For almost one thousand years, the city of Rome reigned as the Caput Mundi, the capital of the world. During its heyday, the city was an architectural marvel, with numerous palaces, temples and stadiums all built in marble.
Many of these magnificent structures have been destroyed since the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. The city has been pillaged numerous times by barbaric tribes who burned down buildings, looted its many treasures and destroyed invaluable works of art. During the Middle Ages the remaining ruins were left to decay. Popes took marble columns and cladding from some of Rome’s most spectacular buildings like the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus to decorate churches. Some ancient buildings were even demolished just to make room for the throngs of pilgrims.
It was only in the early 19th century that the interest in the greatest empire of all time started to grow and monuments like the Arch of Titus were excavated and restored.
Despite the centuries-long destruction there are still many ruins in Rome that give visitors an idea of the magnificence of the Roman Empire. Below, in alphabetical order, an overview of some of the most interesting remains from ancient Rome.
The Amphitheatrum Castrense is the second largest surviving amphitheater in Rome, only surpassed in size by the Flavian Amphiteatre. It was built in the early third century and later incorporated into the Aurelian Wall, when the open arches were bricked up. The upper stories were demolished in the 16th century.
The Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) was commissioned by Emperor Augustus to celebrate his military victories. The altar symbolized the establishment of peace in the Roman Empire, the so-called Pax Romana. Today the altar is housed in a museum, the Museo dell’Ara Pacis.
The well-preserved Arch of Constantine is decorated with beautiful sculpture reliefs and statues. The monument is the most recent of the ancient triumphal arches. It was erected in 315 AD to commemorate the victory of the army of Emperor Constantine over that of Emperor Maxentius.
The Arch of Dolabella, at the Caelius hill near the Colosseum, was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus. It was realized by P. Cornelius Dolabella, after whose name it is now known, but the arch was originally probably known as the Porta Caelimontana. The gate was later incorporated into the Aqueduct of Nero.
The Arch of Drusus was one of the gates of the Aqua Antoniniana, an aqueduct that was built in 211-216 by Emperor Caracalla to provide his namesake baths with fresh water. The arch, which was originally clad in marble, was later integrated into the fortification wall encircling the city of Rome.
The Arch of Gallienus was originally built around 7 BC as a gate in the Servian Wall. At the time it was known as the Porta Esquilina, but after a reconstruction in 262 AD it was dedicated to Emperor Gallienus. The gate had three passageways; only the central one survived.
The Arcus Argentariorum was built in 203 AD by merchants and money-changers (argentari), hence the name. The gate served as an entrance to the Forum Boarium. The arch was built in honor of the emperor Septimius Severus. Relief panels show several figures, including Severus and his son and successor Caracalla.
The remains of four temples from the Republican era of Rome were discovered in 1926 at a site now known as the Area Sacra dell’Argentina. The temples were built in a period between the 4th and 2nd century BC. So little is known about them that they are named A, B, C and D.
For centuries the might the Roman army was so strong that the city of Rome didn’t need a defensive wall. As the Roman Empire started its decline at the end of the third century AD the fear for an invasion of Germanic tribes began to grow and a 19 km long wall was built around the Rome.
In the first century BC, at the end of the Republican era, Vergilius Eurysaces built a monumental tomb for himself and his wife Atinia. Eurysaces was a freed slave who made a fortune as a baker. The tomb is shaped as an enormous oven and decorated with a frieze depicting the process of baking bread.
The Basilica Aemilia was built at the Forum Romanum in 179 BC and provided shelter for visitors to the Forum. The basilica, the only surviving basilica from the Republican era, had three levels of which the first had large porticoes. Statues adorned the balustrades atop the porticoes and another row of statues was placed in front of the building.
In 54 BC Julius Caesar ordered the construction of a new basilica at the Forum Romanum to replace the older and smaller Basilica Sempronia. The basilica was home to a number of civil courts. It was designed as a great hall with large arcades. Today only the floor plan and stumps of the marble columns are visible.
