History and Restorations, Trajan’s Markets Museum of the Imperial Forums

Trajan’s Forum was the last of the Imperial fora to be constructed in ancient Rome. The architect Apollodorus of Damascus oversaw its construction.

The history of the “Markets” of Trajan started with the planning of certain proprietary works during the construction of the last and greatest of all the imperial forums, that of Trajan. Even if we have clear accounts to classify the Markets of Trajan, ancient records do not offer steadfast evidence on the imperial financers and the conceptual origins of the project. The most plausible explanation is that the great complex was perhaps conceived as a sole unit along with the neighbouring forum.

It is highly likely that the complex had already been ordered by Emperor Domitian and taxation stamps, the only direct source available, show an index number consistent with the Domitian era. A theory further sustained by our knowledge of the ambitious building programme envisaged by this emperor. Another premise puts the selling off of a notable quantity of stockpiled bricks and building materials after the emperor’s murder as the main impetus for the construction of the complex. However, archaeological data gathered in recent studies (2003-2007) seem to indicate that preliminary works for an imposing architectural complex had already began under Domitian. Works included terracing walls and sewage piping.

Current knowledge leaves little to support the traditional interpretation of the structure as having a primarily commercial use. Recent archaeological discoveries have been fundamental in contributing to a rereading of the complex. Inscriptions on the structure’s main beams, which were reused as braces in the ground works for the Milizie Gardens, make testament to a procurator fori traiani, one Horatius Rogatus, who would have restored the forum after a fire in the 3rd century AD.

The functional differences of the various buildings that make up the Markets of Trajan are evident that the lower section had close association with activities administered by the adjacent forum with the upper section instead being dedicated to activities of a more managerial and administrative nature.

The Imperial Era
The “Markets” are traditionally attributed to the Syrian Apollodoro of Damascus, who was the same architect as the Forum of Trajan. Apollodoro, who originated from Nabatea, incorporated his origins in the complex with the presence the Jordanian culture. The Markets of Trajan in any case represents the pulling together of ancient architectural experience and design that has no comparison across the Roman world.

The presence of numerous structures that take the shape of tabenae, like those that open up onto the central space of the Great Hall, do not necessarily indicate the complex had a commercial purpose. The Markets of Trajan must have instead made up a sort of “multi-functional centre”, where public activity took place. The inter-connection between individual units and the internal passages suggest that they were used for administrative functions – offices and record deposits that were strictly linked to the Forum Complex. In some units of the Central Body, characterised by the presence of an apse and niches in the walls, there perhaps sat the Procurator Fori Divi Traiani (Trajan’s Chancellor).

Due to their continual use the buildings of the “Market” show evidence of numerous later works. Works under Septimus Severus are recorded in the structures that flank via delle Torre, whilst the insulea that is seen on today’s via della Salita del Grillo shows traces of works done in the 4th century AD or maybe later still.

Medieval era
With the “setting” of the Roman Empire, noble roman families took procession of the complex’s various buildings. The split ownership and subsequent works transformed the Market into the robust Miliciae (fortification).

The powerful Pope Boniface VIII came into procession of the structure in around 1300 but did not keep it for long despite the huge resources he sunk in.

Next Arrigo VII, who was crowned emperor in the Lateran Cathedral, made the complex his headquarters in 1312 and lodged troops there to make full use of the Milizie tower. The tower was initially built entirely using the tufelli technique between 1200 and 1250 and at a later date between 1250 and 1280 it was faced in the bricks still visible today.

By then the heavily damaged Great Hall was renamed Thermae de Paliariis probably due to the presence of exposed downward sewage pipes.

The reconstruction of sections of the outside walls of the central section with different materials and the loss of its terminal section testify to the complexes’ ruin. The destruction may have been caused by the earthquake of 1349 but damage was doubtlessly made worse by years of prior neglect. In some 15th and 16th centenary drawings the Great Hall appears without its outer walls, whilst the Great Hemicycle is partially broken. What remained of its decorative brick façade inspired the architects of the Renaissance in the building of new noble palaces.

As a convent
In 1574 Pope Pius V of the Ghisleri family gifted the complex to the Convent of Saint Catherine of Siena and the architect Sallustio Peruzzi was given the responsibility of redeveloping the site for the convent’s needs. He was the first person to radically transform the ancient buildings; tearing apart the original special organization and the internal and external communications.

Ultimately, after Rome became the capital of a united Italy in 1885, the convent was acquisitioned by the State and became the “Goffredo Mameli” barracks.

