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.
The complex, which originally extended even beyond the limits of the current archaeological area, in areas now occupied by modern buildings, was mainly intended for the administrative activities connected to the Imperial Forums, and only to a limited extent for commercial activities, which perhaps they took place in the open spaces on the sides of the internal streets.
The complex was built at the same time as the Trajan’s Forum, at the beginning of the second century, to occupy and support the cutting of the slopes of the Quirinale hill, and is separated from the Forum by a paved road. It takes up the semicircular shape of the exedra of the Trajan’s forum and is articulated on six levels.
The dates of the brick stamps seem to indicate that the construction dates back mostly to the reign of Trajan and is perhaps attributable to its architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, although it is possible that the project had already been conceived under Domitian, to whose era it could be attributed at least the start of the excavation works.
Thought to be the world’s oldest shopping mall, the arcades in Trajan’s Market are now believed by many to be administrative offices for Emperor Trajan. The shops and apartments were built in a multi-level structure and it is still possible to visit several of the levels. Highlights include delicate marble floors and the remains of a library.
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 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”.
The buildings are separated from each other by an ancient route which in late age took the name of via Biberatica, which runs halfway up the hillside. The lower part, starting from the level of the forum, includes the buildings of the “Great Hemicycle”, articulated on three floors and with two “Headrooms” at the ends, and of the “Small Hemicycle”, with rooms again on three floors. Two stairs at the ends of the Great Hemicycle allow you to reach the upper floors and the via Biberatica.
Upstream of the road, the “Central body” rises, with tabernae at street level and three other floors of internal environments, some particularly well-kept and elaborate.
In a northerly direction, the via Biberatica folds, flanked upstream by the “Grande aula” complex: the large central space, overlooked by a series of rooms on two levels, constitutes the current entrance to the monument from via Quattro Novembre. From here you can access both via Biberatica and, through open passages in the post-ancient era, to the rooms of the central body.
To the south the via Biberatica is connected to the current via della Salita del Grillo, which traces an ancient route. On the sides of this southern stretch of the street there is on one side a block with poorly preserved rooms and partially remodeled in later periods; on the opposite side overlooks the upper floor of a further block that divides it from another ancient path, coming directly from the plane of the forum and which is connected by stairs with the via della Salita del Grillo.
From the central section of the via Biberatica a staircase allows access to the “via della Torre” and the “Giardino delle Milizie”, recently restored, behind the central body, with other Roman structures on which the Torre delle Militias, 13th century.
The “Mercati di Traiano” constitute an articulated architectural complex which, using the flexible construction technique of the opus latericium (Roman concrete covered with a brick facing), exploits all the available spaces, obtained by cutting the slopes of the hill, inserting environments of varies shape at different levels of the monument. This articulation allows you to pass, with a wide breath, from the curvilinear arrangement of the exedra behind the porticoes of the Trajan’s Forum, to the rectilinear arrangement of the surrounding urban fabric.
There are numerous internal connections between the various levels (stairs, cordonate, etc.), giving a particularly organic and coordinated arrangement to a complex built in such complex soil conditions.
The brick finish is notably cured also in a decorative sense: in particular on the facade of the “Great Hemicycle” an order of pilasters frames the windows of the second floor, surmounted by alternately triangular pediments, or arched and flanked by two half triangular gables (“broken gable “). This decorative party, always visible and designed by numerous Renaissance artists, is made with specially shaped bricks (which are also found in string courses in other particularly well-kept parts of the complex). Traces of it are found in Hellenistic architecture (Palazzo delle Colonne di Tolemaide in Cirenaica) and in some second style paintings.
The open spaces on the external or internal paths had a “modular” structure: covered with barrel vaults, they were equipped with a large door with threshold, architrave and travertine jambs, topped by a small square window that could give light to a mezzanine wooden interior. This is the typical form of commercial environments (tabernae), normally present on the ground floor of the Roman islands: it is these environments that at the time of the discovery suggested a commercial function for the complex and led to attribute it the modern name of “Markets” of Trajan.
