The next building west of the temple of Antoninus and Faustina is the Temple of Divus Romulus, which was built by the Emperor Maxentius not to the legendary founder of Rome Romulus, but in honor of his young son who died. It was dedicated in 309 AD, and like most buildings that are still standing or partially standing today, was converted to a Christian church in the middle ages. It’s one of the most unusual temple structures. Most temples share a similar shape, but this one consists of a small central round structure with 2 side niches. Originally, it had a rounded front facade with areas for statues. Today, the central rotunda remains, as does the original bronze door and columns. The columns are unique, made of a a bright purple rock called porphyry. It’s rare- the columns have been valued at 20 million euros each in todays money. Maxentius apparently wanted only the best to remember his son.
Basilica of Constantine
Emperor Maxentius also began work on the largest building in the Forum in 308, but died before it was done. Emperor Constantine finished the enormous building, which is called the Basilica of Constantine. The interior was vast and open, supported by 3 towering barrel vaults on either side. Today, the southern half is gone (collapsed in an earthquake in 847), as is the central nave, but the foundation and the northern half remain to show how huge the place was.
When it was built, it was the most advanced Roman architectural achievement.Today, it’s still one of the most impressive ancient structures.The basilica housed the colossal statue of Constantine at one end. Parts of it were found buried under rubble in the Forum, and can be seen at the Capitoline Museum on the Capitoline Hill. The statue was 40 feet high, and was probably taken apart for parts of the statue made of bronze. Today his head, hand, foot, upper arm and kneecap can be seen at the museum. The Basilica with its 3 giant vaults continues to impress. At the Rome olympic games in 1960, they held the wrestling competitions here, quite possibly the coolest venue for a sporting event ever. The space is still used for events, including musical concerts. Attempts are underway to keep what is left of the structure standing, including scaffolding, supports, and a giant cable tied around the back designed to keep it from tipping inward.
The Temple of Venus and Rome
Between the temple of Constantine and the Colosseum on the west end of the forum is what’s left of the biggest Roman temple, the Temple of Venus and Rome. It was huge, 348 by 156 feet and 97 feet tall, with huge columns supporting a large open interior. It was built by Emperor Hadrian in the second century on top of what was once Nero’s villa. It’s difficult today to tell exactly what you’re looking at when you see the ruins. 1 row of columns remain on the south side, and the rounded decorative niche that once stood in the rear center of the inside can still be seen. Since the ruin is right across from the Colosseum, it has often been neglected and used as a convenient open space in the area. It was used as a car park until the 1980s. Recently, it has reopened after 20 years of restoration. Today, the grounds are used on good Friday by the Pope as part of the stations of the cross.
There are many smaller buildings that made up the forum and the surrounding area. Perhaps we’ll come back to them later, but for now, here’s a fantastic video with a computer generated recreation of the Forum. The video highlights many of the specific buildings referred to in the last 3 postings. Enjoy-