In the interim, at the start of the 19th century, during the Napoleonic occupation of Rome, the first excavations of the Ulpia Basilica in the Forum of Trajan were planned. These were actually carried out by Pope Pius VII and the far southern end of the Great Hemicycle was unearthed bringing to light the section of the basalt road that linked the market complex for the Forum of Trajan.

Recovery under Fascism
A new radical change awaited the monument under the grandiose project of the Imperial Forum excavations carried out by Senator Corrado Ricci. The work was named “the discovery and segregation of the Markets of Trajan” and took place between 1926 and 1934. Under the direction of the Fascist administration almost all the modification acquired over time were eliminated to bring the original Roman architecture back to prominence.

The entire complex was read as being primarily commercial in use, even if the remains of the travertine doors so characteristic of ancient taverns and shops were effectively solely found in the areas along the basalt roads. The Great Hall was used for displays inspired by the presumed commercial use of the monument even while restoration works in other parts of the monument were still going on. These were decorated with harvest and floral motifs.

The complex today
In the ten years after the Second World War the Markets of Trajan were left abandoned whilst the urban and environmental situation around it changed. Via dei Fori Imperiale and Via Quarto Novembre became principle axis for the flow of traffic, consequently causing a progressive increase in atmospheric and noise pollution and thus reducing the archaeological site to the mercies of fast moving traffic.

Fortunately, the sensitivity of certain municipal administrations and a reawakening of the debate on the city’s artistic patrimony resulted in funds being made available for the monument from the middle of the 1980’s. The works that resulted were directed at taking on the restorations required and recovering the functionality of the complex with the ultimate aim of housing the Museum of the Imperial Forums on site. A museum dedicated to the architecture of the Forums and their sculptural decorations.

The projects finality is to maintain the highest possible profile for the monuments of the Roman Forums but at the same time offer a real vision of their proportions and constructional complexity through reconstructed architectural fragments and multimedia displays.

The Forum consisted of a sequence of open and enclosed spaces, beginning with the vast portico-lined piazza measuring 300 metres (980 feet) long and 185 metres (607 feet) wide, with exedrae on two sides. The main entrance was at the south end of the piazza, through a triumphal arch at the center commemorating the Dacian Wars, decorated with friezes and statues of Dacian prisoners. The arch was flanked by tall walls built from blocks of Peperino tuff clad entirely in marble, which enclosed the Forum on three sides.

The tuff walls which enclosed the piazza to the west and east featured exedrae; outside the exedrae, separated by streets, were markets of concentric shape. The three-story eastern market, known as Trajan’s Market, buttressed the excavated edge of the Quirinal Hill. The open space of the Forum measured about 300 feet by 380 feet, and was paved entirely in Carrara marble. Via a doorway in the far east wall of the Forum, one gained entry to an open courtyard with a portico, which communicated in turn with the neighboring Forum of Augustus.

Along the piazza’s north side was the Basilica Ulpia, and north of that was a smaller piazza, with a temple dedicated to the deified Trajan on the far north side facing inwards. The position of – and very existence of – the temple dedicated to the deified Trajan is a matter of hotly contested debate among archaeologists, particularly clear in the ongoing debate between James E. Packer and Roberto Meneghini. Between the Basilica Ulpia and the terminal piazza containing the temple, were two libraries, one housing Latin documents and the other Greek documents. Between the libraries stood the 38-metre (125-foot) Trajan’s Column. The libraries housed state archives including the acts of the Emperors and the edicts of the praetors.

Trajan’s Forum
Trajan’s successor Hadrian added a philosophical school adjacent to the piazza containing the Temple of Trajan. The building consisted of three parallel halls separated by annexes and was known as the Athenaeum; it functioned variously as school, a venue for judicial proceedings, and an occasional meeting-place for the Senate.

The forum (300 x 185 meters) stood parallel to the Forum of Caesar (north-west of it) and perpendicular to that of Augustus, with the basilica elevated by a few steps. All the buildings of the Trajan’s Forum were covered with marble and stucco, as well as adorned with sculptures and wall paintings.

The complex included, in order:

an entrance consisting of a square hall with a central four-sided portico;
the real forensic square (116 x 95 m), with the convex entrance side, adorned by the large equestrian statue of the emperor, moved towards the entrance side;
two semicircular exedras on the sides of the square;
the Basilica Ulpia, a porticoed courtyard with the famous Trajan’s Column and the two libraries, Greek and Latin .