One of the last buildings erected at the Roman Forum is the Basilica of Maxentius. The basilica was completed by Emperor Constantine, whose colossal statue stood in a niche. The huge building, the largest of the Roman basilicas, had a height of 35 meters. The impressive coffered vault collapsed in 1349 during an earthquake.
The Terme di Caracalla was a magnificent bath complex built in 212-217 AD. The current ruins give us a good impression of the huge scale of Roman bath complexes: the baths had facilities to accommodate more than 1600 people at any time. The floors were decorated with magnificent mosaics, some of which have been preserved.
The Baths of Diocleation were built in 306 AD and occupied an area 356 meters long and 316 meters wide. A part of the complex was later converted into a monastery and is now home to a museum. In 1563-1566 the ancient tepidarium (which had lukewarm baths) was integrated into the Santa Maria degli Angeli by Michelangelo.
The Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) is a large marble disc placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The front relief depicts the face of a god. In the Middle Ages it was used as a lie detector. According to legend people who stuck their hand in the open mouth lost their hand if they told a lie.
The Circus Maximus was the largest structure in Rome, occupying an area 600 meters long and 150 meters wide. At one point the marble-clad structure was able to seat 250 000 spectators. The circus was host to the wildly popular chariot races which were held here for almost 1000 years.
The Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum, is undoubtedly one of the greatest structures ever built in the history of mankind. Completed in 80 AD, this marble-clad arena was able to accommodate over 50 000 spectators. More than 200 large statues graced the facade of this monumental building.
The Aurelian Column or Column of Marcus Aurelius was built at the end of the 2nd century AD to commemorate the military campaigns of Emperor Marcus Aurelius against barbarian tribes. The column is modeled after the Column of Trajan and like the latter has a spiraling relief band depicting the history of the campaigns.
The last monument built on the Forum Romanum is the tall Corinthian column of Phocas. It was built in 608 AD in honor of the Byzantine Emperor Phocas on the occasion of his visit to Rome. Atop the column, which measures 13.5 meters tall (44 ft), stood a gilded statue of Phocas.
This column was the most magnificent in the Roman Empire. It was erected in 113 AD to commemorate the victories of Emperor Trajan in Dacia. The 42 meter tall column is completely covered with marble reliefs that depict detailed scenes from the campaign against the Dacians.
The Curia was the seat of the Roman senate. The original Curia, the Curia Hospitalia, was built by the Roman king Tullus Hostilius. After it burned down in 53 BC, Julius Caesar built a new Curia at the Forum Romanum, the Curia Julia. The brick building has been well preserved due to its conversion into a church in the 7th century.
This forum, the site of ancient Rome’s cattle market, dates back to the Republican era and was located near a port, the Portus Tiberius. Today two temples have survived: the Temple of Hercules and the Temple of Portunus. Another ancient remain is the Arch of Janus, which stood at a corner of the forum.
The second of the four Imperial Fora in Rome was built between 42 and 2 BC by Emperor Augustus in honor of Mars the Avenger, the ancient war god. Marble statues of mythical figures stood in niches and a large statue of Augustus standing in a chariot graced the center of the forum.
Julius Caesar decided to create a new forum to celebrate the dictator’s great powers. It was built as an extension of the Roman Forum and contained a large temple dedicated to Venus Genetrix, the mythical ancestress of Caesar’s family. An equestrian statue glorifying Caesar himself stood in front of the temple.
The Forum of Nerva was the smallest Imperial Forum in ancient Rome. It connected the forum of Augustus with the Temple of Peace, hence it was often called Forum Transitorium. The forum was originally built by Emperor Domitian but completed in 97 AD by Nerva, his successor.
The Forum of Peace was originally not conceived as a forum but as an open square laid out in front of the Temple of Peace. The temple contained the spoils of the capture of Jerusalem. The forum was surrounded by colonnades and probably embellished with water features and statues.
The most impressive of the imperial fora was the Forum of Trajan, built in the 2nd century by Apollodorus of Damascus. The forum contained a temple dedicated to Trajan as well as libraries, a basilica, an open square and a market hall. The crowning piece was the Column of Trajan, decorated with more than 2000 relief figures.
