In the previous episodes, we began our visit along Via dei Fori Imperiali with the boulevard’s controversial fascist history…. the monumental monument dedicated to former King of Italy Vittorio Emanuelle II….and the famous Capitoline Hill piazza designed by Michelangelo, with it’s palaces transformed into the Capitoline Museums that houses some of Rome’s most significant pieces of art…and with an ancient tabularium below that offers a glorious view of the Roman forum.
BONUS FEATURE in A Road Retraveled’s Travel App: Trajan’s column not only inspired another prominent ancient roman emperor’s triumphal column, but other victory columns around the world! …. What architectural design in Trajan’s column, that although rare in ancient Rome, gained popularity as a defense system for castles and towers in the middle ages, but has a practical yet aesthetic function in more modern times? ….. Also on the app you can download a beautiful original wallpaper photo of the Eternal City, AND a PDF file with valuable visitor information for the Imperial Forums, Coliseum, and Palatine Hill. Thank you everyone for purchasing the app, and supporting the show…see you next time, on A Road Retraveled.
As we leave Piazza Venezia towards Via dei Fori Imperiali, you can’t miss Trajan’s Column sticking out of the ruins like a candle stick.
Some emperors like Severus, Titus and Constanine built triumphal arches nearby, but in year 113 AD, Trajan built a triumphal column to commemorate his victorious war in 105 AD against Dacia, where modern day Romania is. This 100 foot column served as Trajan’s victory monument, tomb, and a spectacular piece of imperial propaganda glorifying the emperor’s military exploits. Over 2,500 carved figures tell the entire history of the military campaign. The highly decorated narrative frieze spirals upward around the column that’s made up of 20 hollow Carrara marble drums, each weighing about 32 tons. If you were to unfurl this scroll it would stretch to about 656 feet. The scene at the bottom of the column starts off with the army crossing the Danube River on a floating bridge, with the campaign under way.
“History is written by the victors” may be a quote by Winston Churchill, but it was clearly demonstrated by Trajan who portrayed himself to be a strong, efficient commander of a well organized army who naturally never looses a battle. On the other hand, the barbaric Dacians were portrayed as pathetically desperate and disorganized, and all the while conveniently ignoring the death, destruction and suffering of innocent people of caused by his war.
As you might expect, if you asked the Romanians, they’d tell you a different story of brave Dacian warriors who previously clobbered the Roman legions under the leadership of their Dacian King Decebal, forcing the defeated Romans to accept a truce leaving Dacia an independent client state of Rome….but they were later defeated by the Roman war machine under Trajan who considered Dacia a military threat and resumed the war seeking to expand his glories and ending the humiliating truce….and of course, enriching his imperial coffers with the famous Treasure of Decebal and control the Dacian gold mines of Transylvania.
The story of Trajan’s war ends at the top of the column, where initially stood a statue of the emperor himself. In the late 1500’s Pope Sixtus V crowned the column with a bronze figure of Saint Peter… placing a Christian symbol over a pagan artifact was commonplace, evident of Christianity having triumphed over Paganism. Despite many earthquakes, even one that damaged the enormous Coliseum, the column leans to the side only less than half a degree.
The interior of Trajan’s column is hollow, with a small doorway at the base and a spiral stairway going up 185 steps to the platform above. And after admiring Trajan’s conquest story on the frieze, if the visitor of ancient rome climbed to the top, he would’ve gotten a magnificent view of the grand scale display of how the treasures plundered from Dacia was put to use: Trajan’s Forum, and Trajan’s Market.
And speaking of Markets….here, you’re looking at perhaps the world’s first 6 story indoor hillside shopping mall, and with 150 stores ranging from food to fine art, it was quite ahead of the times! It was actually a consolation prize designed by the emperor’s genius architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, because in order for Trajan to prepare this area for the forum he wanted to build, much of the commercial district that existed here had to be demolished. This mall too was probably overrun by mall rats, just not the recent species of mallrats with cellphones and their parents’ credit card.
There’s really not much left of this once grand forum…it lasted 7 centuries until a couple of serious earthquakes in 9th century destroyed most of it. The row of columns is all that’s left of Basilica Ulpia, named after the family Trajan belonged to. This basilica is said to have been decorated with marble and large equestrian statue of Trajan. Two libraries once stood at each side of the column, one housing Latin documents, one Greek documents.
Like his column, the forum and market served as another imperial propaganda aimed at convincing the people of Rome that not only the empire hadn’t fallen on financial difficulties, but through military conquests, Trajan the benefactor was able to demonstrate Rome’s superiority by building a new urban center for the people….and ensure public support for future military campaigns.
Trajan’s Column was the source of inspiration for another famous column in Rome….if you don’t already know, find out in the bonus feature segment on the A Road Retraveled app, as well as in the next episode that reveals surprising controversial secrets surrounding some of the most famous pieces of art and architecture in Rome.
Via dei Fori Imperiali got its name from a series of monumental Fora, or public squares. In addition to the Roman Forum and Trajan’s Forum, there is also Forum of Caesar, Forum of Augustus, and Forum of Nerva, although they are lesser known. On future episodes we’ll venture further into the Fori Imperiali to take a closer look at these ancient urban centers and see what secrets they reveal. By now we’ve arrived at the end of the road at Piazza del Colosseo where you can visit the interior of the Coliseum. The Colisseum did not get it’s name from being so colossal, but from the nearby colossal statue of Emperor Nero portrayed as Apollo, the pagan sun god.
To find out more about the Coliseum and the gladiatorial battles that took place there, check out episode featuring the Off the Beaten Path Places around the Colosseum…including the Ludus Magnus where gladiators lived and trained.
Near the coliseum is the Arch of Constantine, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Previously, the Roman Forum was open to the public freely, but for the first time in 2,000 years, Romans and tourists alike must pay to go in. Of course, did not make the locals or the tourists happy at all, but like most ancient monuments, the forum is in need of costly restorations. The silver lining to this huge disappointment is that unlike before, now you pretty much have the forum to yourself. Tickets include entry to both the Forum and the Palatine Hill as well as the Colosseum. Since everything closes in the afternoon, check the hours in advance as they tend to change with the seasons.
For a few hours on Sunday afternoons, via dei Fori Imperiali blocks off all the traffic and it becomes a pedestrian friendly boulevard. Live music performers line up, and you can go for a leisurely stroll, go on a bike or carriage ride without inhaling exhaust fumes or risk becoming road kill. This to me is the best time to visit via dei Fori Imperiali…it makes walking and sight seeing a whole lot more enjoyable. In the fall when daylight savings time hits, you can watch the sun set behind ancient monuments creating sihlouette masterpieces. Unfortunately during spring and summer months, traffic is allowed back through while it’s still daylight. And you might want to stick around and see the Coliseum lit up at night….it’s as incredible at night as it is during the day. Thank you for joining me today in Rome on via dei Fori Imperiali. Until next time, ciao for now!
Below are the 2 previous episodes: Click on the Title or the Image to go to the episode page:
Via dei Fori Imperiali: Part 1 (Rome’s controversial fascist past)