Towering Ionic columns stretch proud and fragmented into the Italian sky and ancient porticoes stand guard over the empty shells of buildings that were once the centers of commerce, justice and worship for the city. Relics of the ancient Roman Forums sit stoically amidst the short grass and giant boulders that have invaded its vaunted boundaries. The stairs where the great leaders of Rome once stood now lead nowhere, the foundations of the temples where the citizens dutifully prayed now rest in disarray, and walls that used to house powerful Roman senators now protect nothing but weeds, dirt and the occasional stray cat.
One of the most popular attractions in the world, overcrowding at the Roman Forums is certainly nothing new. Even before thousands of years of looting brought down some of the finest examples of Rome's wealth, this overcrowding (not to mention both fires and earthquakes in Roman Forums) led to the city's adoption of the glitzier Imperial forums as the empire's new center during the reign of Julius Caesar.
Roman Forum history dates back to 6th century BC, and the oldest surviving foundation from these times is the Temple of Saturn. Said to have a giant statue of the god of Agriculture inside, the temple had two distinct uses: as the first treasury of the Roman empire and as the gathering place for the annual winter solstice festival named “Saturnalia,” a week long ceremony that began on December 17. This holiday is now more widely recognizable as the celebration of Christmas.
The Arch of Titus and Arch of Septimius Severus are both dedicated to commemorate important Roman victories in the Jewish War and the Parthian War, respectively. The House of the Vestal Virgins is one of the better preserved sections of the ancient Roman Forum, where the virgin holy priestesses of Vesta resided. Their chief task was to keep the sacred fire of Vesta aflame. Roman Forum history dictates that any citizen in need of fire could then visit the Temple of Vesta and receive fire for their homes. Unfortunately, the majority of this structure did not survive the onslaught of nature in the form of earthquakes in the Roman Forum.
Basilicas dedicated to Roman emperors are mixed in with these ancient temples, along with the Imperial Rostra, the platform commandeered by senators and other great orators when they needed to address the city. Its greatest claim to fame is being the site where Mark Antony eulogized Julius Caesar. The nearby Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius still has a bit of its ceiling intact - a ceiling that once gave shelter to Rome's courts of law.
The ancient Roman Forum extends up the invulnerable slopes of Palatine Hill, where the ruins of imperial palaces and other affluent residences lie. Tiberius, Augustus, Nero and Caligula all called this hill their home, and one is able to see many of the great ruins of Rome from this vantage point - the timeworn temples, the ghost of Circus Maximus and the rounded pillars of the Colosseum are all visible from this spot.
The fourth century found these magnificent buildings in the first stages of decay, however. Fires, invasions and destructive earthquakes in Roman Forums rapidly deteriorated the once proud structures. The final chapter in Roman Forum history ended when many of its proud building blocks were removed throughout the years to create new architectural wonders, thus relegating it to same fate as so many other legendary landmarks of the Roman Empire.
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