Throughout the complex, the rooms were mainly covered by masonry vaults, from the simpler forms of the barrel vaults, to the half-domes that cover the larger rooms, to the complex covering system of the “Great hall”, with six cross vaults resting on enlarged pillars with travertine shelves and flanked on the upper floor by rooms that contained the lateral thrusts, connected to the structure of the vault by arches that allowed passage in the corridor in front.
The floors widely use, especially in the uncovered parts, the opus spicatum (cutting bricks arranged in a herringbone pattern), to which a second black monochrome mosaic floor layer of small flint tiles was often superimposed: the overlapping of two layers contributed to ensure the waterproofing of the rooms below.
The commercial function, in the past attributed to the complex, had been correlated with Trajan’s concerns about the precarious annonary situation of the city: the so-called Trajan’s Markets had been interpreted as the end point of a gigantic supply system in the capital, which was also insured with the construction of the port of Traiano in Fiumicino.
The presence of numerous environments in the form of a tabernae, in particular along the external paths, is not necessarily an indication of a commercial function of the complex: even the paved streets that make up the external paths are in fact accessible mainly through stairs that overcome the differences in height, and therefore they were not passable by the wagons necessary for the transportation of the goods.
The monument was supposed to constitute a sort of “multifunctional center”, where public activities were carried out mainly of an administrative type. The distribution of the rooms, their connections and the articulation of the internal paths had to depend on the different functions of the rooms, such as offices or archives, in close connection with the forensic complex.
The Procurator Fori Divi Traiani, cited in an inscription recently found, and probably responsible for the administration and management of the monumental complex, was to be located in the “Central Body” rooms.
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.
The Markets of Trajan were an integral part of the greatest and most famous of the Forums. They were designed for the administrative needed of the forum and not, as past archaeological literature would have us believe, as a “shopping centre”.
The Markets of Trajan is a centre dedicated to ancient architecture, intends to help you to understand the structural, architectural and decorative aspects of ancient buildings, through three-dimensionally rebuilding them.The great archaeological areas of the Roman and Imperial Forums, help to understand a real vision of the ancient “city”, give tourists, citizens, people who are passionate about Roman times as well as scholars the possibility of again living a part of the ancient world.
The Trajanic complex is more than ever located at a strategic point of the modern city at a cultural junction that on the one side connects The Capitoline Museum, Palazzo delle Esposizioni and The National Archaeological Museum, and on the other, connects the central archaeological area – Coliseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Imperial Forums. It is an access point to the ancient as well as the modern city. This capacity of urban and cultural dialogue has been valued by important exhibitions such as “The coloured marbles of Imperial Rome” and “Contemporary sculptures by Igor Mitoraj”. We have involved the visitor in a fascinating and intriguing journey through the intricate architecture of the structures internal spaces and the scenic “views” of the city outside.
Trajan’s Markets Museum help the visitor to take in the complexity of ancient sites, their systems and their “technology” hence it was also fundamental to a reconstruct real environment to describe the activities that took place in the forums. Trajan’s Markets Museum do not just “exhibit” the individual fragments of a splendid decorative past, but to replicate real life in real spaces. Physically reconstruct the decorative motifs of which they were part of, addressing when required even very demanding works in terms of material used.
To achieve these objectives, respecting the scientific rigidity of the reconstructions, the museum have used the best technology available today: from graphics to multimedia. Not only one form of media is used but the most flexible form depending on the communication needs.
The renewed interest in this area is due to several factors: the recent heavy restoration of the structure since the first works in the 1930’s, the enhancement of internal and external spaces, the removal of architectural barriers, the choice of highly inter-related exhibitions, the constant interaction with schools and universities through a range of varied and high quality initiatives (visits, laboratories, internships) and the inclusion of ‘summer’ evening cultural events. All this has triggered a process of loyalty from the public that we want to maintain and increase. Answering the public and therefore giving constant “visibility” over time perhaps more than anything else is what impresses upon the receptive person.
