Guide To The Monuments Of The Roman Forum

Visiting the Roman Forum is a highlight for anyone traveling to Rome.

The 2,000 year old site, now a sprawling expanse of romantic ruins, was once the beating heart of the Roman Empire. Walking through it, you’re treading the same ground where ancient Rome’s most important events unfolded.

Exploring the Roman Forum can seem overwhelming at first, but don’t worry! With this guide to the Roman Forum, you’ll easily recognize and understand the significance of each monument.

video of Roman Forum

What is the Roman Forum?

The forum is a rectangular valley running from Arch of Titus to the Arch of Septimus Severus near Capitoline Hill.

The forum’s main road is the Via Sacre. It’s basically the Broadway of Ancient Rome. Much of the paving of the Via Sacre is original to Ancient Rome.

The forum was dense with construction. It was the epicenter of ancient Rome, the seat of power, and its central showpiece.

It was a grandiose district consisting of gleaming white temples, grand basilicas, and vibrant public spaces — fit for an empire that ruled half of the known world.

aerial view of the Roman Forum

The Forum was the scene of political upheavals, funerals, and triumphant parades. Before the Colosseum was built, it even hosted gladiatorial battles.

By the close of the imperial period, the forum was a densely stuffed with “modern” ancient buildings. Layers of churches and fortresses were built atop and amid the ancient remains.

After the 4th century, the Forum fell into disrepair and almost total obscurity. It became a quarry for building stone.

In the 18th century, the forum ignominiously lapsed into a cow pasture covered in layers of dirt and rubble.

Only in the 18th and 19th century did excavation begin, uncovering the buried treasure. Excavations continue today.

Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus

Tickets & Tours

The Roman Forum is one of Rome’s three important imperial sites, along with the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. These sites are typically visited with one trifecta ticket or ticket + tour.

Tickets are issued on the website exactly 30 days in advance. They are a hot commodity. Click here to book skip the line tickets for all three sites. 

Booking a guided tour can really enhance your visit to the Roman Forum, especially since it’s such a vast and complex site.

Unless you’re a repeat visitor, without a guide, it can be tough to fully appreciate everything there is to see.

checking out the view of the forum from the Capitoline Museums
checking out the view of the forum from the Capitoline Museums

There are several tour options available, each with different durations and focuses. Choose one that aligns best with your interests and schedule.

I’ve personally taken the third and sixth tours on the list. They really helped bring the history of the place to life!

Roman Forum with the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine
Roman Forum with the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

Guide To The Roman Forum: What To See

1. Arch of Constantine

If you’re a Christian, this arch is a symbol of your religion.

Constantine’s Arch represents a landmark in history, when a military battle made Christianity the mainstream religion in Rome and the entire Western World.

In 312, Emperor Constantine defeated his enemy and co-emperor Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, a turning point in their dispute. Legend holds that, the night before, Constantine dreamt of a cross in the sky.

detail of the Arch of Constantine
detail of the Arch of Constantine
Giulio Romano (Raphael Workshop), Constantine's Vision of the Cross, 1520-24
Giulio Romano, Constantine’s Vision of the Cross, 1520-24

When Constantine was victorious the following day, Maxentius fell off the bridge and drown. Constantine became sole emperor.

Straight away, he ratified the Edict of Milan, a religious tolerance act. It was the beginning of Christianity as the official state religion. One wonders what world history would be like if Constantine lost the battle …

Newly restored, the Arch of Constantine tells the story of his great victory. The arch is made entirely of carvings and decoration from other buildings with military imagery. An inscription on the top level announces that Constantine was the builder.

In the round reliefs, you see Emperor Hadrian. In the square reliefs you see Marcus Aurelius. The arch is topped with statues of Augustus and Trajan. In this manner, Constantine conflates himself with past great emperors.

READ: History of the Roman Emperors

Via Sacra
Via Sacra

2. Via Sacra

The Via Sacra is the main street of the Roman Forum and it connects many of its monuments.

It’s a historic path where the story of Rome unfolded. This road was the center of Roman life, frequented by famous historical figures like Caesar, Cicero, Pompey, and Augustus. It was also the route Roman generals took to celebrate their victories.

Today, the Via Sacra might not look as grand as it once did. Many of its original paving stones are missing or uneven.

But as you walk down this road, remember that you’re following in the footsteps of some of Rome’s most influential people.

Temple of Venus
Temple of Venus

3. Temple of Venus and Rome

The Temple of Venus and Rome was another massive temple in the Roman Forum. Over 100 feet tall, it was once one of ancient Rome’s most impressive monuments.

