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showing a yellow sunset and a landscape featuring roman ruins and a roman eagle flying above

Bust of emperor Trajan plain with no background
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Forum of Trajan wide view recreation drawing featuring the Basilica Ulpia with Trajan's Column in the background and the forum square in the 
  foreground - this is a color and highly detailed recreation of what the forum looked like in the year 200 AD
The grand Basilica Ulpia in the Forum of Trajan
Dedicated to Emperor Trajan who ruled from 98 to 117 AD

"And Trajan ... his Forum in Rome worth seeing not only for its general beauty but especially for its roofs made of bronze"
- Pausanias (125 - 180 AD) - Book 5: 12, 6

This was the largest and the last of the five Imperial Forums to be fully completed in 113 AD by the renowned Roman architect Apollodorus. No expense was spared in the construction of this forum - every statue and building was made of luxurious marbles, granites, and bronze - except for the two libraries, which were made of brick covered with a marble veneer. While the forum was opened in 112 AD, the huge Column of Trajan that soared above all was completed the next year.

In the image above, we are looking north from the entrance and towards the Basilica Ulpia with Trajan's Column towering above the roof. In the middle of the vast square is a large equestrian statue of Trajan on a horse. Above the columns along the sides of both porticos are statues of Dacians, mementos of the long Dacian Wars that Trajan fought and won for the glory and stability of the Roman Empire.

Some of the basilica's front columns are made of yellow-gold marble and the others are Egyptian gray granite. There were statues of Dacian barbarians above the columns, one of which has survived. The second level of the basilica is composed of a series of columns open to the air and allowing much light to enter the building. And, on either side of the large basilica are two long and columned porticos that frame the courtyard. One of the main themes of this whole forum was Trajan's final victory in 106 AD over the Dacian people who lived in eastern Europe.

Basilica Ulpia as seen in the year 2022 showing just some partial columns
Forum of Trajan and Basilica Ulpia at dusk in 2022
Columns and bits of flooring remain of the Basilica

This forum was so vast that the entire Forum of Augustus could fit in the courtyard, and the Forum of Nerva could fit inside the length of the Basilica Ulpia and its two apses. This whole forum was designed to stun the viewer with its size, its numerous and sometimes huge statues, and the beautiful details of its columns, entablatures, and gold-coloured roofs made of gilded bronze tiles. It is a tragedy that this monumental architectural creation was not maintained for future generations.

In addition to the forum's impressive architecture, it was also much appreciated by the Romans because Emperor Trajan was a great and noble Emperor, noted for the vast number of public buildings he built, his just and temperate governing, improvements to the social welfare of the people, the expansion of the empire, and his military accomplishments. The Roman Senate honoured him with the title of Optimus Princeps - "The Best Ruler." Simply put, though Trajan ruled for only nineteen years (98 AD to 117 AD), he was one of greatest and most beloved emperors in Roman history.

Basilica Ulpia as seen in the year 2022 showing just some partial columns
Bronze statue of Emperor Trajan
Trajan's full title was: IMPERATOR TRAIANO AUGUSTUS GERMANICUS DACIUS PONTIFEX MAXIMUS TRIBUNITIA POTESTAS which translates to: Emperor Trajan, Conqueror of Germany and Dacia, High Priest and Tribune

In the year 117 AD, just five years after his forum was built, Trajan had a stroke and passed away in southern Turkey while defending the Empire's extensive borders. He was succeeded by his nephew, Emperor Hadrian, who also became one of the great Roman Emperors. After the death of Trajan and his deification that transformed him into a god, Hadrian added to the forum by building a huge temple behind the Column of Trajan, which I discuss in detail further on.


Basilica Ulpia interior recreated in color showing the yellow and white marble floors, the ceiling, numerous statues, and many columns.  
  Trajan's Column can be seen between the upper columns on the right side of the Basilica Ulpia
Basilica Ulpia interior - Trajan's Column seen on the right
Floor tiles are Giallo Antico, Pavonazetto & Africano marble
From an original drawing by Gilbert Gorski- modified by myself

In the image above, people are walking inside the Basilica Ulpia with its beautiful yellow and white marble floors. At the far end is the north-east apse where Roman slaves were set free (the Atrium Libertatis). I like the open and airy structure of this building which must have been delightful to explore on a warm, sunny day with a light breeze blowing through the columns. For those admiring the stunning floor, though faded, some marble floor tiles have survived and that is how we know what they looked like.

