There’s only one place in the Roman Forum where you’ll find fresh flowers every day — at the grave of Rome’s most famous citizen, Julius Caesar.
Here’s my guide to visiting, or going on a pilgrimage, to the Temple of Caesar in the Roman Forum. The temple was built to honor Caesar and safeguard the altar containing his ashes. The temple is an unimpressive ruin. But it doesn’t matter. Caesar’s grave is still a popular, if obscure, place of pilgrimage.
A Short Biography of Caesar
Born to a political family, Caesar decided to realize his ambitions through military conquest. He advanced quickly, becoming general of the legendary 13th legion. He expanded the Roman Empire into Europe and Britain.
For some years, Caesar formed a political alliance with Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great). When Crassus died, the Senate ordered Caesar to step down. Caesar didn’t listen. Instead, he famously led his army across the Rubicon River, starting a civil war.
After 4 years, Caesar crushed Pompey’s forces. The Senate appointed him dictator for life. Caesar got busy. He instituted social and political reforms and began public building projects. But his rivals were envious of his power. They feared he would crown himself king.
According to Plutarch, on the way to a Senate meeting in the Great Theater of Pompey, a soothsayer warned Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar ignored the warning. With the plotting of Brutus and Cassius, 60 conspirators stabbed Caesar 23 times on March 15, 44 BC.
As an aside, the Ides of March are reenacted in Rome each year at 2:00 pm on March 15. Actors dress up in togas like ancient Roman Senators and take turns stabbing their own Julius Caesar. The reenactment is held inside the ruins of Pompey’s Theater at Largo Argentina, which isn’t usually open to the public.
In any event, Caesar was cremated a few days later, after Mark Antony’s rousing funeral speech in the forum. The spot became a cult site. In 42 BC, Caesar was deified by the Senate. When Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son and heir, came to power he erected and inaugurated the Temple of Caesar in 29 BC. on the spot where Caesar was cremated.
The Temple of Caesar, or Temple of Divus Iulius
Octavian became Rome’s first emperor, calling himself Augustus. When he built the temple, Augutus’ motives weren’t completely altruistic. He knew it would help cement his power to associate himself with the deified Caesar.
As time went on, however, the purpose of the temple changed. It wasn’t just a cult site anymore. Augustus used the temple to showcase his military victories.
The Temple of Caesar was built in a small area of the forum (not much space was left). Elevated on a podium substructure, the facade featured six columns that made the temple seem towering. It was lavishly embellished with marble.
On the front was a semicircular recess built to accommodate the senate’s altar holding Caesar’s ashes. The recess was surrounded by raised orator platforms for public speeches.
The temple was flanked by two arches, one for the Battle of Actium and one for the Battle of Carrhae. Inside the temple was a large statue of Julius Caesar with a star on his head. When the temple doors were open, his adoring fans could see the statue from the forum.
The Temple of Caesar was mostly intact until the late 15th century. Then, it was looted, stripped of its marble, stone, and bronze.
The Ruins of the Temple of Caesar
How do you find the Temple of Caesar, if you’re not on a tour? It’s not that easy to find in the lovely rubble of the Roman Forum. It’s not well marked (though almost nothing is).
Stroll through the mammoth Arch of Constantine. Then, walk down the Via Sacra, the main road of the forum. Behind the columns of the Temple of Vesta and the Temple of Castor and Pollus, you’ll see a small metal roof and a piece of stone wall. That’s where you’ll find all that remains of the Temple of Caesar.
The stone is from the base that supported the orators’ platforms. Under the roof, you’ll see what looks like a pile of rocks and dirt. That’s the remains of the altar the Senate placed in front of the temple, which contained Caesar’s ashes.
Despite the grave’s state of ruin, an avid ruin luster will be awed and struck dumb by this mark of history. You’ll feel connected to a timeless moment in history. This is the grave of the most famous Roman, Julius Caesar.
The altar ruin is often covered in coins and flowers, particularly when Rome reenacts the Ides of March. I reverently threw coins into the grave before continuing on my forum tour.
If you’d like to visit Julis Caesar’s grave in Rome, pin it for later.