This complex, together with the neighbouring forum and column of Trajan, represents the last great forum complex in ancient Rome’s imperial history – appropriate then that it gives sweeping views over its predecessors, and the original Roman Forum.
The site is an impressive one, having been crafted by Emperor Trajan’s preferred engineer and architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, in the first decade of the second century AD. Apollodorus had to effectively “scoop out” a significant portion of the bottom of the Quirinale Hill to build the complex – an amount memorialised in the height of Trajan’s column. It’s a sweeping multi-layered complex, with statement hemicyle containing covered shops (tabernae), and even a complete shopping street.
It is, effectively, the world’s first shopping mall. The visitor enters through the soaring Great Hall (more on those white fluffy hangings later!) which, today, houses the Musei degli Fori Imperiali (the Museum of the Imperial Forums).
It’s possible to explore the site’s many levels (both inside and out), and imagine a bustling series of shops overlooking the Forum of Trajan with its great basilica and libraries.
The site – like so many encountered on this trip – survives to us because of reuse in medieval times and beyond. The tower just about peeking up in the photo below is the medieval “Torre delle Milizie” bullt in 1200, while the join between ancient and more medieval buildings is visible above the archways in the building to the right.
The via Biberatica cuts through the complex and is one of the few complete ancient streets still in existence in the city today – it takes its name from the Latin word for drink, suggesting that it may have been home to taverns and grocers.
The imperial forums of Caesar, Augustus and Nerva also come to life in the Museum of the Imperial Forums, with exhibits showcasing their development, use and decorative artefacts.
Two stunning contemporary exhibitions were also being hosted here during our viist. The first, by Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry, put his creations ‘senza titolo’ (untitled) in Carrara marble, bronze and silver in sharp contest with their ancient setting, bringing some of those ancient tabernae to life.
The second exhibit, The Elegance of Food (L’eleganza del cibo), was another of Rome’s contributions to Milan Expo. Here again some very modern creations (including those white hangings in the Great Hall earlier) were shown off to maximum impact in their dramatic setting. Who wouldn’t want a dress made of bread and associated products!