The arrangement of numerous Corinthian columns on the ground floor and Ionic columns on the top floor, combined with the statues and the coffered ceiling, is a stunning example of Roman architecture at its finest. It is said that there were two huge bronze statues of Trajan that were part of the Basilica Ulpia, showing him as both warrior and as a lawmaker.

The image above is my remastered version of a drawing by Gilbert Gorski, who creates illustrations of what Roman architecture looked like in its prime. There is an amazing book that is filled with many of his superb Roman drawings and illustrations - it is expensive but worth every penny. I added more of the basilica to the image above to create more depth, perspective, while also increasing the brightness and heightened details.

Basilica Ulpia interior recreated and shown from ground level, again showing the yellow and white marble floors with 
reddish dark circles sparkling on a sunny day
Basilica Ulpia interior seen from ground level
Lower columns are grey granite - Upper are Cipillino Verde
My remaster of a drawing by an unknown artist - Public Domain

The basilica's upper floor is called a Clerestory, whose purpose is to provide ample light into the structures interior - which it certainly does very well in the image above. The roof of the basilica was not flat like the vast and impressive coffered ceiling. Instead, the basilica had a trussed roof made of wood, pointed like an upside down "V", just like the forum's porticos and many other Roman buildings.

The Basilica Ulpia gets its name from the middle name of Emperor Trajan. His full name, in Latin, is Marcus Ulpius Traianus, and thus Ulpius became Ulpia when used as a descriptive name for the basilica. After this vast and beautiful basilica was built, it quickly became the most important public building in Rome, and many of the politicians relocated from the Forum Romanum to the Basilica Ulpia to conduct their political activities.

One of the most striking features of the basilica's exterior were the deep yellow columns all along the front porches, two of which have survived and are shown below - what an amazing colour of marble.

photo of columns from the ancient Basilica Ulpia that are now being used in St. Peter's basilica today
Basilica Ulpia columns inside St. Peter's basilica
Image licensed from Luis Avarenga - Picfair

As you can see, yellow was a very dominant theme colour in the Basilica Ulpia and the Forum of Trajan, but all trace of the wonderful colours used to construct the forum were not seen for centuries. After the forum was destroyed by earthquakes in 801 AD and 1349 AD, what remained of the collapsed basilica was buried under several metres (yards) of dirt. After hundreds of years, two convents were built over the site and the forum virtually disappeared from view, except for the nearby Column of Trajan and Trajan's Market structures.

Nevertheless, in the 1530s, Pope Clement VII had several of the yellow marble columns that used to adorn the front of the basilica dug up. Those recovered columns (shown above) were then taken and used in constructing St. Peter's basilica in the Vatican that was built between 1506 to 1626 AD. The photo above shows how tall (8 metres/25 feet), and how very yellowish/gold these columns are. The photo below shows us a beautiful arved frieze that adorned the entablature above the ground level columns of the Basilica Ulpia. Interestingly, the Basilia Ulpia is currently being rebuilt by a former mayor of Rome.

Frieze from inside the nave of the Basilica Ulpia showing a winged victory slaying a bull
Basilica Ulpia interior frieze showing a Winged Victory slaying a bull
Photo permission: Martin G. Conde Flickr Nov 2021

The interior of the Basilica Ulpia, with its wide open spaces, beautiful and coloured marble floors, was also enhanced by sculptured friezes all along the interior. The frieze shown above was located above the basilica's lower tier of gray granite columns, all along the entablature just above the columns. Many thanks to the well-informed and helpful Mr. Martin Conde who has many great photos of the Forum of Trajan ruins.

