Rome of the Emperors: A Roman Forum Walk

Taking in the famous vista of the Roman Forum from the terraces of the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill), you have probably already cast your eyes down and across two millennia of history in a single glance. Here, in one fabled panorama, are the world's most striking and significant concentrations of historic remains.

The Colosseum

To kick things off, start just south of the Forum at ancient Rome's hallmark monument, the Colosseum (with its handy Colosseo Metro stop). Convincingly austere, the Colosseum is the Eternal City's yardstick of eternity. Nowadays, you can take one of the elevators upstairs to level one to glimpse the extensive subterranean passageways that used to funnel all the unlucky animals and gladiators into the arena.

The Roman Forum

Leaving the Colosseum behind, admire the Arch of Constantine, standing just to the north of the arena. The largest and best preserved of Rome's triumphal arches, it was erected in AD 315 to celebrate the victory of the emperor Constantine (280–337) over Maxentius—it was shortly after this battle that Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. You have to walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali to the only Forum entrance, located about halfway down the street from the Colosseum and across from Via Cavour, to enter the Forum. From there, you can take a left up the ancient Via Sacra to start at the Forum’s southwestern point with the Temple of Venus and Roma. Off to your left, on the spur of hillside jutting from the Palatine Hill, stands the famed Arch of Titus. Through the arch, photograph the great vista of the entire Forum as it stretches toward the distant Capitoline Hill.

Haunt of the Vestal Virgins

Continue your walk toward the Capitoline Hill by strolling over to the Temple of Castor and Pollux, then head past the temple to the circular Temple of Vesta. In a tradition going back to an age when fire was a precious commodity, the famous vestal virgins kept the fire of Rome burning here. Of the original 20 columns only 3 remain, behind which stretch the vast remains of the House of the Vestal Virgins. Crossing the central square and walking back toward the towering Capitoline Hill, you are now entering the midsection of the open area of the Forum proper; you can see to your left the Column of Phocas.

Severus and Saturn

Continue back down the Via Sacra, where towers one of the Forum's extant spectaculars, the Arch of Septimius Severus. Continuing left and up the Via Sacra, you reach the base of the celebrated Temple of Saturn. For a better sense of the whole area—a sort of archaeological gestalt—climb onto the Palatine (the stairs are very steep; easier access is up the path by the Arch of Titus) to the terrace at the Horti Farnesiani Gardens for a breathtaking view to put your walking into panoramic context.

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