The temple was designed by Emperor Hadrian. As was his preference, the temple is Greek in design. It was once surrounded by white columns, which now mark the perimeter.

The Temple of Venus and Rome is really just a shell now. The main ruin is an apse in the center.

It’s a brick arch with a cross hatched ceiling. The ceiling was installed by Maxentius in 307.

The temple once consisted of two main chambers, each preceded by a vestibule. Inside were two colossal statues of Venus and the goddess Rome Aeterna. Their Latin names, Roma and Amor, are inscribed on the walls, equating the city of Rome and the concept of love.

Arch of Titus
Arch of Titus

4. Arch of Titus

The Arch of Titus, one of three triumphal arches in the Roman Forum, stands as a monumental reminder of Rome’s military victory over Judea.

Built in honor of Emperor Titus by his brother Domitian, this structure is a mix of triumph and tragedy.

The inscription on the arch, “the Senate, the People of Rome,” harks back to the era of the Roman Republic, which ended with Augustus becoming emperor.

The arch is known for its darker narrative: it symbolizes the defeat and displacement of the Jewish people following the Fall of Jerusalem.

detail of Arch of Titus
detail of Arch of Titus

Titus’ siege led to the city’s destruction, the enslavement of thousands, and the desecration of the sacred temple, of which only the Wailing Wall remains today.

Inside, the arch features imagery of Roman soldiers carrying a menorah from the temple, symbolizing the exile of the Jewish population, a historical event whose repercussions are still felt today.

The arch once displayed colorful statues and showed the emperor in a victory parade.

The red color on the emperor’s face represented his vanquished enemies. The central panel in the arch depicts Titus’s apotheosis, immortalizing him as a god observing from the heavens.

Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, 306-12
Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, 306-12

5. Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

Sited on Velia Hill, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine is an absolutely enormous building.

It was built with unprecedented technology and oozes Roman imperial power. The Romans used concrete, with inset bricks that were then covered in marble.

The basilica is a massive structure made up of three barrel vaults. It’s as if the city was built for giants, not humans.

But the monumental basilica is now less than one third of what it once was.

The basilica wasn’t a church as the name suggests. Rather, it was a Roman hall of justice. Litigious citizens could come here to lodge a lawsuit, bicker about inheritances, or get building permits.

courtyard with the remains of the Constantine sculpture
courtyard with the remains of the Constantine sculpture

The three arches are the three bays that made up one of the two side aisles of the basilica. What’s no longer there is the central aisle or nave.

The basilica was begun by Maxentius. Constantine completed it, after he vanquished his rival and co-emperor.

There was originally a colossal statue of Constantine on a throne in the nave. Chunks of the 30 feet original statue are in a courtyard of the wonderful Capitoline Museums.

The basilica interior was elaborate, with intense color and ornamentation. The nave was lavishly furnished with gilded ceilings, inlaid marble, and sculptures.

House of the Vestal Virgins
House of the Vestal Virgins

6. Temple and House of the Vestal Virgins

The only people who lived in the Roman Forum were the members of the Cult of Vesta, led by the high priest Pontifus Maximus.

The vestal virgins were extremely famous. Their temple was one of ancient Rome’s holiest spots.

The virgins came from Rome’s noblest families, chosen at the age of 10. They took a vow of chastity for 30 years. They were sacred living creatures. Their job?

To keep alive the flame of Vesta in the circular Temple of Vesta, which symbolized the hearth of the Roman family.

As long as the fire burned brightly, Rome was supposedly safe. The temple was once surrounded by 20 columns.

The House of the Vestal Virgins was a two story building.

The building surrounded a long courtyard with three pools and mosaic floors. The house became a model for later medieval cloisters.

There’s not much left to see, aside from a cult room and sculpures of the vestals.

ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux
ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux

7. Temple of Castor and Pollux

Dating from the 5th century B.C., this former temple consists of just three leafy Corinthian columns. But it was once a prestigious temple in the forum.

The temple commemorated the Roman victory over the reviled Etruscan king Tarquin. After their victory, Castor and Pollux, twin sons of the god Jupiter, watered their horses on the spot.

The temple was often used as meeting place for senators. The front steps served as a podium for Rome’s orators.

the arches of Domus Tiberiana on the upper left
the arches of Domus Tiberiana on the upper left

8. Domus Tiberiana

Domus Tiberiana is an impressive imperial palace on the slopes of the Roman Forum. Although the entrance is on Palatine Hill, it feels like it’s part of both the hill and the forum because you can easily see it from the forum area.