Archaelogists have determiend that this frieze panel was repeated approximately 65 times within the Basilica Ulpia's interior. According to one of the world's foremost experts, Ph.D. historian James Packer describes the frieze above as, quote:

Inside, the nave (Basilica Ulpia) was dominated by the frieze of the lower order (of columns), a single scene of four winged victories repeated 65 times ... Depicted as priestesses sacrificing bulls and decorating candelabra, they also recalled worship of the emperors and symbolized victory over death ...

James E. Packer, Trajan's Glorious Forum - Feb. 1998

Whether visualizing the interior or exterior of the basilica or the porticos of the Forum of Trajan, we can be confident that today's portrayals are probably accurate thanks to the large number of excavations. Many remains of the forum's structures, lying like puzzle pieces, have been found, thus providing archaelogists and historians a pretty good idea of what the structures looked like.

Today, when you visit the Forum of Trajan, all you see of the Basilia Ulpia are some partial columns sticking out of the ground, patches of grass, rubble, and bits of flooring. It is indeed hard to believe that in Rome's glorious past, this forum was a huge complex with the largest basilica the Romans built at its heart. For ancient tourists, this place was a top destination that amazed and delighted people. The impression ancient Romans almost certainly had as they walked from one part of the forum to another, was how huge and complicated it was, filled with so many structures, columns, statues, all made of coloured marbles that delighted the eye while enhancing the overall architecture. It must have been so wonderful, as I try to show in the next images.


drawing showing interior length of Forum of Trajan portico leading towards
the Basilica Ulpia and showing the white and yellow marble floors and curved decorated ceiling Northern Portico with yellow and white marble floors
Modification of an image perhaps by G. Gorski

The image above shows the Basilica Ulpia's yellow and white marble floor pattern being used on the floor inside the northern portico on the right side of the Basilica Ulpia and the Forum of Trajan. However, the Basilica Ulpia floor pattern also included circles of reddish marble. The white/gold marble floor pattern was used extensively throughout many of the structures in the Forum of Trajan. Further down the page, I show more photos of surviving floor tiles from this forum that still show their gold and white colouring after almost 20 centuries. In this image (click to view) of what the northern portico looks like today - bits of the white and yellow marble flooring can still be seen.

Forum of Trajan northern portico showing its interior with a focus on the golden marble floors and colorful ceiling -
 also showing part of the Basilica Ulpia
Southern Portico on other side of the Forum with Basilica Ulpia on the right

And on the other side of the forum and the basilica is the southern portico, shown above. This image shows how Trajan's forum looked like in the early 2nd century. The beautiful ceiling and that same white/gold marble floor theme used throughout much of the forum can be seen once again. The golden columns of the Basilica Ulpia and its gilded bronze roof can be seen, as well as statues of the Dacians above the columns. which can be seen more clearly in my drawing below showing how a Forum of Trajan portico appeared when viewed while standing direclty in front.

Forum of Trajan northern portico reconstruction seen while facing it straight on, with the bronze equestrian statue of 
Trajan shown on the right, with the courtyard paved with white marble paving slabs
Forum of Trajan colonnade portico seen from the front with Equestrain statue on the right

The repeating pattern of Dacian statues and circular clipeus reliefs running along the length of the portico is very much like the attic sculptures seen in the Forum of Augustus, which obviously inspired the architect. On the right side of the image we can see part of the large equestrian statue showing Trajan riding a horse. The three steps leading up into the portico are made of yellowish Giallo Antico marble, which can be seen in the portico floors also. On the left, the opening to one of the portico's exedras is seen. Finally, the white and shining Carrara marble slabs of the courtyard are very impressive and must have been very stunning on a sunny day.

No expense was spared during the construction of the Forum of Trajan, and the architect used a large pallet of different marbles and other types of stone to create this magnificent forum. Below is a diagram showing the various marbles and granites used to pave the floors of the basilica, the porticos, and to make the various kinds of columns.

the six main kinds of marble and granite used in the Forum of Trajan are shown, namely:  pavonazetto, giallo antico, 
africano, carrara, cipillino, and gray granite
The types of marble and granite used in the Forum of Trajan

These various kinds of stone were quarried and then transported to Rome from all over the Roman Empire. The first three types of stone shown above were used to make the beauitful floor tiles of the Basilica Ulpia: Yellowish Giallo Antico - white with bluish veins Pavonazetto - dark red/black Africano marble.