For more than 1000 years the Forum Romanum formed the heart of the Roman Empire. It was not only a political, religious and judicial center but also an important business location where merchants met. Many of Rome’s most largest temples and basilicas as well as several triumphal arches were built here.
The Atrium Vestae or House of the Vestal Virgins was a complex resembling a large villa arranged around a central courtyard. This is were the Vestal Virgins, priestesses who were responsible for keeping the holy fire burning, lived. The girls were selected from the aristocracy and moved here at the age of six.
The Imperial Fora were built in the first and second century by Roman Emperors as an extension to the older Forum Romanum. The most impressive was the Forum of Trajan, which included a basilica, a temple, two libraries and a magnificent victory column. The other forums were built by Caesar, Augustus and Nerva.
The Mausoleum of Augustus was built in 28 BC. Until 98 AD cremated remains of emperors and their families were placed in niches inside the mausoleum, which was clad in marble and covered with Cypress trees. At the top stood a statue of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.
Emperor Hadrian’s Mausoleum was built in 123 – 139 AD. Its design, based on that of the Mausoleum of Augustus consisted of a large colonnaded drum with a tumulus crowned with a statue of Hadrian in a quadriga. The mausoleum was later fortified and is now known as the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel).
The Palatine is one of the famous seven hills of ancient Rome. In Rome’s heyday it was completely built up with majestic palaces. Today it is an archaeological excavation area where you can see some of the ruins of palaces and other structures, such as the house of Emperor Augustus, one of the oldest buildings on the Palatine.
The Pantheon is one of the best preserved buildings of the Roman Empire. It was built in 25 BC by Marcus Agrippa and dedicated to all the gods. Its conversion into a church in 609 saved it from destruction. The interior is especially well preserved. The pediment was originally decorated with gilt bronze reliefs.
This bridge was built in 136 AD by Emperor Hadrian to connect the city of Rome with his new mausoleum. Today the bridge, now known as Ponte Sant’Angelo (Bridge of the Holy Angel), is decorated with 17th century statues of angels. The three central arches however are still original.
The Pons Aemilius was built in 179 BC by Fulvius Nobilor and Aemilius Lepidus. The latter was also responsible for the Basilica Aemilia. The bridge was originally constructed of wood but rebuilt in 142 BC as the first stone bridge in Rome. The bridge was destroyed by flood in 1598 and is now known as Ponte Rotto (broken bridge).
The Pons Cestius was one of two bridges that connected the city with the Insula Tiberina (Tiber Island). It was originally built in 42 BC and had a large gate. The current bridge is a different structure; the bridge was rebuilt several times, first in the 4th century AD and again in the 19th century.
The Pons Fabricius is the oldest bridge in Rome and connected the center of Rome with the Insula Tiberina, the Tiber Island. The two-span bridge was built in 62 BC by Lucius Fabricius, hence the name. It is also known as the Ponte dei Quattro Capi (Bridge of the four heads), for the marble pillars with reliefs of the four-headed god Janus on the bridge’s parapet.
The Porta Praenistina, now known as Porta Maggiore (Great Gate) was originally built in 52 AD by Claudius as a gate through the Claudia and Anio Novus aqueducts. There are two arches, each was meant for one road: the Via Labicana and the Via Praenistina. The gate was later integrated into the Aurelian Wall.
The Porticus Octaviae or Porticus of Octavia consisted of an area, 135 meters long and 115 meters wide, enclosed by a colonnade. In the porticus stood two temples and it also contained a library and a curia (meeting hall). The Porticus was built in 33 – 23 BC by Augustus at the site of an older porticus and was dedicated to his sister, Octavia.
The marble Pyramid of Caius Cestius was built in 12 BC by Caius Cestius, a praetor (an elected magistrate). The pyramid was modeled on the pyramids in Egypt, which had been conquered by the Romans two decades earlier. The pyramid served as the tomb of Caius Cestius and his family members.
