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Photograph of the Roman Forum

Ancient Rome's greatest buildings

The Roman Forum | Image:

Rome still plays host to several structures from the city’s heyday as the capital of one of the biggest empires the world has ever seen. Others, sadly, have long disappeared from the city’s ancient streets. From the glittering Temple of Venus and Roma to the towering Colosseum, we take a look at some of Ancient Rome’s greatest buildings.

1. Castel Sant’Angelo

Originally built in 134 AD as a mausoleum for the ashes of Hadrian and his family, the imposing Castel Sant’Angelo also housed the remains of several of Hadrian’s successors until the building was looted by the Visigoths in 410. The building was later converted into a fortress for the use of the pope until it was decommissioned in 1901. The Castel Sant’Angelo is now a museum and one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions.

2. Pantheon

Completed in 125 AD during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon is in remarkably good condition thanks to being in continuous use. Originally used as a temple to all the gods, the Pantheon has been used as a church since the 7th Century. Consisting of a portico supported by huge Corinthian columns leading to a rotunda housing the largest unsupported concrete roof in the world, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s most popular visitor attractions, with over six million visitors a year.

3. The Forum

The Forum is a large open square in the centre of Rome that was once the beating heart of the ancient city. It was the place where imperial processions took place, where gladiators fought to the death, where elections were held and where citizens gathered to hear political speeches and witness criminal trials. Containing the ruins of government buildings and temples such as the former residence of the kings of Rome, the Temple of Vesta and the House of the Vestal Virgins, the Forum is visited by over four million people a year.

4. Baths of Caracalla

Thought to have been built around 212 AD, the Baths of Caracalla were Rome’s second-largest public bathing complex. The baths were abandoned in the 6th Century after the Visigoths sacked Rome, and an earthquake destroyed much of the building in 847. Today, the baths’ ruins attract millions of visitors and their architecture has been the inspiration for buildings around the world such as St. George’s Hall in Liverpool and the now sadly demolished Pennsylvania Street Station in New York City.

5. Temple of Venus and Roma

Not much now remains of the largest temple in Ancient Rome. Built by the emperor Hadrian between 121 and 141 AD, the temple was a towering structure of white marble with a roof adorned with gilded bronze tiles that contained two chambers housing colossal statues of the goddesses Venus and Roma seated on thrones. The temple was eventually destroyed by an earthquake in the 9th Century and most of the materials used in its construction were taken away and used to build other structures in the city. The Santa Francesca Romana Basilica now occupies most of the site where the temple once stood.

6. Theatre of Pompey

Built by the legendary Roman general Pompey in 55 BC, the Theatre of Pompey was a large garden complex that housed not just the theatre itself, but also rooms where Pompey’s extensive collection of art and sculpture was on display. Considered Rome’s premiere theatre throughout its life, the building fell into decline in the 6th Century and very little now remains of what was once one of the city’s grandest and most popular public buildings.

7. Circus Maximus

The first and the largest of many chariot-racing stadiums built throughout the Roman Empire. The last recorded race at the Circus Maximus was in 549, after which it fell into decline and the site was put to several other uses over the centuries including as a market garden, a quarry and even a gas works. Eventually excavated and restored, the Circus Maximus is now used as a large public park in the centre of Rome where many public events are held including the Rome concert of Live 8 in 2005.

8. Arch of Constantine

Constructed in 312 AD to commemorate the emperor Constantine’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, the Arch of Constantine is the largest of Rome’s three surviving triumphal arches. Later adorned with elements of lost arches dedicated to the emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, this popular tourist attraction spans the Via Triumphalis, the ancient Roman road along which victorious military commanders entered the city as part of triumphal processions attended by huge crowds.

9. Colosseum

The largest amphitheatre ever built, the Colosseum is one of the most recognisable surviving buildings of Ancient Rome. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD under Vespasian’s successor, Titus. For nearly five hundred years, the Colosseum played host to a wealth of public spectacles including gladiatorial games, public executions, animal hunts, plays, re-enactments of famous battles and even naval battles when the floor of the building was turned into an artificial lake.

The Colosseum owes much of its current appearance to an earthquake that hit Rome in 1349 that caused most of the arena’s south wall to collapse. After it ceased to be used as an amphitheatre, the Colosseum was used as a graveyard, a quarry, a fortress, a religious shrine and for housing and workshops.

After proposals to turn the building into a wool factory for reformed prostitutes and a bullfighting arena came to nothing, the Colosseum was left empty and neglected. It underwent restoration to stabilise both its interior and exterior in the 19th Century, and in the 1930s, the building’s substructure, which housed the gladiator barracks, animal cages and machinery that raised props and scenery onto the arena floor, was fully uncovered.

Today, over six million people visit the Colosseum every year. The building is such a recognisable symbol of Italy outside of the country that it was chosen to represent the country on the five-cent Euro coin.