One of the most-visited sites in Rome, the Roman Forum is an architectural marvel. Wondering which bits you won't want to miss? Check out these easy tips and learn a bit about the history before you visit!
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Well I have certainly been on an ancient Rome kick these last few weeks! Ostia Antica, the Baths of Diocletian, and now the Roman Forum! But, once I got started exploring all that we had seen during this trip, I just couldn't stop to add more variety to my posts!
One of the reasons I hadn't posted on the Roman Forum before is because it is just so daunting, both as a place to visit and, of course, as a place to summarize in a casual, but informative and researched!, blog post.
My advice both for a visit to the Roman Forum, and for this post, is to spend your time with what interests you most - and don't feel the need to see everything. Take in the feel of the place, in addition to checking specific sites off your list. Try to imagine the buildings full and coated in marble - and the statues with their heads. Think of the streets filled with toga-clad ancient Romans, discoursing on the progress of the Punic Wars, or going full fan-girl over Virgil. Don't forget to pack those water bottles!
Is the Roman Forum crowded?
Ancient Rome is a bit of a favorite for my Husband and I (read: mostly my Husband, but now I'm into it to - I was always more of a Colonial America/ Modern Europe girl myself). As I was discussing earlier, some of our best times in Rome were definitely at Ostia Antica and the Baths of Diocletian - both ancient sites that are definitely not on the main tourist circuit.
Obviously, the same cannot be said of the Roman Forum, which is, with good reason, one of the most-visited sites in Rome. That said, it's an extremely well-deserved honor. The Roman Forum is absolutely mind-boggling.
And, as far as tourist sights go, take my advice - to survive a trip to Italy, and Rome in particular, be sure to make your trip a good blend of crowded and non-crowded sites. For example, maybe the day after your visit to the Forum, if you love ancient history, would be a great time to take a relaxing trek out to Ostia Antica and see similar artifacts in a much different setting - just you, three other guests, and a few enthusiastic, older, Roman gentlemen and lady volunteers in togas.
All a long way of saying: yes, the Forum is a bit crowded, even in low season. It's not as crowded as the Colosseum...if that makes you feel better? But, it's also HUGE, so people are quite spread out. Most importantly, even though it's crowded, it's 100% worth navigating a few crowds in order to explore it.
What you should know before you visit the Roman Forum
A few practical reminders before you visit the Roman Forum! WEAR STURDY SHOES. I would strongly suggest not wearing flip flops. Strongly. You will be walking A TON and the ground is often dirty or uneven, ancient bumpy cobble stones (or both). For more on what to wear in Italy, check out the full post!
Also, there's not a huge amount of shade. Most of the buildings are half-crumbled - it's not the buildings' fault. They're from a different millennium! That Italian sun can get hot, hot, hot. Bring a water bottle (or a few) with you and a hat if you're sensitive to sun. And maybe don't plan to hit a 5-star restaurant for dinner immediately afterward- though, in fairness, Italians eat so late that you should have more than enough time to get back to your hotel to freshen-up before dinner.
Additionally, though I don't really need to tell you all because if you're reading this article, and therefore you're obviously already doing this, but be sure to read-up on the Roman Forum before you visit. The Roman Forum overall be a bit overwhelming, both in sheer size and age. I will freely admit that, as much as I prepare for trips, I was definitely surprised by the vastness of the site and that occasionally even this history major struggled to conceptualize how old these buildings actually are.
Be sure to have a good map handy to help you identify buildings whose use isn't immediately apparent. Of course, I generally haul around my entire Rick Steves book, which I have never regretted, and he also offers pocket versions, if you're looking for just the essentials!
The Roman Forum Entrance Made Easy - Start at the Colosseum
Tickets to the Roman Forum are combined with tickets to visit Palantine Hill and the Colosseum, and are fairly reasonably priced. You can buy your tickets online, though still expect somewhat of a wait, entering through the Colosseum, as we did. That said, I would recommend doing this approach - tour the Colosseum first, and then, when you're finished there, you'll see signs (and a line) to enter the Forum. You can feel free to go grab lunch or just take a break before you go to the Forum - there are different gates and your tickets can be scanned separately for each site. You will also see the Arc of Constantine as you walk between the Colosseum and the Forum because - well, it's all here!!
Getting Started: Seeing the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill
The first stop on your tour of the Forum, and surrounding area, will be Palatine Hill - a significant historic site in its own right and, more pragmatically, a great way to see the spam of the Forum from above. Home to a number of the Roman imperial palaces, it is the specific point of the "seven hills of Rome" most closely tied to the birth of the empire, and well-preserved to this day.
If you're a fan of Roman mythology, this is where Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome, spent their time in the cave, Lupercal, with the wolf-mother who rescued them and saved their lives after they were abandoned.
In more concrete fact, the Palatine Hill has been inhabited since the 10th century B.C. and became a hot spot for the wealthy to build their homes during the Roman Republic.
The main archeological site on the Palatine Hill currently is the Palace of Domitian. Important to me, and presumably to my lovely friends, is to know that there is a restroom up here - might as well have it while you have an opportunity! Exploring the Hill takes less time than the Forum, but you'll enjoy it both as an architectural site and as a way to see so much of the Forum from above. There are stairs down to the Forum - it's a bit of a hike!
Exploring the Highlights of the Roman Forum
For centuries, this is where ancient Rome happened. The Senate, the parades, and general day-to-day life all took place here - and you can truly get a sense of the pomp and circumstance. The site is hardly a complete ruin - the outlines of many of the buildings are still standing and the sheer size of the property itself is impressive. With the rise of the Roman Empire, following the Republic, many imperial functions moved to Trajan's Forum and the Forum you're touring began to decline in importance. It was revived by Constantine and continued to be an important part of Roman life until the Fall of the Roman Empire, after which many of the temples were turned into churches. During this period and following it, history-minded Romans made efforts to preserve the area, though it ultimately became essentially a dump by the 14th century, which led to what remained being buried under debris and sediment. Though the area drew tourists and visitors over the centuries, it wasn't until the end of the 19th century that the Italian government started formal excavations and preservation attempts.
One of the most visible and significant remaining structures is the Curia Julia, the building in which the Roman Senate met. It's visible in the photo above - the sold-looking tan stone, multi-story, block-shaped building slightly to the right of the center of the image. The building you see today is the second version of the one built by Caesar - which was renovated by Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) - if you're on a Diocletian-themed tour, like we felt we were!
Take your time exploring the Forum. Unlike much of ancient Rome -planned and laid out in grids, the Forum evolved as it grew, adding buildings haphazardly over time, though various emperors tried to impose a more structured feel. Many of the structures are temples and monuments to gods, including the Temple of Saturn. The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, from a side-view, below, built in 141 A.D., was begun by Emperor Antoninus in honor of his wife, Faustina. When Antoninus was made a god after his death, his successor, the famed Marcus Aurelius, continued the construction in both of their honors. Like several of the temples in the Forum, it was turned into a Catholic Church during the "Dark Ages." The marble was...repurposed, but owing to its new status as a Church, the structure survived some of the looting and destruction that impacted other portions of the Forum.
Toward the end of your tour of the Forum, you'll reach another Arc of Constantine/ Arc de Triomphe feeling Arc, which is the Arc of Septimius Severus. Completed in 203 A.D. to honor the military victory of the Emperor Severus and his two sons, the sons governed as co-emperors after his death until one had the other one murdered and removed all references to him in public works. Hence, the arc got a good scratch off of good, olde brother's dedications. Ouch.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a fabulous time exploring the Roman Forum! xx
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