Dedicated to the forums’ architectural decoration, the museum addresses their structural aspects to once again give us a ‘final’ view of the original buildings. To complete their reassembly the use of artificial elements made from plaster has been used. The use of such elements was agreed upon in the planning phase. Exhibits are completed with ‘colour’ which is not only applied on the plaster mouldings but also on modern marble surfaces through the use of dyes.
Displays have the objective of giving continuity to the architectural reasoning of the original works through the reassembly of original fragments and the study of additional artificial elements to thus evoke the real spatial relationships they embodied within the extraordinary architecture of the Markets of Trajan. It has been our goal to highlight both the decorative and symbolic apparatus at work (the figurative ‘programme’ and its propaganda meaning to the public of that era) as well as the location of works within the constructional scheme.
The Museum has reproduced the Forum’s northern archaeological access; consequently you are expected to commence tours of the forum area from the ground floor of the Great Hall, in which there is an appropriately positioned multimedia display. The same multimedia element has been included in several halls dedicated to specific forums, each symbolised by a significant main display piece.
On the top floor two sections are devoted respectively to the Forum of Caesar (areas toward the Via Biberatica) and to the ‘Memory of the Ancient’. The later is a theme that addresses sculptures and architectural elements relevant to the Temple of Mars Ultor, a temple which has been documented and copied from the 15th century onwards.
On the same level, your tour continues in the halls of the Central Body. A section dedicated to the architectural decoration of porticos (covered walkways), exedras (semi-circular recesses) and the Room of the Colossus in the Forum of Augustus. Some structures, no longer housed in Rome or only known by copies subsequently made for provincial capital forums, are also documented.
The set-up project aimed to give continuity to the architectural motifs, through the study of integrations and recompositions of the original fragments: these, where possible, within the limits also due to the architectural context of the Trajan’s Markets, were developed in height, in order to evoke the real spatial relationship and to highlight both the decorative and symbolic apparatus (the “figurative program” and communication, in relation to the public of the time), and its relationship with the construction system.
The approach to the original materials has generally excluded the use of the insertion of pins for their assembly, which occurred rather with the combination of modern stone additions and / or casts of other originals, which, for various reasons, they could not be used. The fundamental principle of the museological intervention is however that of the full reversibility of the layout, which also allows to complete the recompositions with any new fragments that may emerge following the continuation of the excavations and archaeological studies, with the aim of reconstituting the visual unity of materials.
The realization of the museum layout, precisely for its technical characteristics, could not be separated from the production of numerous graphic reconstructions, made on the basis of the results obtained from the most recent studies, and differentiated according to the content to be communicated.
They allow to represent the appearance of the forensic complexes as a whole and in different historical phases, or the original aspect of the individual decorative parties. Just to “materialize” the relationship between the remains today scattered in the archaeological area and the reconstructive proposals of the buildings, inside the Markets of Trajan.
Realization of the recompositions
The fundamental principle of the museographic intervention is that of the full reversibility of the installation. This also allows completing the recompositions with any new fragments that may emerge following the progress of excavations and archaeological studies, with the aim of reconstituting the visual unity of the materials.
The integrated communication system
The communicative apparatus of the Imperial Forum Museum is made up not only of the traditional content and directional panels, but also of a rich multimedia system that accompanies the visitor and helps him / her understand, through “simple and immediate” communication, especially in the content joints focal points of the exhibition.
For this purpose, a “mixed technique” was used, an assembly system that makes use of all the communicative potential of the image: from direct shooting, to vintage photos, to archaeological reconstructions made in watercolor and also to 3D and more advanced technologies for image processing.