The fourth kind (Carrara, also called Luna) was the white marble used to pave the huge courtyard of the forum which I discuss in detail later on (Note: will be added in a few days). Carrara was used also to construct the Column of Trajan. The fifth kind of greenish stone (Cipilino Verde) was the marble used for the upper tier of columns in the Basilica Ulpia. The sixth kind of stone, not a marble, (Gray Granite from Egypt) formed the ground floor columns of the basilica. Not shown is a form of cheap and hard limestone called Travertine that was used in various areas of the forum, such as the foundations and walls. Travertine was sourced from quarries located in areas just outside Rome.

COLUMN OF TRAJAN (Trajan's Column)

drawing of Trajan's Column as it appeared in the second century showing the column soaring upwards between the two libraries of the Forum of Trajan
Trajan's Column soaring up between the two Forum libraries

Not many things the Romans constructed have survived almost fully intact across twenty centuries. One of these survivors is the soaring 1,900-year-old Column of Trajan, a huge triumphal column built to commemorate Emperor Trajan victories over the Dacian people who threatened the eastern part of the Empire. Trajan led tens of thousandsof Roman troops across the Danube river in two campaigns in the early 100s AD that forever vanquished their Dacian enemies. His campaign also secured enormous amounts of gold (225,000 kilos) and silver (450,000 kilos) for the Roman empire, some of which certainly was used to build Trajan's great forum and magnificent column.

The drawing above shows a second-century view of Trajan's Column, located behind the Basilica Ulpia, as it soars up between the two libraries on either side of the column. All along the surface of the column, in an upward and spiral pattern, artists sculpted 155 bas relief scenes containing thousands of figures showing Trajan and his soldiers in the Dacian Wars. Unfortunately, the reconstruction above does not really show how the sculpted figures in the enormous spiralled relief were painted using many colours, as shown in the pair of alternating images below.

Google Earth view of Basilica Ulpia area from above Eastern view of Forum Roman in Rome

Column of Trajan's carved figures shown today and then when new and painted

The column was 36 metres high (125 feet) and 3.5 metres wide (12 feet). The column was not one whole shaft - it was composed of 20 drum sections that weighed over 30 tons each. It was completed in 113 AD, a year after the forum opened in 112 AD.

There were 2,662 figures, and Trajan can be seen in 58 of the 155 carved relief scenes that rotate around the column 23 times for a length of over 183 metres (600 feet) - that is much carving. The column told the story of two wars in Dacia (101-102 AD and 105-106 AD), where Trajan was victorious.

The story of the battles begins at the bottom and continues upwards in a spiral. Amazingly, the carved figures are arranged so that one can get the main gist from two different viewpoints without having to go around and around looking up - which was pretty clever work on the part of the artist(s).

The story being told by the sculptured reliefs is a combination of mostly soldiers marching and fighting, with some other scenes of Trajan giving speeches and negotiating. There are even scenes of things being built and sacrifices being offered to Roman gods. All-around (no pun intended), it is a great artistic accomplishment.

photo of the base of Trajan's Column showing a doorwa
The base of Trajan's Column where his ashes were entombed
AncientDigitalMaps 2013 CC BY-NC-2.0

This column has survived mostly intact except for the statue of Emperor Trajan on top that has been replaced by a figure of St. Peter. This huge column is also hollow inside and contains a spiral staircase made up of 185 steps that led up to an observation platform at the top. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this huge and ancient Roman column is the simple fact that that it survived relatively unscathed after 1,900 years of wars, fires, earthquakes, and pillaging.

bust of Roman emperor Trajan, made of marble
Emperor Trajan (d. 117 AD)
bust of Plotina, wife of Roman emperor Trajan, made of marble
Pompeia Plotina (d. 121 AD)

A golden urn containing the ashes of Trajan and his wife Plotina (seen above) was stored inside the base below the column. Unfortunatley, the urn has been lost to the ages. The Romans appreciated Plotina's efforts at curtailing the zealousness of the Roman tax collectors, who could be quite ruthless and unfair. She also had a reputation as a kind woman who tried to help the poor.