In the nineteenth-century reconstructions, then re-proposed throughout the twentieth century, the complex was closed by the temple of Divo Traiano and Plotina, framed by a curved portico on the terminal side, according to sources built by Adriano after 121. The archaeological surveys of 1998 – 2000, however, have found no trace of it and its real location has once again become an open problem; we know very little about this temple since, apart from the dedicatory inscription, only the remains of a capital remain(2.12 meters high), which can give the idea of how grandiose the building was, with columns probably around 20 meters high. The most original element of the plan was the presence of the basilica instead of the usual temple to close the main side of the square.

The square and the arcades
The actual forum consisted of a large rectangular square with arcades on both sides, closed at the bottom by the Basilica Ulpia and adorned by the colossal equestrian statue of Trajan. The square was paved with about three thousand rectangular white marble slabs.

Side southeastern
On the side of the Forum of Augustus the square was closed by a wall in broken peperino blocks, slightly convex towards the outside, with a central section and two oblique “wings”, decorated with jutting columns with marble barrels ancient yellow and cipollino with a diameter of approximately 1.5 m.

This side, lined internally with marble, was also punctuated by an order of pilasters that mirrored the Corinthian columns of the facade. The colonnade had an entablature protruding over the columns with the well-known frieze with cupids from acanthus tufts pouring out to drink in griffins.

It is possible that this monumental scenographic facade, forming the background to the equestrian statue of the emperor, was surmounted by an attic with Dacian prisoners, very similar to that of the basilica on the opposite side of the square: the two headless statues and the head could belong to this attic of white marble dachas found in the excavations.

Instead, all traces of the triumphal arch are missing, hypothesized on the basis of some monetary representations, which according to Cassio Dione was decreed by the Senate as a posthumous honor to the emperor for his victories in the East. The arch had been imagined in the center of this side of the square as a monumental entrance to the forum, and a triumphal quadriga (in the center), trophies and victories (on the sides) were placed on its attic.

Behind this colonnaded facade on the southern side of the square, there is also a large room that follows its trisegmented pattern and, in the central rectilinear sector, allows access to a courtyard, surrounded on at least three sides by porticoes raised on a podium, with smooth barrels in cipollino marble. The porches are paved with rectangular cipollino marble and portasanta marble slabs. Here they were found fragments of an inscription with the name of the emperor to name. The function of this courtyard is still uncertain. The building occupies the space that is close to the northern exedra of the Forum of Augustus.

Side and exedras Portici
The side porticoes, raised by two steps with respect to the height of the square, had a considerable width. There were two large semicircular covered exedras, which take up the plan of the Forum of Augustus, separated from the arcades by a diaphragm consisting of a row of pillars which had the same thickness as the back wall of the arcades and therefore were rectangular, that is to say deeper than wide.

The flooring consisted of a pattern of squares in which smaller squares or circles alternately entered, in ancient yellow marble and pavonazzetto. Even in the exedras the back wall had pilasters, arranged on two orders; in the center of this there was a niche, framed by granite columns of the Forum.

Probably, as in the nearby Forum of Augustus, works of art were placed in the Trajan exedras, as evidenced by the discovery of three headless statues in the precious marble of Thasos, slightly larger than the real: a loricate (in armor or lorica, currently exposed in the Museum of the Imperial Forums), a toga and another seated personage, who were probably supposed to represent characters of imperial rank .

On the facade facing the square, raised with two steps, the columns of the portico were in Corinthian order, with rudent staves in pavonazzetto marble. Above the colonnaded order stood a frieze with sculptures of Dacian prisoners (on two different levels), probably in Phryon pavilion of Phrygia, about 2.5-3 meters high, alternating with clipei adorned with portrait heads. Among these we have received that of Agrippina Minore and that of Nerva(or of the natural father of Trajan, also with the same name as his son) A bust with armor adorned with a Gorgon’s head also belongs to the portraits of the clipei: the motif quite closely reproduced the model of the frieze of the arcades of the Forum of Augustus and the gallery of portraits probably ideally continued the series of illustrious men of Roman history represented in the statues of the arcades of that complex .

In the intercolumns of the arcades, and perhaps here and there in the square, Trajan and his successors placed numerous statues of statesmen and generals who had particularly distinguished themselves in public or military life, among which the ancient authors remember those by Gaius Mario Vittorino and by the emperor Aureliano. A large number of inscriptions of the statues have been found inside the fence of the forum, and many of them bear the indication of their positioning in the Traiani forum, such as those of Marco Claudio Frontone, Marco Basseo Rufo, of the poetClaudiano, by Flavio Eugenio and Flavio Peregrino Saturnino, while the others omit this specification.

