The oldest parts of the Eternal City: Guide to Foro Romano

When we suddenly changed our plans and went to Rome for the summer instead of Iceland, we made a (small) list of the absolute (and obvious) highlights of the city that we didn’t want to miss. On our first day in the city, we could cross off the Trevi Fountain and for our second day, we wanted to explore the oldest parts of the city, ticking off the boxes to the Colosseum and the Foro Romano. Again, the city was as quiet as it had ever been before and we had hours to explore the ancient ruins by ourselves.

With the ‘new normal’ situation of covid-19, some things have changed. It was super quiet in the city, but still we had to buy tickets to all museums beforehand. The night before we made plans to visit the Colosseum and the Foro Romano and wanted to buy tickets, but we had some – frustrating – technical difficulties that almost disrupted our plans. We had to buy the tickets with a creditcard, but we had to verify them with a scanner that we didn’t bring, because we had never needed it before. The problems we had were specific for our bank, but there was no other way for us to buy the tickets. The hotel couldn’t help and all of the ticket offices were closed. Eventually we had to call my mother-in-law and she was sweet enough to buy the tickets for us and email them. All went well in the end, but lesson learned: Make sure you buy your tickets at home, before you go on your trip. Alternatively, we later thought of, you can use Get your guide to buy tickets if you have problems with your creditcard, because there you can use Paypal.

Anyways, we had tried calling her but she was teaching at the moment, so we decided to just set out towards the colosseum. On our way, we came across the Foro di Augusto, which is a part of Foro Imperiali, that was directly opposite to the Foro Romano, but not part of it. The Forum of Augustus was built in the year 2. One of the highlights was the Temple of Mars Ultor, of which you can see the remains on the picture above.

We sat down just outside the Foro Romano, to get the tickets from my mother-in-law. She was buying the tickets for the Colosseum that had a time stamp a couple of hours later. But, lucky for us, the Colosseum tickets are also valid for visiting the Foro Romano, and that wasn’t time-sensitive. So we could just roam the grounds of the foro until it was time to visit the Colosseum. We spent about three hours inside the foro and still we haven’t seen everything.

If you want to visit the foro and the colosseum, buy a ticket for a later time in the day and spent the rest of your day in the Foro. You won’t regret it, there is so much to see! But make sure to pack some food and drinks.

The Roman Forum was the heart of ancient Rome. When visiting, you can still see the streets and the ruins of important buildings. It was the center of daily-life in Rome, where political speeches and criminal trials were held, gladiators fought, people shopped and gossiped. This was the place to be.

Nowadays, you can still see the ancient roads that lead to various buildings. It’s so impressive to wander around ruins that were built that many years ago. I would recommend spending a couple of hours here, just wandering the ancient streets, look at the ruins, the temples and the statues, imagining yourself to be a Roman. And maybe bring a travel guide so you can see what purpose these ruins used to have. There is also an app you can download, but it’s in Italian, so not much use if you don’t speak the language.

The most important road in ancient Rome was the Via Sacra. It used to be surrounded by temples and was part of the Roman Triumph, a celebration of victory. Whenever a military commander had led the Roman troops to victory, the Triumph was held on this street and they would re-enact the battles, show off the spoils of war and execute captured enemies. The road also leads directly to the Colosseum.

It’s funny, we were walking here, admiring the ruins, when we heard a guitar player in the distance. The lovely thing with Italian cities is that you can hear music everywhere. We looked at each other, saying ‘this sounds a lot like Nothing Else Matters…’ and then listened a little closer, realizing that it, in fact, was Nothing Else Matters. So we sang Metallica on the Via Sacra, because why not? There was no one there…

The Tempio di Antonino e Faustina (temple of Antoninus and Faustina) is one of the temples that looks less like a ruin and more like an actual temple, because it was restored in 1546. It stands out in the midst of all the rubble. The temple itself was built in 141 when emperor Antonino gave the order to build it as a dedication to his deceased wife Faustina. When Antonino died himself, the temple was dedicated to both of them, as they were worshipped as if they were gods.

