Many people are familiar with The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, written in 1599. One of the most recognized pieces from this work of art is the speech given by Marc Antony (a famous Roman politician) after Caesar’s death. You know, the one that begins with the famous line “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…”? Well, for those of you who are travelling to Rome, you will be pleased to discover that this speech was given at the Rostra in the Roman Forum (Foro Romano). Let’s take a walk down the Via Sacra (the Sacred Road) to explore the Rostra along with some of the other historical sights the Roman Forum has to offer.
A glimpse into the past
As you walk along the main road, you’ll see many age-old columns lying between the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and the Colosseum, along with numerous ancient ruins that were once the government buildings in the center of Rome. Elections, criminal trials, public speeches, commercial affairs, you name it, all took place in the Roman Forum. For many centuries, Romans would gather in this delightful square, which was not only used for governmental purposes, but was also a delightful marketplace. Originally, this showcase of ruins was used as an Etruscan burial ground, and was initially founded in the seventh century BC, growing continuously over time. In fact, today, it is still often referred to as being one of the most honorable meeting places throughout the world.
Entering through the correct gate
It is recommended to enter from Largo della Salara Vecchia along Via dei Fori (the road that runs along the Colosseum) due to the fact that you cannot enter through the gate next to the Colosseum. Once you enter from here, you will see the Tempio di Antonino e Faustina ahead of you. This incredible temple was built in 141 AD by Emperor Antoninus Pius, originally in dedication to his deified wife who had passed away, Faustina the Elder. This temple was later converted into a Roman Catholic Church under the name San Lorenzo in Miranda, between the seventh and eleventh centuries. It is also said that this is the area where St. Lawrence, one of the seven deacons of Ancient Rome, was sentenced to his death.
Place a flower on Julius Caesar's grave
As you come to the end of the path, you’ll be brought to the Via Sacra, known to be the main street during the times of Ancient Rome. Many religious festivals and business arrangements took place alongside the Via Sacra, including just those who would sit, playing a game of dice. If you continue along, you may see people gathered in a line, holding flowers, and entering into a tiny area known as the Tempio di Giulio Cesare (the Temple of Julius Caesar). Augustus (the founder of the Roman Empire) began building this temple in 42 BC, however it wasn’t until 29 BC, after the Battle of Actium, when he decided to dedicate it to Julius Caesar. Additionally, this is also where Caesar’s body was brought to be cremated, and you are more than welcome to bring a flower, or token of your choice, to place in this location as well.
Keep an eye out for the grave of Romulus
Continuing right along the Via Sacra, you will be brought to the Curia, also referred to as the Curia Julia. Originally the construction had been started by Caesar, but was not finished until after his death in 44 BC, and is said to be the original seat for the Roman Senate. However, after being damaged by fire, transformation took place in the 7th century, converting this building into the church of St. Hadrian. During the 1930’s even more work was done to restore the Curia as much as possible to its original form, which is the brick building that you see today. Though, if you visit the church of St. John Lateran you will be pleased to know the original bronze doors were moved to this location, where they are still hanging today.
According to the myth, if you look outside the front of the Curia you will see a large piece of Lapis Niger, which is Latin for “Black Stone”. It is believed that this stone has one of the earliest known Latin inscriptions, written somewhere between 570 and 550 BC, and refers to a king or one of the earlier high religious officials. Either way, the Romans forgot to mark the original significance of this once-upon-a-time shrine, and has since conflicted the stories of its origin. However, it is presumed that this black stone marks the grave of Romulus (the founder of Rome) or perhaps the very place where he was murdered.
Look closely at the Arch of Septimius Severus
As you make your way to the end of the Via Sacra, you will be astounded by the 23 meter-high (75.45 feet) Arco di Settimio Severo (the Arch of Septimius Severus). In AD 203 this arch was built to pay tribute to the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus along with his two sons Caracalla and Geta, who became joint emperors after their father’s death. If you look up closely at the carved markings along the arch, you will see images that reflect scenes from the battle in Parthia. In fact, the lower area of the 3rd panel shows the Parthians fleeing on horseback, and right above this you will see them surrendering to the emperor as he makes his way into the conquered village.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
It is also here, in front of the arch, where you’ll be able to view the famous Rostra, which was built by Caesar. It was here where many politicians, magistrates, and other advocates would deliver grand speeches. However, you may be surprised to learn that speeches were not the only thing the Rostra was famous for. In 87 BC, when Octavius was defeated and Rome was captured, his head was placed here to show the great defeat. Not only did Marc Antony deliver his grand speech, that you may be familiar with from Shakespeare’s play, along with the reading of Julius Caesar’s will, but he also continued this practice by placing the head and hands of Cicero (a famous philosopher who greatly influenced the Latin language) here after an execution.
Opening hours and entrance fees of the Roman Forum
Opening hours to the Roman Forum are from 8:30am until one hour before sunset (which is usually around 5 pm). You are able to book your tickets online, or purchase them at the gate. A combined ticket is available for touring the Colosseum (Colosseo), the Roman Forum (Foro Romano), and the Palatine Hill (Palatino) for 12 EUR (13.37 USD). For citizens of the European Union states aged between 18 and 25 years old, you will pay a reduced fee of 7.50 EUR (8.36 USD), and for citizens of the European Union states under 18, the entrance is free. There are also many individual guided tours that are available in English, Spanish, and French, along with the choice of school and group tours that take between 15 and 50 people.
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