The section of the Museum dedicated to the Forum of Trajan is found in the lower section of the Markets of Trajan. This area, which lies under the so-called Exedra Arborea Garden, was covered by ground works in reinforced cement in the 1930’s but as a result of the damage suffered from over 70 years of use, a radical reorganisation and restoration project was required. Another exhibition space is dedicated to the internal decorations of the Basilica Ulpia and the Western Libraries and it too hosts the ruins of the buildings to which it once belonged.
Now, a large reassembly of an entrablature (frieze-architrave) is displayed here. The exhibit is in a space that is in direct contact with the remains of the building to which it once belonged – the two lateral frontal halls of the Great Hemicycle.
Trajan’s Markets Museo dei Fori Imperiali is part of the Municipal Museums system, the civic museums of Roma Capitale.
Inaugurated in autumn 2007, it aims to illustrate the ancient architecture of the Imperial Forums and their architectural and sculptural decoration. The recompositions of some scores of the ancient buildings are presented, made with original fragments, casts and modular integrations in stone, according to the museological choice of reversibility, which have the aim of restoring the perception of their original three-dimensionality to the visitor and of appreciating the richness of figurative programs, tools of imperial propaganda.
The exhibition itinerary begins in the “Great Hall” with the introduction to the area of the Imperial Forums, each of which is represented by a particularly significant piece. On the upper level of the “Great Hall” are the sections of the museum dedicated to the Forum of Caesar and to the temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus (“Memory of the ancient”). On the same floor the museum continues in the “Central body” with the section dedicated to the Forum of Augustus, also illustrating its function as a “model” for the forums of the Roman provincial capitals.
The rooms in the upper part of the Trajan’s Markets, which house the museum, underwent important structural and conservative restorations in the years 2005 – 2007. The museum will be completed with the section on
Route through the rooms
The sculptural-architectural decoration of the Fora provide the main focus of the Museum, but it also sets out to explore the way in which they were built and to provide an image of how the buildings looked when completed.
Using an architectural model of what was to be built was an integral part of the original design process. It even incorporated the colour(s) to be applied to the intonaco of the buildings, and, through the use of poly-chrome marbles, to all the marble surfaces too. In planning the exhibition route, the aim was to provide, whenever the constraints of the extraordinary architecture of Trajan’s Markets would allow, some sort of continuity to the architectural motifs by carefully studying how to integrate original pieces with modern moulds in any reconstructions that would be displayed. Other factors were the height of the rooms, as it was important to recreate a sense of how the different spaces in the complex related to each other, and a desire to draw attention to both the decorative elements and the symbolism or “figurative plan” that had been adopted as a tool to communicate with the ordinary people of the time, and to see how these elements impinged on the construction method.
The Museum is located at the northern entrance of the archaeological area of the which is why a multi-medial introduction to the entire Fora precinct is located on the ground floor of the Great Hall along with other rooms, each home to a particularly significant piece that symbolizes the Forum to which it is dedicated. The upper floor of the Hall is home to two sections, one (on the via Biberatica side), dedicated to Caesar’s Forum, and the other “Memories of the Ancient Past”, that features sculptures and architectural elements from the Temple of Mars Ultor that have been known about and reproduced from the 15th century onwards.
On that same floor, the museum route continues through the rooms of the Central Body dedicated to the architectural-sculptural decorations of the porticoes, exedras and Hall of the Colossus in the Forum of Augustus. Items that have been loaned, as well as copies of pieces that no longer exist in Rome are also on display, some of which are only known about because whatever appeared in Rome was frequently, and quite quickly imitated by the Fora in the provincial capitals too.
Introduction to the Imperial Fora
A truly exceptional discovery is displayed in the first room of the Museum of the Imperial Fora which serves as an introduction to the entire Fora complex. This sculpted head of the Emperor Constantine was in fact only discovered in July 2005 during excavations not far from the most southern area of Trajan’s Market, inside an ancient sewage pipe.
The head had been sculpted out of an earlier piece which is no longer identifiable, as the only part of the original head that is just about recognizable, despite having been re-worked, is what is obviously a receding hairline and traces of a diadem, proving that the head portrayed someone of Imperial rank.