The Rostra was a speaker’s platform at the Forum Romanum. The remains that are still visible today date back to the era of Caesar, who had it moved here in 44 BC. Its name stems from the battering rams that adorned the front of the podium. The battering rams were war trophies from the Battle of Actium in 338 BC.
In 141 AD, Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of this temple as a memorial to his wife Faustina. After the death of the emperor the temple was rededicated to both his wife and himself. In the 11th century the temple was converted into a church, the San Lorenzo in Miranda.
There were two temples right behind the Theater of Marcellus. One was dedicated to Bellona, the other was dedicated to Apollo. Of the latter, which was built in 34 BC at the site of an older temple, three Corinthian columns remain. Construction of the temple was commissioned by general Sosius, hence the name.
This temple was dedicated to the Dioscuri, the mythological twin brothers Castor and Pollux who helped the Romans to victory in 499 BC at the Battle of Lake Regilus. The temple was originally built in 484 BC. Three standing Corinthian columns are all that remain of a 1st century reconstruction.
Historians aren’t certain who this temple was dedicated to. It was possibly dedicated by Maxentius to his son Romulus, who died young, but the temple might have been built for the god Jupiter Stator. The circular building, originally flanked by two side chambers, still has the original bronze doors.
The Temple of Hadrian was built in 145 AD by Emperor Antoninus Pius. He dedicated the temple to his predecessor Hadrian, who had been deified. In the 17th century the surviving eleven columns of the temple were integrated into a new building, which later became a stock exchange.
The oldest preserved marble temple in Rome is the Temple of Hercules Victor, also known as Hercules Olivarius. The circular temple was built in the 2nd century BC by the Greek architect Hermoderus of Salamus. Inside the cella stood a statue of the mythological hero.
The Temple of Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger) was erected on the order of Emperor Augustus to honor the war god for helping him defeat Julius Caesar’s murderers. The temple was built in the first century BC at the Forum of Augustus. Inside the temple were statues of the gods Mars and Venus.
The Temple of Portunus is one of two republican-era temples that still stand at the Forum Boarium. It was built near the Portus Tiberius, an old port, and was dedicated to the god Portunus, protector of seafarers and ports. The current, first century BC temple replaced an older temple that was erected here 500 years earlier.
A temple in honor of Saturn, god of agriculture, stood at the Forum as early as in 497-498 BC. The six granite columns with an ionic entablature that we see today are remains of a reconstruction in 42 BC by one of Caesar’s generals. The temple was also known as the Aerarium since it contained the state’s treasury.
At the south end of the Forum Romanum, near the Colosseum, lie the ruins of Rome’s largest ancient temple, dedicated to the gods Venus and Rome. It was designed in 135 AD by Emperor Hadrian himself and contained two large cellae. The one dedicated to Rome is still clearly visible.
Caesar vowed to build a temple in honor of Venus if he succeeded in defeating his arch-nemesis Pompey. The marble temple was built in 46 BC at the new Forum of Caesar and honored Venus as the mother of the Julius family to which Caesar belonged. The interior was decorated with a relief of erotes and a large statue of Venus.
One of the holiest monuments in the Roman Empire was the Temple of Vesta, where the holy fire was kept burning by six Vestal Virgins. The temple was a symbol of Rome but also had a practical purpose. Residents came here when they needed fire or fresh water, which was collected by the priestesses into containers.
Around the year 44 BC, Caesar started with the construction of a new theater. Due to his assassination, construction was halted until it was restarted by his successor Augustus in 22 BC. It was finally completed in 13 BC. The theater was dedicated to Marcellus, the intended heir of Augustus.
One of the best preserved tombs along the Appian Way is the enormous tomb of Cecilia Metella. The tomb looks like a circular fortified tower, with a diameter of about 20 meters. It was originally built for the wife of one of Caesar’s generals. In the 13th century it was used as a fortress and expanded with several annexes.
The Via Appia Antica (Old Appian Way) was one of the most important roads in the Roman Empire. It connected Rome with Brindisi, a port city in the southeast of Italy. You can still visit a section of the original road, with authentic Roman pavement. The Appian Way is lined with ruins of ancient sepulchral monuments.