A part of the Forum was called Porticus porphyretica, probably because columns or porphyry statues had been placed there.

The Basilica Ulpia
The Basilica Ulpia, whose name derives from the nobleman of the emperor, closed the north-western side of the square with its long side, raised by means of three steps. It was the largest basilica ever built in Rome. It measured 170 meters along the major axis and almost 60 along the minor one. The facade was articulated by three protruding foreparts, as the coinage of those years shows, and was also surmounted by an attic with sculptures of Dacian prisoners in white marble from Lunense.(about 2.5 meters high, with the back slightly worked to be anchored to the wall), which in this case alternated with panels decorated in relief with stacks of weapons .

The crowning protruding over the Dacians carried inscriptions in honor of the legions of the army who had taken part, even with vexillationes, in the conquest of Dacia. It would therefore be the following legions involved:

I Adiutrix, I Italica, I Minervia, II Adiutrix, IIII Flavia, V Macedonica, VII Claudia, X Gemina, XI Claudia Pia Fidelis, XIII Gemina, Legio XIIII Gemina Martia Victrix, XV Apollinaris, XXI Rapax and XXX Ulpia Victrix;
and the legionary vexillationes of II Augusta, III Augusta, III Gallica, IV Scythica, VI Ferrata, VII Gemina, IX Hispana, Legio XII Fulminata, XX Valeria Victrix and XXII Primigenia.

Inside, the basilica was divided into five naves, among which the largest was the central one, surrounded on four sides by the side naves, separated by columns with granite drums. Of the rich decoration of the frieze only fragments remain, on which Victories are depicted that sacrifice bulls or that adorn candlesticks with garlands. The central nave had a second floor, with a colonnade, and perhaps a similar third, with smooth cipollino marble stems. On the short sides, behind the screen of a third row of columns, there were two apses.

The libraries and the column
Behind the Basilica Ulpia there were two rooms arranged symmetrically on the sides of the courtyard where the Trajan’s Column stands; these are two large rooms with walls adorned with two rows of columns, in which niches accessible by means of some steps opened, while on the far side the colonnade formed a aedicule with pediment which was to house a statue. The rooms were paved with large gray granite slabs, framed by ancient yellow marble bands.

The presence of niches on the walls made the rooms interpret as libraries; it would be the Ulpia Library, cited by the sources, where the Lintei books were kept at the time of Aurelian, and which was perhaps to guard the decrees of the praetors.

In the narrow courtyard between the two libraries, closed by the back wall of the basilica and flanked by porticoes with pavonazzetto marble barrels that preceded the facade of the two rooms, was the Trajan’s Column, the only element that has come almost intact from the complex of the forum. This honorary column, funerary monument and celebratory of the military enterprises of the optimus princeps, is a work of rare beauty and originality on which, under the guidance of the great architect Apollodorus of Damascus, numerous sculptors worked on 155 scenes and 2,500 figures, until the day of the inauguration (which took place on May 12, 113). In the figured frieze of the column, which is one hundred Roman feet (29.78 meters) high, the military enterprises of the emperor and his generals were carved, perhaps inspired by Trajan’s Commentarii, written in imitation of those of Caesar. The “most perfect stone narrative known” (Italo Calvino) developed on the stem similar to a papyrus scroll (volumen) and for this reason the column was placed significantly between the two libraries of the forum, the Latin and the Greek.

The restoration and seismic improvement operations of the complex called Mercati di Traiano, started from February 2004, up to now constitute the most demanding intervention that the Superintendency for Cultural Heritage of the Municipality of Rome has started in the area seventy years after interventions of “liberation” and “restoration” of the Governorate of Rome.

These are operations currently being optimized with regard to the upper part of the complex (Great Hall and Central Body), while for the lower part (Great Hemicycle and Headroom) bordering the Trajan’s Forum, it has been developed and the executive plan approved by the competent State Superintendencies.

The purpose of the restorations carried out and those planned, is to maintain the readability and usability of the Roman monument as unaltered as possible, and at the same time to offer the widest possible audience the real perception of the volume and construction complexity of the holes., through the recomposition of architectural parties and the use of multimedia tools that reassemble and contextualize “virtually” the archaeological finds.

Restoration plans
Restoration works were directed at recovering the functionality of the complex to permit the permanent location of the Museum of the Imperial Forums within it. The museum’s finality is to maintain the highest possible profile for the monuments of the Roman Forums.

