Imperial Fora

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Imperial Fora, also referred to as the Fori Imperiali in Italian, are a group of grand public squares constructed in Rome spanning over a century and a half, from 46 BCE to 113 CE. These fora served as the focal point of political, religious, and economic activity in the Roman Republic and Empire.

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The Imperial Fora, though separate from the Roman Forum, are situated quite close to each other. Julius Caesar initiated the construction of these fora by relocating and reorganizing the Forum and the Comitium, another political forum space, in this area of Rome. The Imperial Fora served as the centers of politics, religion, and economic activity in the Roman Empire.

The imperial fora, modeled after Julius Caesar's forum, share similar characteristics that allow them to be considered as a single architectural unit. These features include the presence of a temple, enclosing walls, and symmetrical axis that run parallel or perpendicular to one another. For example, the Forum of Augustus' axis is perpendicular to that of Caesar, while the Forum of Vespasian's axis is parallel. Additionally, a thoroughfare was transformed into the Forum Transitorium by Domitian and Nerva, and Trajan added a complex that reinforced the unity of the fora by duplicating the exedrae of Augustus and the gardens of the Temple of Peace. The columns of Venus Genetrix in the front row align with the ends of the porticoes in the Forum of Trajan, and the colonnades of both fora are the same width.

List of the Imperial Forums

circa 46 BCE

Forum of Caesar
The Forum of Caesar (Foro di Cesare), constructed in the north-eastern part of the Forum Romanum, was named after Julius Caesar. Some very expensive parcels of land in the area were purchased for the rpoject. The final cost of the land was said to be 100,000,000 sesterces. The construction of the forum probably began in 51 BCE, but the purchasing of the land was handled by Cicero and Gaius Oppius as early as 54 BCE. On the eve of the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BCE, Caesar promised to build a temple dedicated to Venus Victrix, the supposed ancestor of his own family, the gens Iulia. This initial dedication was made because Venus was the favorite goddess of Pompey, and Caesar hoped to gain her favor before the battle against Pompey.

circa 2 BCE

Forum of Augustus
The Forum of Augustus (Foro di Augusto) was a public forum in ancient Rome that was built by the Roman emperor Augustus in the first century BCE. It served as a central meeting place for citizens and was surrounded by important government buildings and temples. The Forum was part of a larger complex of structures built by Augustus to commemorate his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. The Forum was a major cultural and political center in ancient Rome and has been partially excavated, but it is now mostly in ruins.

circa 75 CE

Forum of Vespasian or the Temple of Peace
Between the years 70-75 CE, following the civil war for succession to the Empire and after the bloody repression of the Jewish revolt, the emperor Vespasian (69-79 CE) built a shrine dedicated to "Peace". The shrine was called the "Temple of Peace" (Templum Pacis) or "Forum of Peace", also known as the Forum of Vespasian (Forum Vespasiani). It was composed by a large porticoed square court with a temple at the end, flanked by two halls. The complex became an integral part of the five Imperial Forums, being the third in chronological order after the Forums built by Caesar (built circa 46 BCE) and Augustus (circa 2 BCE) and constructed prior to those of Nerva (circa 97 CE) and Trajan (circa 112-113 CE). It differed profoundly from these complexes because of its function. The Imperial Fora were mainly used as court-houses for the administration of justice, in addition to a place of legal libraries and archives.

In contrast, the "Forum of the Peace" hosted a rich collection of sculptures and paintings, along with a famous scientific and literary library (the Bibliotheca Pacis) making this area as the "cultural center" adorned with creations of the human mind. In a hallnext to the temple, was thefamous large marble plan of the ancient rome, known as the "Forma Urbis Romae", measuring approx 12x18 meters. It was positioned on a wall still preserved as the actual facade of the Church of the Saints Cosmas and Damian. Between 1998-2000 CE, the superintendency of cultural heritage for the city of Rome undertook an extensive project of archaeological excavation whereby the north-west area of the ancient square was discovered together with the pink granite shafts from Aswan (Egypt), which supported the magnificient portico comprising Corinthian columns covered by a roof with white marble tiles.

circa 97 CE

Forum of Nerva
The Forum of Nerva (Foro di Nerva) was the fourth and smallest of the imperial fora in Rome, built by Emperor Domitian before 85 CE and officially opened by his successor, Nerva, in 97 CE. The forum was constructed on the site of a street called the Argiletum, which had been a popular market area for booksellers and cobblers. The new forum served as both a main street and a grand entrance to the other Roman Fora. The plan of the Forum of Nerva is long and narrow, with protruding columns decorating the walls instead of arcades. A temple dedicated to Minerva dominated the western end, behind which was a monumental entrance. The forum also featured a number of shops and businesses along its length.

circa 112 CE

Forum of Trajan
The Trajan's Forum, also called the Forum of Trajan, was the last of the public squares or "imperial fora" built in ancient Rome. The construction of the forum was supervised by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. The public forum was constructed by the emperor Trajan using wealth gained from the defeat of Dacia, with building starting between 105 and 107 CE. It was officially opened in 112 CE, and the Trajan's Column was added and dedicated in 113 CE.

Post Roman Period

circa 1575 CE

Via Alessandrina
In the second half of the sixteenth century CE the cardinal Michele Bonelli (1541-1598 CE), nephew of Pope pius V (1566-1572 CE), initiated the city planning in a huge area of the Imperial Fora, which was then characterized by the presence of groups of buildings, separated by gardens and large green areas. It was thus made a new street system pivoted to a new straight road opened in 1584 CE and over four hundred meters long. This new road (via) was named Alessandrina after its builder; the cardinal was infact nick-named "Alessandrino" for he was born nearby Alessandria in the Piedmont region. Also the entire neighbourhood (quartiere) that grew in later years around the road was named "Alessandrino" in honour of Cardinal Bonelli. The churches and houses that flanked both sides of the Via Alessandrina were demolished on the occassion of the excavations carried out during the fascist era, between 1924 and 1932 CE, in order to open the new Via dell'Impero (today known as the Via dei Fori Imperiali). Despite the fact that the road is today completely detached from its original populated context, and the fact that its layout prevents an accurate reading of the Forums built by Augustus, Nerva and Trajan, its position allows for a unique and suggestive viewpoint on the ancient architectural ruins.

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