The Forum was the center of the ancient city, a place to see and to be seen, to catch up on the latest news and gossip, do some shopping, business and even to be entertained. Nowadays all we see are ruins, mostly due to the plundering which took place in the Middle Ages as the great monuments were ravaged and had their marble and other elements stripped off them for the building of the Vatican and other Papal palaces and churches. Despite this it is still the best example of an open-air museum, offering the visitor a chance to go back in time somewhat and walk in the footsteps of the ancient Romans.
Over the centuries the Forum has gone through many changes. After a big fire in AD 283 it was already 1,000 years old and had been remodelled several times. The Forum started life as a marshy area, a meeting place for the early inhabitants of the surrounding hills. By the 5th century BC it had evolved into Rome's city-centre, a place for political assemblies, riots, demonstrations, trials, gladiatorial shows and various public festivities. The marshy ground had been drained, the Cloaca Maxima had been created and one could see lofty patrician houses amidst the hustle and bustle of a market filled with food stalls, various imported and local goods and even cattle in the area closer to the river (Forum Boarium). Plautus gives us an interesting description of the kinds of people lurking around the Forum:
"For perjurers, try the Comitium. Liars and braggarts hang around the Shrine of Cloacina: rich, married ne'er do-wells by the Basilica. Packs of prostitutes there too - but rather clapped-out ones. In the Fish-Market, members of the dining clubs. In the lower Forum respectable, well-to-do citizens out for a stroll; in the Middle Forum, flashier types along the canal. By the Lacus Curtius you will find bold fellows with a tongue in their head and a bad intent in their mind - great slanderers of others and very vulnerable to it themselves. By the old shops, the money-lenders - they will make or take a loan. Behind the Temple of Castor there are men to whom you wouldn't entrust yourself. In the Vicus Tuscus are men who sell themselves. In the Velabrum you will find a baker or a butcher or a fortune-teller, or men who will do a turn for you or get you to do a turn for them." [Plautus, Curculio 470-82]
As time went by the are transformed yet again into a showcase of Roman power, reminders of triumphs celebrated by victorious generals, the conquests of the empire, and elaborate temples and various public buildings built with the booty and slaves Rome had acquired.
Today it is interesting to see, as indeed one of my pictures above shows, that the alleged site of Julius Caesar's funeral pyre at the Ara di Cesare (Temple of Divus Julius) is still honoured by people who deposit flowers at the spot anonymously.