The political and civil heart of ancient Rome beats beneath a complex stratification of streets, squares and buildings whose history, excavations and restorations have repeatedly changed its face: an archaeological panorama unique worldwide that includes masterpieces of medieval art.
The Forum was originally covered by a swamp. It was only in the late 7th century BCE that the valley was reclaimed and the Roman Forum began to take shape. It was destined to remain the centre of public life for over a millennium.
The various monuments were built through the centuries: first the buildings for political, religious and commercial activities, then during the 2nd century BCE the civil basilicas, used for judicial activities. Already at the end of the republican age, the ancient Roman Forum had become insufficient to serve as the administrative and representative centre of the city.
The various dynasties of emperors added only prestigious monuments: the Temple of Vespasian and Titus and that of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, dedicated to the memory of the deified emperors, and the monumental Arch of Septimius Severus, built at the western end of the Forum in 203 CE to celebrate the emperor’s victories over the Parthians.
The Palatine Hill
On the hill, beside the Romulean huts, arose the aristocratic residences of the Republic and then the luxurious imperial palaces. A walk in the park unfolds between myth, history and art, increasing the fascination of a site already well-known to travellers on the Grand Tour.
The Palatine hill preserves the remains of Iron Age settlements connected with the earliest core of the city of Rome. The hill was home to important civic cults, including the Magna Mater (Cybele) and, between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, it became the residential district of the Roman aristocracy, with elegant houses characterised by exceptional painted and paved decorations, such as those preserved in the House of the Griffins. Augustus symbolically chose the hill as the site of his own house, which consisted of several buildings, including the House of Livia. Later the hill became the site of the imperial palaces: the Domus Tiberiana, the Domus Transitoria and then the Domus Aurea, and finally the Domus Flavia, divided into a public and private sector, the latter being known as the Domus Augustana. From their complex and partly overlapping plans, it is possible to understand how the different residences were connected to each other partly by underground passages, often richly decorated, of which the Neronian Cryptoporticus remains one of the best preserved examples. The presence of the imperial residences on the hill gave rise to a process of identification. In this way the toponym Palatium came, in modern languages, to mean a royal palace.