This once grand estate covered nearly 10 acres, featuring luxurious residences, gardens, spaces for the Praetorian guard, and places for worship. Its standout feature is the facade, marked by large arches and barrel vaults.

The Domus Tiberiana was only discovered in 2004. After years of excavation, it opened to the public in September 2023. I visited in December and it was a truly special experience.

You’ll can only visit with a special SUPER ticket. Individual tickets are not available. For more on how that works, you can check out my guide to the SUPER ticket

>>> Click to buy a SUPER ticket on Viator

the Temple of Caesar, where you'll find Julius Caesar's grave
the Temple of Caesar

9. Temple of the Divine Caesar

The Temple of the Divine Caesar in the Roman Forum is a famous monument dedicated to Julius Caesar, a pivotal figure in Rome’s transition from republic to empire.

The temple told the story of Caesar’s life. But it also marks the spot where Caesar, assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C., was cremated and buried.

You may get the willies standing there. This is a spot where history changed. Yet, it’s rather underwhelming to look at.

It’s a simple area with a modern canopy covering the remains of an altar. This modest mound is often covered with coins and flowers.

grave of Julius Caesar
spot where Julius Caesar was cremated
Temple of Romulus
Temple of Romulus

10. Temple of Romulus

The origin of the Temple of Romulus has been the subject of conjecture.

Most historians think that Emperor Maxentius used it as a temple for his son Valerius Romulus, who died at age 4 in 309 and was deified.

The temple’s original bronze door is decorated with two porphyry columns — a marble so rare that it’s almost extinct. Inside, the temple has several cycles of frescoes.

Inside, here are 13th century wall paintings that imitate curtains. There’s also a funerary tabernacle with a madonna and child.

They only allow a set number of people in at a time. So you should expect to wait in line.

Temple of Antonius and Faustia
Temple of Antonius and Faustia

11. Temple of Antonius and Faustia

This temple was built by the Emperor Antonius for his deceased wife, the beautiful Faustina who died young. Historians consider Antoninus to be part of the five “Good Emperors.”

Antonius wasn’t long for the world either. So he decided to slap his own name on the temple as well. That meant he could walk through the forum and see people worshipping him while he was still alive.

The temple has a majestic front. The Corinthian columns are 50 feet high, with formerly gilded capitals.

A staircase led to a shaded loggia past the columns, which admitted Romans to the building. The original triangular pediment would have held vividly colored statues.

Crucifixion fresco in Santa Maria Antiqua, 741-52
Crucifixion fresco in Santa Maria Antiqua, 741-52

12. Santa Maria Antiqua

Santa Maria Antiqua is one of the earliest surviving Christian churches in Rome.

The Byzantine church was discovered in 1900. It was built within a 1st century Roman structure constructed by Emperor Domitian.

The church has a wealth of rare Byzantine style frescos from the 6th to 9th centuries. They depict the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

You’ll find one of the world’s oldest depictions of Jesus’ crucifixion. Christ is shown in a sleeveless blue robe.

The best preserved fresco is the cycle of the martyrdom of St. Cyricus and St. Julitta, which covers the Chapel of Theodotus. It’s considered the Sistine Chapel of the medieval era.

During a 9th century earthquake, the church was buried in rubble. It was sealed from the world for over 1000 years, only discovered in 1702. This fate might have saved the precious works from a subsequent Baroque redo.

You can only visit with the SUPER ticket. There is a 3D light show that reconstructs the frescos so you can see what they once looked like in more detail.

fresco win the Oratory of the 40 Martyrs
the martyrs

13. Oratory of the 40 Martyrs

Right next to Santa Maria Antiqua, you’ll find the Oratory of the Forty Martyrs, another SUPER site. This smaller room has some faded, but still beautiful, collection of 8th and 9th century frescoes.

The oratory gets its name from the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, a group of Roman soldiers martyred under Emperor Diocletian for their Christian beliefs.

The frescoes on the walls vividly portray these saints and martyrs, including the Forty Martyrs themselves.

These paintings are key examples of early medieval Christian art and illustrate the martyrs’ ordeal and execution, where they were forced to endure a freezing night in an icy lake.

the Ramp of Domitian
the Ramp of Domitian

14. Domitian’s Ramp

In ancient Roman times, Santa Maria Antique was likely the entrance hall to the 1st century Ramp of Domitian. The ramp connected the public area of the Roman Forum to the private imperial palace complexes on Palatine Hill.

