Two thousand years ago, in the middle of Rome stood a magnificent development of temples, statues, and markets, where politicians gathered to rule the known world, and citizens thrived in unparalleled surroundings. In Latin it’s called the Forum Magnum, in Italian it’s called the Foro Romano, and to us it’s the Roman Forum.
Roman Forum 3
The history in this strip of land fills volumes of books and provides great plots for movies, but after the first ten minutes one may find that it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm when viewing these skeletal remains. At first it made me feel culturally challenged. This is one of the top sites in terms of world heritage, I should be giddy when I’m there, but instead I find myself treating it more like a trip to the dentist. It’s unpleasant at the time, but afterwards you know you’ve done something good for yourself. I probably sound horribly bratty and jaded, but after some thought I think this is why I feel this way:
1. It’s not well maintained. At a minimum of twelve euros for an adult to enter (I don’t know how they came up with that price, but I imagine cackling was involved), you’d think there would be cash left over to purchase weed wackers and a few poor souls to man them. Maybe use a classier temporary fencing option other than chain link. Empty the trashcans, or at least not place them directly in front of the monuments.
2. Good luck figuring out what you’re looking at. Unless you study ancient Rome for a living, it’s very difficult to look at pile of worn bricks and say, “Ah, the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, of course.” The small weather worn signs are few and far between. When you can locate them, they only give brief descriptions of what was there, with no illustrations of what they once looked like. Posted maps are also scarce, and are not provided with your ticket.
3. It’s inundated with tour groups. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m actually not a tour group hater. I get it, let someone else do the navigating and tell you what’s interesting. I’ve joined many tour groups. But with only a few walkways it’s difficult to navigate through the large lumps of tourists without getting jostled around.
4. It’s uncomfortable. The terrain is uneven and rocky. Some of the stairs have loose stones in the steps. There is little seating for the weary, unless you want to sit on a nearby rock. Water fountains are hard to find, and restrooms even more so. Almost no shade.
5. It’s dusty. Plan on a thin layer of dirt to be covering you and everything you are wearing on a dry day.
Despite all of this, I don’t think it should be skipped, unless it’s summer. During the summer months, the forum turns into a pit of despair. What was crowded in April is a human traffic jam in July. The lack of shade goes from being annoying to an actual health issue. Illegal venders try to sell you ice water from inside their backpacks, and you’re so hot and thirsty you actually buy it. And, due to the fact that the forum is at least twenty feet below ground level, the sun heated bricks and stone in this breezeless crater make it act like an open air tourist oven. You can actually smell the hot shoe rubber.
If you really must see it during a summer visit, go early and bring water, because despite my tetchy attitude, it is impressive.
Roman Forum 1
Roman Forum Columns
Roman Forum 2
Roman Forum Cornice Debris
I also recommend walking up the hill to the south and exploring Palatine Hill, where the Emperor’s palaces used to be and kind of still are. It has the same issues that the Forum has, only with a breeze and nice views.
Palantine Hill 1
Palantine Hill 2
View from Palentine Hill
Palantine Hill Ruin
Palantine Hill Overlook
Palintine Hill Stadium
And Poppies! In the spring and early summer, this is a good spot for inner city poppy spotting.
Rome Poppies
Probably the biggest mistake of a trip to the forum is treating it like any other day in Rome. Your sundress and sandals that were comfortable and trendy in the piazzas leave you with sandy feet and a sunburn in the forum. Forget that you’ll be in the middle of a big city, dress like you’re going walking in the woods on a sunny day, it’s actually more appropriate for the terrain.
Another fix would be to join one of the tours I was complaining about. Don’t just buy one of those books with the transparency overlays and think your experience will be so much better. This is the kind of place that keeps tour guides in business.
But if you’d rather save your euros doing something else or would rather see ancient Rome in a different way, there are alternatives.
1. Go to the roof bar at Hotel Forum. You can overlook the Forum from up high while drinking prosecco under an umbrella. You can also take the elevator to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument to get an overlook from the top.
2. Walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali. This is the major road that Mussolini thought was necessary to lay on top of the Forum. It has wide sidewalks so you can see both sides of the Forum from above, including the North side, which I think is more impressive. This is also a really pretty walk at night, when the Forum is lit up (think Roman Holiday).
3. If you don’t have the time or the change to detour to the Forum area, at the very least, go to the Pantheon. It’s definitely one of, if not the most impressive intact Roman structures still standing, and it’s free to enter.
At least that’s my advice. It’s not perfect, but it’s still incredible that we still have this area to explore. If you find yourself in Rome, you shouldn’t skip it, just keep what I said above in mind.
Ciao Ciao!