The Forum of Trajan was the last and largest of the Imperial Forums that formed the political and governmental center of the Roman Empire. The complex consisted of an enormous basilica, two libraries, markets and a large temple.
The complex was created in 106 AD by Apollodorus of Damascus, the most famous architect of the era. The complex was created between 107 and 113 AD and required the leveling of a forty-meter-high hill. Several streets and many buildings, some of which were quite significant, had to make way for the ambitious project.
At the time, the forum was seen as one of the architectural wonders of the world. It was easily the grandest of all the forums and its size alone was impressive, measuring 300 meters long and 185 meters wide (approx. 1000 x 600 ft.).
The main entrance to the Forum of Trajan led to a large courtyard flanked by two colonnaded porticoes. Behind the porticoes, which were decorated with numerous statues, were two exedras. At the center of the enclosed courtyard stood an enormous equestrian statue; estimations lead us to believe it was three times as large as the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Square.
To the north, the courtyard was bordered by the Basilica Ulpia, an imposing basilica named after Trajan’s second name. The colossal structure had five naves, divided by colonnades, and featured a coffered ceiling. Its hall was lavishly decorated with precious metals, reliefs and a colorful marble floor with geometric patterns. It measured 59 meters in width and 176 meters in length, including its semicircular tribunals (577 x 194 feet).
To get an idea of its size, pay a visit to San Paolo fuori le Mura – Rome’s second-largest church, which has similar dimensions, albeit a bit smaller. Or you can wait until it is rebuilt: plans for its (partial) reconstruction were made in 2014, and work started in 2021. The building will be 23 meters high (75 feet) and integrate the original elements of the building that are still intact.
Behind the Basilica Ulpia was a small courtyard, bordered by two libraries: one Greek and one Latin. The magnificent Column of Trajan was erected at the center of the courtyard to commemorate the victory of Trajan over the Dacians. The column, one of the best preserved ancient monuments, is embellished with a spiraling frieze on which bas-reliefs recount the story of the conquest of Dacia. The column’s height marked the top of the hill that was leveled to make way for the forum.
Trajan’s favorite architect Apollodorus also designed the Markets of Trajan, a six-story-high complex with shops, offices and depots. It was the equivalent of a modern shopping center, unequaled at the time.
Temple of Trajan
There were also plans to create a temple at the forum, but Trajan’s sudden death in 117 AD delayed its construction. Emperor Hadrian, Trajan’s successor, reignited the project in 121 AD and dedicated the temple to the now deified Emperor Trajan and his wife Plotina.
Layout of the Forum
1. Temple of Trajan
2. Trajan’s Column
4. Basilica Ulpia
6. Trajan’s Markets