It was discovered by Giacomo Boni, an architect and archaeologist. He excavated it mostly between 1899 to 1905.

The ramp has seven levels, six hairpin turns, and is both above and under ground. It empties into a hilltop terrace with a breathtaking view over the Roman Forum.

After years of conservation, the church and ramp opened to the public in 2015. Now, with the SUPER Pass, you can walk along the 2000 year old passage, just like the emperors did.

Triumphal Arch of Severus Septimus
Triumphal Arch of Severus Septimus

15. Arch of Septimius Severus

The grand six story Arch of Severus celebrated Emperor Severus’ victory in Mesopotamia.

It’s adorned with reliefs showing soldiers leading captives and slaves back to Rome, reflecting a time when Rome increasingly relied on plunder, contributing to its eventual decline.

Dedicated to Severus’ sons, Caracalla and Geta, the arch became a symbol of family betrayal.

After Severus’ death, Caracalla, who would gain notoriety as an emperor, murdered Geta to rule alone and then erased all traces of his brother from history, including mentions of the arch.

The arch itself features three vaulted passageways, flanked by four detached columns on elevated bases. Below the arch is a circular base, marking the exact center of ancient Rome and symbolizing the saying, “all roads lead to Rome.”

Temple of Saturn
Temple of Saturn

16. Temple of Saturn

This temple, the oldest in the Roman Forum, was more than just a place of worship. It served as the treasury of Ancient Rome.

racing its origins back to the 5th century B.C., the structure you see today was actually rebuilt in the 4th century A.D.

As you look at the temple, the columns that catch your eye once framed its entrance.

Inside, there was once a simple wooden statue of the god Saturn. Interestingly, the statue had a secret: its base was a storage spot for treasures, filled with various forms of booty and plunder from Rome’s conquests.

Curia Julia, where the Senate promulgated laws
Curia Julia, where the Senate promulgated laws

17. Curia Julia | Sant’Adriano al Foro

The remains of the Curia Julia date from 283. The curia was completely restored in the 1930s.

This was the Supreme Court of Rome, and the most important political building in the forum. The senators gave speeches and promulgated the laws of the land. There were four chambers hearing cases.

It was common for the orator-lawyers to go outside and pay people to come in and clap during their rousing orations. They were essentially professional clappers.

If the curia is open, you can see two statues. One headless statue, made of porphyry marble was dedicated to either Hadrian or Trajan. Unfortunately, it’s usually closed.

remains of the Rostrum, or speaking platform
remains of the Rostrum, or speaking platform

18. Rostrum

The Rostrum was the “Speaker’s Corner.” Archaeological evidence suggests that it has existed since the 5th century B.C. But it wasn’t officially called the “rostra” until the 4th century A.D.

The Rostrum was a long stage created for Rome’s great orators to speechify to the assembled masses and try to sway public opinion.

The rostrum was likely 10 feet high and 80 feet long, ornately decorated with columns and statues.

During the republic, freedom of speech reigned free. During the empire, free speech took a hit when it was more dangerous to speak truth to power.

Great events in Roman history occurred here. Cicero railed against Rome’s corruption and decadence. Mark Anthony offered the laurel of kingship to Caesar, who dramatically refused preferring to be a private dictator.

Column of Phocas
Column of Phocas

19. Column of Phocas

The Column of Phocas was the last monument to be erected in the Roman Forum. It’s a triumphal column in honor of Phocas, a 7th century Byzantine emperor who ruled Rome from the east.

The column was supposed to represent a unified Rome, a new dawn for the Roman world. But that was a delusion. Rome was on its way out.

And so was Phocas. He had murdered his predecessor to usurp the throne in 602. Two years after this column was erected, he himself was assassinated.

Phocas did succeed in one thing though. He gifted the Pantheon to the Pope Boniface IV to turn into a church, probably saving it from ruin.

The 45 foot column is a little piecemeal. The base once propped up a statue of Diocletian. The column itself was taken from an older building.

It’s recently been restored.

view of the Roman Forum from the Vittorio Emanuel II Monument

Practical Guide & Tips For The Roman Forum

Address: Via della Salara Vecchia between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum

Hours: Daily 8:30 am to 7:00 pm

Ticket Price: Combined ticket to visit The Roman Forum, the Colosseum, and Palatine Hill is 16 euros. There is an online booking fee of 2 euros.

Metro: Colosseo

Pro Tips: You can also visit the Roman Forum using the Roma Pass, which is a cumulative ticket that provides free or reduced rates for more than 40 attractions plus public transportation.


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