Later, in the 8th century, it was transformed into a Roman Catholic church: Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Miranda.

There are two arches to be found in the Roman Forum. The one on the left is the Arco di Settimio Severo, the arch of Septimius Severus. The arch was built in 203 to commemorate his exploits in the Roman-Parthian wars, in honor of his sons, Caracalla and Geta.

The arch on the right is the Arco di Tito, the arch of Titus. It is built on the Via Sacra in 81 by emperor Domitian to commemorate his brother’s victory on Jerusalem. The panels on the arch show Titus’ triumph of 71.

We spent quite some time in the Casa delle Vestali (the house of Vestals) and it was my favourite part of the entire Foro. The sun was shining high and we could see so many beautiful statues here, as well as colorful flowers and that proved to be a gorgeous combination. The story, however, is a little less pretty.

An important part of the Foro Romano was the Tempio di Vesta, the temple of Vesta. Vesta was the godess of hearth, home and family and her little temple in the middle of the Foro was sacred. There’s not that much left of it now (I didn’t even take good pictures for I didn’t recognize it as her temple at the time), but at the time, the temple held a fire that needed to be burning at all times, at all costs.

In the House of the Vestals there lived six virgins who were chosen to keep the fire in the temple burning. The girls were between the ages of six and ten when they entered the house and would stay there for a period of 30 years. It was some sort of convent and they had a lot of privileges, but the rules were very strict. If the fire went out or if their virginity was questioned, they were immured.

There is so much history here and you can spend hours wandering the grounds. Even if you’re not that interested in all the stories, it’s impressive to look at. When visiting Rome, make sure to not underestimate how much time you will spend here. We wandered around for three hours or so, and there was quite a bit that we hadn’t even seen yet. Plan ahead for a couple of hours and make sure to pack lunch and water. There are several water tabs with drinking water, so you don’t have to worry about getting dehydrated, but there are no spots to have lunch anywhere. There are some vending machines where you can get crisps or cookies, but nothing for a decent lunch. We didn’t plan ahead and I wasn’t feeling all that good because of the lack of food, so make sure to think of lunch when visiting these grounds.

I’m sorry to say that we didn’t have enough time to visit the Palatino (Palatine hill) properly, but I see it as a reason to come back. Behind the Foro Romano lies one of the seven hills that Rome was built on and there’s the Palatine museum that shows many excavations. You can enter with the combiticket for the Foro Romano and the Colosseum, but we just didn’t have the time. We wandered around a bit, enjoying the nature and birds surrounding us, before we had to hurry to the Colosseum for our time-slot.

I’d really recommend spending some time here as well, because what I saw looked absolutely gorgeous, and I haven’t even seen the museum or any of the monuments that were built on this hill. I’ll surely come back, one day! (I threw a coin in the Trevi fountain, so I must, right?)

Instead, we turned around for the Colosseum, which isn’t far. If you follow the Via Sacra, you’ll get there, and you can’t really miss it. I never even realized how big the amphitheatre is until I saw it with my own eyes.

The Colosseo was built in the year 80 and could accomodate 50.000 spectators. They came to the amphitheatre to watch gladiator fights, hunts and sporting events and maybe even naval battles. Nowadays it is one of the biggest highlights of the city and something you can’t really miss whilst visiting Rome.

I was really impressed by the building. Everyone knows how it looks on the outside, but you don’t really get how enormous it is until you go inside. Again, there weren’t a lot of tourists so the emptiness only reinforced that impression. Inside the building, they made a Colosseum museum where you can learn more about the building and its functions throughout history. For instance, did you know that the colosseum also contained stables and a church at some point (not at the same time).

Something funny I found at the museum was that there was actual graffiti made in the first century. People carved all sorts of images into their seats, though they seemed a lot more respectful and civilized than some of the graffiti you see nowadays…

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