Julius Caesar, Augustus and others.
By the Imperial period, the large public buildings that crowded around the central square had reduced the open area to a rectangle of about 130 by 50 metres (426 by 164 feet).
Eventually much economic and judicial business would transfer away from the Roman Forum to the larger and more extravagant structures (Trajan’s Forum and the Basilica Ulpia) to the north. The reign of Constantine the Great saw the construction of the last major expansion of the Forum complex—the Basilica of Maxentius (312 AD). This returned the political center to the Forum until the fall of the Western Roman Empire almost two centuries later.
An anonymous 8th-century traveller from Einsiedeln (now in Switzerland) reported that the Forum was already falling apart in his time.
After the 8th century the structures of the Forum were dismantled, re-arranged and used to build feudal towers and castles within the local area. In the 13th century these rearranged structures were torn down and the site became a dumping ground.
During the Middle Ages, though the memory of the Forum Romanum persisted, its monuments were for the most part buried under debris, and its location was designated the “Campo Vaccino” or “cattle field.”
The excavation by Carlo Fea, who began clearing the debris from the Arch of Septimius Severus in 1803, and archaeologists under the Napoleonic regime marked the beginning of clearing the Forum, which was only fully excavated in the early 20th century.
Remains from several centuries are shown together, due to the Roman practice of building over earlier ruins.
Among the structures surviving in whole or in part are the Temple of Castor and Pollux (484 BC), the Temple of the Deified Caesar (29 BC), the Mamertine Prison, the Curia (senate house) (44 BC), the Temple of Saturn (497 BC), the Temple of Vesta (3rd century BC), the Temple of Romulus (307 AD), the Arch of Titus (82 AD), the Arch of Septimius Severus (203 AD), and the Cloaca Maxima (600 BC).
The Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million sightseers yearly.
Today, archeological excavations continue along with constant restoration and preservation.
While the Roman Forum was the main forum of Rome, there were several other forums located throughout the city.
It is likely that there was some Greek influence on the concept of a public gathering place for the Romans. In fact, a Roman forum often included certain physical aspects of a Greek agora, such as the use of porticoes.
The Latin name for the Roman Forum is Forum Romanum.
The Roman Forum has been a source of inspiration for visual artists for centuries.
Notable artists of the Forum include Maerten van Heemskerck, Pirro Ligorio, Canaletto, Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Paolo Panini, Hubert Robert, J.M.W. Turner and many others.