With this vision in mind difficult problems related to maintaining the integrity of the monument but making the site practical had to be resolved. First of all was the closure of the Great Hall on its main front and back sides. The ancient structure needed protection against polluting elements but at the same had to be kept visible. The solution found consists of using a modular system of large compound plastic panels.

Restoration started in the Great Hall showed how damaging atmospheric pollution is to ancient structures in not closing the hall before 2002 contaminated air had accelerate decay. The cleaning of the vaults has in fact brought to light damage to the cement works superior to that initially estimated.

The Central Body, a feature of the last floor preserved with its original vault coverings and 15th century internal decretive frescos had part of its original coverings rediscovered whilst covering placed during the 1930s were consolidated.

Anti-seismic improvements
Studies made to measure the appropriateness of the museum’s structure with the monuments structure showed the necessity for conservational works and consolidations. The introduction of a new national seismic norm, made whilst works were in progress, resulted in the need for further research and the resulting mathematical model showed the possibility of the Great Hall’s collapse in the event of a seismic wave spreading in a north – south direction.

With the purpose of making the entire structure more solid it was thus necessary to fortify structures. This was achieved by works that anchor the vaults of the central space of the structure to the lateral areas and by the introduction of metal tie rods above the corridors of the first floor.

It is curious to note how modern tie rods carry out the same consolidating function as the small vaults built above the same corridor in the 16th century in the era of the Convent of Saint Catherine. These works thought only to have been done to carve out more living space, were probably the reason why the Great Hall managed to survive disastrous damage in the earthquake of 1703, which so damaged the Coliseum.

The Central Body was also the subject of consolidation works, where it was similarly necessary to further anchor structures in addition to works already completed in the 1930s. In both cases, when putting in the metal rods particular attention was paid to avoiding change in the profile of the monument on its main faces. The tie rods were inserted into the walls and the holes made were filled with salvaged materials.

The distribution of the monument on six levels caused a problem when introducing new vertical communications. The problem was resolved in the upper part by an hydraulic lift that connects the three levels of the Great Hall, the Central Body and the Milizie Gardens. The other devise used was an electric platform that allow access to the Via Biberatica. Both are housed in structures that had suffered heavy alterations in post ancient times to thus limit the impact on the original walls.

In accordance to a governing principle that the entire Trajanic complex both covered and open should make up just one museum circuit, the entire external route was studied to make it, on one hand more accessible, and on the other once again in contact with the city. Consequently a system of walkways and ramps in wood and iron was conceived that allow for a continuous route that goes across areas already familiar to the public but others that until now were marginal or even unknown.

Future restoration works
Similar restoration works to give value and offer structural consolidation will also shortly be carried out in the lower sections of the Monument. The Great Hemicycle and the two Frontal Halls in particular suffer from the same problems encountered in the upper sections and in the Great Hall.

Trajan’s Markets Museum of the Imperial Forums
The Markets of Trajan are an archaeological complex of uniqueness in Rome, perhaps even worldwide. They represent an area that has experienced the evolution of the city from the imperial age to today; an area that has been constantly recycled and transformed. The markets once the strategic administrative centre of the Imperial Forums, successively became a noble residence, a military fortress, a prestigious convent and a barracks… a continuous evolution. It has gone through architectural changes and the signs of the various “hands” from these different eras are all still visible. Now, with the completion of recent restorations, we too have crafted out a functions for it and so The Markets of Trajan have begun a new “season” of life.

Since 1985 over 40,000 fragments originating from the forum area have been catalogued and documented from deposits created after excavations carried out in the 20th century. A seemingly huge quantity of finds but in reality they represent a small percentage of what was the enormous quantity of marble facing and super-structure blocks which made up the Antiquarium Forense (Forum District).

Over the last 20 years, works carried out in the deposits of the forums and markets have focussed on the treatment and restoration of these fragments. However, they have also focussed on making an inventory of all the fragments using photographic documentation. It was this detailed gathering of data which made it possible to identify the most significant pieces for the reconstruction of ancient buildings and their decorative details.

When possible the approach to reassembling original fragments has carefully avoided the introduction of pins. Only when the use of additional newly cut stone and/or resin mouldings was impossible to include for various reasons in the exhibits’ assembly are there pins. Once reassembled, the exhibits then underwent graphical documentation and restoration; a rigorous process that has saved some fragments from complete loss. The identification of new contexts and the definition of architectural orders, and hence the appearance of forum complexes, have formed the basis of study for The Museum of the Imperial Forums project.

Different “routes” intertwine. In fact, the museum project has also had to be a communication project – “the architecture of the Forum in the architecture of the Markets; the history of the city in the history of one of its districts.