Rome is the eternal city; it has been fully occupied since around 1000BC ‘ maybe even earlier than that. Though it has had many periods of decline it continues to bounce back. Just before the Renaissance it was a shadow of its former self yet it quickly experienced a period of growth. It cannot be argued that its greatest period was Imperial Rome. Many of its buildings are in use today and its ruins are celebrated and visited by millions every year. Here is a brief selection.
1. The Colosseum
Perhaps the most iconic of all ruins in the city and certainly the most popular is this enormous sports stadium built during the reign of Emperor Vespasian. It is the largest amphitheatre ever built throughout the Roman Empire and was used to stage the gladiatorial games which were eventually outlawed when Rome became Christian. It is estimated that it could seat between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. Later in its history it was used as housing and workshops and later on as a castle. Today is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
2. Ludus Magnus
Contrary to popular belief, gladiators were not just sent into the arenas to die a bloody death. Certainly there were some but for many, to keep the mob entertained required a good fight ‘ much like modern day boxing. The Ludus Magnus is where gladiators went to be trained in the art of combat. Mere metres away from the Colosseum, it was a two storey building, with a central open area rather like a monastic cloister (which was the training arena). It was linked to the Colosseum by an underground passageway.
3. Trajan’s Market
Iconic for being an enormous trading structure built unto Trajan’s forum during his reforms, some refer to it as ‘The World’s First Shopping Mall’ and not without good cause. It is an immense structure that didn’t just have a market and shop units over multiple storeys, but administrative offices for Trajan’s staff. It was one of the many structures built during the Emperor’s building programme. In the Middle Ages, defensive structures were added, including towers. Also added was a convent that was demolished in the 12th century to restore it as a market.
4. Mausoleum of Augustus
One of the largest tombs ever built for an Emperor, it was built around 28BC for the Emperor Augustus. It was his first building project in the city following victory over Marc Antony and Cleopatra; during the sack of Rome it was robbed of valuables and the ashes inside scattered. In the Middle Ages it was fortified and used as a castle. Sadly, the interior is no longer open to the public but it is of sufficient size that it is worth visiting and to take photographs around the outside,
5. Baths of Diocletian
There are many Bath complexes around Rome and most survive to this day, but none of them mark the sheer size or importance of those of Emperor Diocletian. They were built between AD298 and 306 and the water came from the Aqua Marcia, one of the oldest aqueducts in Rome. It remained in use until AD537 when the Visigoths cut off the water supply. It is also believed ‘ due to the layout of some of the rooms ‘ that it also housed a library.
6. Circus Maximus
The largest actual stadium is not the Colosseum, but this chariot racing track. It is the largest racing arena anywhere in the empire and was also the first track to be built. It is believed that it could hold up to 150,000 spectators on race days. As with the gladiatorial games, racing was also partly a festival and had some religious significance. Today, the Circus Maximus is a public park; little remains of the stadium but the track is now a green area and the barrier line is still clearly visible.
7. The Flavian Palace
The Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient parts of the city; it is said that Romulus and Remus founded Rome here. As the oldest and most prestigious part of the city in Imperial times, there are many ruins on the hill, not least of all the palace complex of one of the most important dynasties ever to rule Rome (the Flavians which began with Vespasian). Part of the palace still stands today and there are rooms still visible. Despite being a shadow of its former self, it is an impressive ruin to visit.
8. The Appian Way
Though actually a road rather than a ruin, it is one of the most historic roads in the ancient world. Strategically important because it linked Rome with southern Italy, it is littered with ruins along its route including miles of catacombs, tombs, baths and mausoleums. Restoration of the road during the Renaissance and later means it is possible to walk the length of the route taken by those ancient legions. It’s first few miles journeys from the centre of Rome to the city walls.
9. Ostia Antica
Once a harbour city that served the Imperial capital, this area is now a suburb of modern Rome and reachable via the city’s public transport. It is now also 3km from the coast due to coastal change of the last 2000 years. It is particularly noteworthy for the high level of preservation of its remains. There are houses, toilet blocks, a market square, a theatre, apartment blocks and even well-preserved warehouses along what once used to be the docks.
10. Basilica of Maxentius
Inside the forum, it goes also by the name of ‘Basilica of Constantine’ and ‘Basilica Novae’, all that remains today is the substantial wall of the north face with three concrete barrel vaults. Prior to Constantine I, basilicas served a variety of functions including offices, temples and civic duties. However, under that Emperor it became the basic design of the Roman church. There was once a large statue of Constantine but it is now in a museum on the Capitoline Hill.
No city has such extensive ruins as Rome and no city has re-used their ancient ruins quite so much either. There are many examples of buildings still in use. Any walk around the city will show the tourist the sheer depth and breadth of Roman remains. Yet there are many more that have fallen into disrepair. It is important that we preserve these remains for future generations.