The discovery would seem to confirm the theory that the Imperial portraits originally carved on the decorative shields (called clipeus) in the attic above the porticoes in Trajan’s Forum, were recycled and replaced with others in later years.
In this case, the sculpted head is part of a statue of a man that has been re-worked to portray Constantine and which was found during the excavations of Trajan’s Forum in 2005.
Introduction to Trajan’s Forum
The room in the museum that serves as an introduction to Trajan’s Forum is home to the headless statue of a man wearing body armour – in other words, a man in military attire complete with body armour, (called lorica) – made out of a particularly precious white marble from the Greek island of Thassos. It came to light during the 1928-1934 excavations of the exedra on the eastern portico and was almost certainly one of its decorative elements.
Two other statues were found in the same area; one of a figure wearing a toga and another that was sitting down. They too were headless and all three were made of the same type of marble. The sophisticated decoration of the body armour, with griffins on either side of a stem emerging from an Acanthus plant, echoes a motif that is widely present in the friezes found throughout the complex.
Section of Caesar’s Forum
Caesar’s Forum was a rectangle paved in travertine slabs, flanked by porticoes with two naves. The western portico, overlooking the Capitol, was home to two long, narrow “tabernae” (shops) The magnificent Temple of Venus Genetrix was built in Corinthian style at the bottom end of the Forum, on top of a raised podium that unusually, was accessed by stairs built at the sides rather than to the front.
Very little remains of the original forum complex built in Caesar’s time, but a few pieces from the orders along the portico and the pilasters that screened a niche at the head of it, are displayed inside the museum. These pieces represent important and rare evidence of the moment in which the decorative tradition of the Ancient Romans was born, which coincided with the opening of the first Luni (now called Carrara) marble quarry and marble began to replace the old tradition of plastered tufa or travertine. As far as the Trajan period of Caesar’s Forum is concerned, the Museum has a few pieces of the decorative elements used for the Temple of Venus Genetrix. The external walls of the cella were embellished with sculpted panels that portrayed cherub-like figures called “eroti” in scenes that were both decorative and symbolic. Five key images have been re-constructed from the many pieces found. These must have been created as variations of the scene, and in some cases, their size was slightly altered in order to better suit their location. Some of the slabs and some sections of the wall facings were engraved in such a way that they created a typical brickwork pattern.
“Memories of the Ancient Past” Section
Back in the 16th century, there was probably more of the architecture and various components of the Forum of Augustus to see than there is today. The architectural elements of the decorative details inside the cella in the Temple of Mars Ultor (aka Mars the Avenger) were visible for a long time and were sketched and painted by countless Renaissance artists and architects, some of whom also attempted to do a graphic recreation of how they must have looked in Ancient Times.
An orthogonal view done by architect Baldassarre Peruzzi (1481-1537) was one of the most impressive of these. Half showed a frontal view whilst the other half was a section revealing what could be seen inside, which means both the exterior and interior orders could be seen along with the decorative elements – of which the capital and column base have been documented – inside the cella. What makes it so significant is the way others referred to what he had done in lengthy written essays in which they sometimes introduced new elements that were the fruit of their own imaginations, or as in the case of Andrea Palladio, had a series of extremely interesting comments to make. The parts of the Temple of Mars Ultor and the high perimeter wall it backs onto that are still visible, have provided academics and architects with the opportunity, over the years, to hypothesize on its original plan and how the entire complex must have looked. The excavations carried out at different times during the 20th century, and to mark the most recent Jubilee however, provided new informations that have proved some of their ideas were completely wrong.
Section on the Forum of Augustus
Inaugurated in the 2 BC, the Forum of Augustus consists of a rectangular square paved with white marble slabs, dominated, at its lower end, by the temple dedicated to Mars Ultor, also built in white marble from the quarry in Luni today known as Carrara. The temple was built against a high wall built of blocks of tufa stone that separated the forum from the rowdy Subura neighborhood.