Storing Trajan's ashes below the column was a radical departure that should have been prohibited. This forum was located well within Rome's Pomerium zone, a sacred area of the city where burials were forbidden. Obviously, because Trajan was so beloved and declared a god soon after his death, Emperor Hadrian allowed the column to be used as a tomb. Ordinarily, the ashes of emperors were stored in the Mausoleum of Augustus, and then Hadrian's Mausoleum after the death of emperor Hadrian in 138 AD.


drawing showing whole Forum of Trajan entrance area, including much of the courtyard and left and right porticos, and Forum of Augustus and 
Temple of Peace can be seen in background
Forum of Trajan entrance area facing Basilica Ulpia
Remaster of a drawing by unknown artist

The Forum of Trajan had a grand entrance that was demolished in 1526 AD. The elaborate walled entrance included a triumphal arch for the doorway that commemorated Emperor Trajan's victory over the Dacians. Despite the destruction, we know what the entrance looked like because its image can be seen on an ancient Roman gold coin (shown below). This coin shows a rectangular structure with six columns and one archway in the middle. Between the side columns are wall niches with statues, and five circular clipeus wall reliefs. All along the top were numerous sculptures, with Trajan in the centre with chariot and horses (a quadriga).

photo of Roman coin showing entrance to Trajan's Forum
Entrance to Trajan's Forum on a gold Roman Coin

The similar wall structures you see on either side of the entrance (in the drawing above) are not shown on the Roman coin - nevertheless, they are probably more-or-less correct. The Romans would not have built plain wall sections on either side of the entrance. Additionally, for reasons of architectural symmetry and splendour, they would want them to match and complement the grand entrance structure. Another interesting aspect of the wall sections on either side of entrance is that fact that they were angled relative to the entrance - the Map and Guide, further down the page, shows the overall structure of the southern end of the forum.

drawing showing the reconstructed entrance to the Forum of Trajan but it is incorrect.  It shows 8 columns, no wall niches,
no clipeus, a too-wide entrance and the entablature structure above the columns is also quite incorrect

The drawing above and variations of it are often seen in any discussion about the Forum of Trajan. However, I found it necessary to remaster this drawing simply because it needs to be corrected for so many reasons. Specifically, you can see numerous errors when you compare this drawing to the Roman coin image. Namely, the drawing above shows an entrance with eight columns, no wall niches with clipeus above, a too-wide entrance, and the upper structure above the columns is not what is shown on the actual Roman coin.

Although an image on a coin is not a photograph, it is reasonable to assume the Roman administration made sure the image of something important to their culture was recognizable to the average Roman. The only downside in relying on an image engraved on a coin is how much detail may be missing, in addition to artistic distortion. Nevertheless, ancient coins often provide us with the only view of what something or someone looked like - they are an invaluable tool of both historians and archaeologistgs.

The only problem I really have with the gold coin image of the entrance is how narrow the doorway is. It was undoubtedly broader than that, especially if it was also a triumphal arch doorway. Thus, in my drawing, I compromised and made a doorway that was neither too wide or too narrow. Unfortunately, the entrance was demolished in the early 1500s. Otherwise, we certainly would have a much better understanding of the whole entrance area which I am sure was as grand and elaborate as the rest of the Forum of Trajan.


The map and guide to the Forum of Trajan below is explored in detail, from the entrance on the left, and to the Temple of Divine Trajan on the right. This really was the largest of the imperial forums and a great architectural creation.

Trajan's Forum map with guide showing major points of interest such as the Basilica Ulpia, Trajan's Column, the libraries, exedra, and entrance
Forum of Trajan Map Guide

Between the Forum of Trajan Entrance (Map #1) and the Basilica Ulpia (Map #4) was a large square containing a statue of Emperor Trajan (Map #2) riding a horse. There was a portico (Map #8) along the left and right sides of the forum square. The whole forum measured almost 1,000 x 600 feet (330 x 200 metres).

