Proceeding along what is now the Via dei Fori Imperiali, which joins Piazza Venezia to the Coliseum, we cross the area in the heart of the city where a whole series of monumental squares dedicated to the emperors grew up in the first centuries of the imperial age.
The area occupied by the Imperial Fora was previously divided into two by the Argiletum: the west part was occupied by a residential neighborhood, and the east part was a mainly commercial area.
The first of the Imperial Fora was built by Julius Caesar (mid 1st century BC) and it was used as a model for the ones which followed.
In chronological order these were: the Forum of Augustus, the Forum Transitorium (built by Domitian but inaugurated by Nerva, his successor) and the Forum of Trajan, the most imposing, built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD.
The Templum Pacis, commissioned by Vespasian in an area to the East of the Forum of Nerva, also forms part of the series.
This consists of a rectangular colonnaded square with lavish marble and sculpted decoration. At the end of the square is the temple, dedicated to Mars Ultor: this is a large building in white marble with eight columns on the front and seven down its long sides.
The inner chamber is lavishly decorated and terminates in an apse which contained the cult statues of Marsand Venus.
On either side of the temple are two paved walkways terminating in flights of steps leading to outer level, which end in two entrances, one with three arches and one with a single arch, traditionally referred to as the ‘Arco dei Pantani‘.
The large spaces covered by colonnades were almost certainly used by the city’s praetors, who presided over civil litigation,
The square took the form of a long rectangle with colonnaded double-aisled colonnaftles down its sides.
The flat ceiling of the side colonnades rested on a series of tabernae (shops) of the Augustan period, which were partially rebuilt under Trajan. The shops are of different sizes, wedged into the slopes of the Capitoline Hill, and the second storey looks over the Clivus Argentarius, the ancient road which joined the Forum to the Capitol.
The bottom of the square was occupied by the Temple of Venus Genetrix, which had eight columns across the front and nine down the long sides, but none at the back.
Known in late antiquity as the Forum Transitorium, the Forum of Nerva acquired this name because it joined the earlier Imperial Fora together and because of the role it served as a thoroughfare, occupying the space ofthe Argiletum.
The Temple of Minerva was built outside the exedra of the Forum of Augustus, and the remaining area, which became known as the ‘Porticus Absidata‘, functioned as a general entrance to all the monumental complexes.
The complex of the Imperial Fora was completed to the south-east by Vespasian’s Forum of Peace.
The temple consisted of a big hall which opened in the manner of an exedra at the bottom of the colonnade.The cult statue was kept in the apse.
A row of columns marked the colonnade of the temple, and a large fragment of African marble from one of these may still be seen in the open space in front of the current entrance to the Roman Forum.
Finally, a plan of Rome carved in marble was placed in one of the colonnade’s large exhedrae in 211AD.
A library was also kept in the Forum, its design reminiscent of that of Hadrian’s Library in Athens.
This contained a large number of works of art, including those originally from Greece and Asia Minorconfiscated by Nero for his Golden House, as Pliny the Elder recounts, and recovered by Vespasian so that they could once again be enjoyed by the general public.
This is the largest and the most majestic of the Imperial Fora.
Trajan returned to Domitian’s ambitious projects for the removal of the saddle of land joining the Capitol andthe Quirinal in the area of what is now Piazza Venezia.
The works on the slopes of the Quirinal gave rise to the brick complex of the Markets of Trajan, which were separated from the Forum by a road. The square ended in the Basilica Ulpia, and behind this and between two libraries rose Trajan’s Column, thirty meters high, which recounts the emperor’s exploits and his conquest of Dacia.