The square was flanked on both sides by long deep porticoes in which the column shafts were made of ancient yellow marble. The attic above the columns is embellished with decorative Caryatids, whose elegant hairstyles support a headband carved from the same block, above which is a Doric capital with echinus, embellished with a typical Ionic kyma. The Caryatids appear to be holding up the coping with a baccellatura motif. In the recesses between the Caryatids, quadrangular panels feature round shields bearing an assortment of motifs set in convex frames whilst at the centre, there are heads of Jupiter each with different features.
There are several rooms dedicated to the Forum of August inside the Museum of the Imperial Fora, each displaying various reconstructions of the architectural elements from the Temple of Mars Ultor. These include the orders from both the porticoes and the exedra, and in fact one of the most significant of these is a partition from the attic above the Forum’s porticoes which were located the most prestigious area in Trajan’s Market: the Great Hall.
The reconstruction of the attic from one of the porticoes in the Forum of Augustus was achieved by piecing together several original pieces in Luna marble integrated with resin moulds and other pieces made of limestone.
Section on the Forum of Nerva
The Forum of Nerva was built in the narrow space between the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace, on a section of the Argiletum, the ancient road through the neighborhood it was named after and that linked the Roman Forum to the Subura district.
Of what remains, the section that best represents this Forum is to be found along the stretch of the southern wall where the so-called “Colonnacce” stand. They are the only two survivors of a Corinthian-style colonnade built around the square, in what was both an imitation and reproduction of those in the other Fora. In fact, given that there was not enough space to construct the real thing, pseudo-porticoes were built, featuring columns that were part of the wall behind them and that feature the protruding elements of an entablature.
The upper section of the attic, almost 18 mt above the ground, bears the holes that once held the clamps used to anchor the statues, and one of the reliefs that decorated its façade, in the space above and between the columns, has also survived. It features a female figure with helmet and shield, traditionally attributed to Minerva, the Goddess to whom Domitian dedicated the entire iconography of the Forum.
Another female figure, identified as “Province” was also originally located in the attic above the portico, but has now been reconstructed and is display in one of the rooms in the Museum along with other decorative architectural pieces too.
Section of the Temple of Peace
Ancient sources mean that we have always known of the existence of the Templum Pacis, and its name underlines the differences in the design and layout of the complex in comparison to other Imperial fora and reinforces its sacred nature. Built on a quadrangular design and on a north west–south east axis, it was bounded by high brick walls made of blocks of Peperino (lapis albanus), a grey /brown stone of volcanic origin, and its monumental entrance on the north western side, facing the Forum of Augustus was adorned with massive columns, 1.30 in diameter, made in African marble.
The raised porticoes on the other three sides were characterized by their pink granite columns with Corinthian capitals in white marble, and the one at the rear opened up into an exedra-like room dedicated to peace with other rooms on either side. Some 52 pieces in the very hard red Porphyry marble were found during excavations. Originally from a labrum (a large receptacle used as a bath), they had been deliberately broken during the late Middle Ages so that they could be used in the building of a wall. The bath, which was 3.5m in diameter, had an overhanging lip decorated with a stylized Ionic kyma and a concave, hull-shaped profile and a flat umbilicated bottom. One of the pieces found is from one of the two handles depicting two entwined snakes. A reconstruction of the labrum, also made in red Porphyry, can be found in the room in the museum dedicated to the Templum Pacis, using some of the larger pieces found during the excavations. Pieces from statue plinths with inscriptions in Greek and a bronze head of the Greek philosopher Chrysippos can also be seen.
The multimedia room in the Museum of the Imperial Fora provides the public with the opportunity to follow the historical vicissitudes of the monumental Trajan’s Markets complex, as well as the recovery work carried out during excavations between 1926-1934 and the works only recently completed to restore and valorize pieces found in the Fora.