At the center of most Roman cities was a big open space called the Forum. People met there to do business, to sell things and buy things, to see their friends, to find out about the news, and even to go to school. Usually the Forum had stone pavement, and around the edges there were fancy buildings: temples, and basilicas, and sometimes stores (shops). In some cities the Forum had a platform in it that people could stand on to make speeches. This platform was called the Rostra.
This is the main forum in Rome, the biggest and the most important of the Roman fora (one forum, two fora). People first began meeting in this forum around 500 BC, at the time of the founding of the Roman Republic. The Senate met in the brick building on the right of the photograph (actually this is a later replacement for an older building that burned down). Little by little, rich men added temples, statues, triumphal arches, and basilicas to the forum, until by the time of Julius Caesar the forum was very crowded.
So Julius Caesar built a new forum off to the side of the first one. This is the forum of Julius Caesar. It has a temple at one end, but you can’t see it in this picture. What you can see is the doors of a lot of little shops, for the businesses that were located in the forum. (In the time of Caesar, of course, the forum was paved in limestone blocks, not all grassy as it is now).
This is another picture of the forum of Julius Caesar. The big pinkish cement blocks in the front of the picture are from the temple of Venus that once stood here. You can also see the doors of the shops, and the peristyle that once ran all around the forum.
But there still wasn’t enough room for all the meeting and shopping that happened in the Roman forum as the city got bigger and bigger. So the emperor Augustus built another forum near the forum of Julius Caesar. In it, he put a temple to the god Mars (the husband of Venus).
In the back of the Forum of Augustus, you can see the remains of the temple – see the white marble steps going up to the temple, and the white columns along the sides? All around the temple there was open space for people to meet ibn and do business. In the back, there was a high stone wall to keep fires out of the Forum (though in the end this didn’t work.)
Other Roman towns also had fora- this is the forum in Pompeii, in southern Italy (you can see the volcano, Vesuvius, in the background). This one has a two-story peristyle going around it.
Learn by doing: where is the central place in your town? Go spend several hours there
More about the Roman Senate House
City : A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, by David Macaulay (1983). For kids – brilliant!
The Colosseum & the Roman Forum, by Martyn Whittock (2002). Easy reading.
The Roman Forum, by Michael Grant (1970). Out of date, but Michael Grant is an entertaining writer with a simple style which teenagers may appreciate.