The Forum of Augustus and the Forum of Nerva

Two of Rome's finest Imperial Forums.

TravelCurious Tip

Notice the pin marks in the walls behind the temple ruins, which mark the outline of the original buildings.

Two survivors

Opposite the enormous Roman Forum, and visible from the road, you will find two other impressive forums side by side: the Forums of Nerva and Augustus. The Fascist dictator Mussolini opened his Via dei Fori Imperiali in 1932, billed as a celebration of the glories of ancient Rome. The construction of this road in fact obliterated much of the city’s architectural heritage from all eras, including important parts of the Forums of Nerva and Augustus, and the vibration and pollution of its traffic continue to damage the sites to this day. However, all is not lost - the remains of the Forums still provide a fascinating glimpse of Rome’s Imperial majesty.

The Forum of Augustus, as the name implies, was a forum built by Rome’s first emperor Octavian Augustus, and houses the remains of the Temple of Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger). In its heyday the forum would have displayed a wide range of statuary, and the huge temple must have been a particularly extraordinary sight. It held giant statues of the god Mars and goddess Venus, from whom Julius Caesar and his nephew Octavian (also Caesar’s adopted son) claimed descent, and who gave their dynasty divine status. To the left and right of the divine couple were statues representing Rome, the Tiber, Fortuna and Palatine Hill. Today the remains of the temple are still visible and the huge steps, with some vast Corinthian columns still standing, indicate the sheer scale of this building.

The Forum of Nerva was the second last forum to be constructed by a Roman emperor, and it is also the smallest. The project was conceived and begun by the emperor Domitian but was completed by his successor Nerva in 97 AD, whose name it took. It filled a narrow space and was lined by colonnades, as can still be seen in the Temple of Minerva. Of the approximately 50 columns that made up this imposing structure only two are still standing: in the 17th century Pope Paul V demolished the temple for its stone, some of which was used for the Borghese chapel in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The survivors are located on the eastern side of the forum and are topped by a metope depicting the myth of Minerva as well as a beautiful statue of Rome’s patron goddess crowning the Temple entrance.

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