There is an exedra (Map #3) in four locations: one per each portico and one at either end of the Basilica Ulpia An exedra is an architectural term meaning a structure that protrudes outwards from the main structure. Typically, an Exedra has a semi-circular shape, also known as a "hemicycle." For example, if you cut a circular tower down the middle, each half would form a hemicycle exedra. There are four of these kinds of exedrae in the Forum of Trajan. However, the shape of an exedra can also be rectangular. This image shows both kinds of exedras.

Behind the Basilica Ulpia (Map #4) , the Column of Trajan (Map #6) stood between two libraries (Map #5), one dedicated to Latin and the other to Greek works. These libraries were considered among the best librairies in the Roman World. Interestingly, these libraries were made of brick and were the only structures in the main forum not made of stone. The books in these libraries were composed of both scrolls and actual books, called a codex by the Romans. Just like books today, a codex was bound on the left side. The plural of a codex is codices, though the term "codexes" is used by some. This link to a photo shows an example of a an ancient Roman codex called the "Codex Sinaiticus", which dates from the 300s AD. Just think, this book was written around the time the Baths of Diocletian had opened in Rome.


Behind the two libraries, Emperor Hadrian built a temple dedicated to his father, Emperor Trajan 10 to 16 years after the forum was opened, from 125 to 135 AD. Hadrian typically never put his name on any of his building projects, but he made this temple the exception - probably because it was built in honour of his father.

Coins showing an image of the temple have survived and they provide a glimpse of what the temple looked like when it still existed. The image below shows one of those coins, and we can see an octastyle temple (8 columns in front), a large staircase, and a portico on either side. We can also see statues on top of the roof, one inside the temple, and one in the tympanum.

Roman coin showing an image of the Temple of Divine Trajan showing a temple that is eight columns wide, 
with a portico on either side and statues on the temple roof, one inside the temple, and statues inside the tympanum space 
below the roof
Roman coin with image of Temple of Divine Trajan
Image Courtesy of Hunterian Musem - Educational Use

Apart from the coin image, we know for sure there was a temple dedicated to Trajan within his forum simply because parts of his temple have survived. For example, in the photo below, a granite column section and a marble capital that were part of his temple can be seen. Both remnants are huge and strongly suggest that Trajan's temple was colossal. For example, the column section pictured below is 1.8 metres (6 feet) wide, which means the column was 18 metres (60 feet) high, based on the Roman architectural formula, which says that a column should be ten times the width.

photo of a granite column from the Temple of the Divine Trajan in the Forum 
of Trajan in Rome
Granite column & capital from Temple of the Divine Trajan
Trajan's Column is just behind the column
Photo SlicesOfLight CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

This column is made of gray granite imported from Egypt, shipped to Rome at great expense and much labour. The top surface of the column section pictured here is as high as a tall grown person standing beside it. The visible large crack in the column was likely caused by an earthquake in 801 AD that was so powerful it was felt even far away in Germany. It is estimated that earthquake destroyed much of the forum when many buildings collapsed. And because the Western Roman Empire itself had collapsed over three centuries earlier, there was neither the finances nor the skills to rebuild and repair these iconic structures.

The capital shown above, to the right of the column, is Corinthian; thus, we know the temple was of the Corinthian order. This capital is also quite huge and stands over 2 metres (7 feet) high. Given the scale of the temple, it is somewhat surprising that so little remains. Very likely, pillagers were very thorough over the centuries and they removed almost all of it.

map diagram showing location of surviving column and capital from the Temple of the Divine Trajan
The location of the column and capital from the Temple of Divine Trajan is shown with arrows
Image courtesy of Google Earth

The temple's exact location is not known - its foundations have not been found. And this is where things get a bit "murky" regarding the Temple of the Divine Trajan. One may read that it is not certain that there actually was a temple or that the temple may have been located in the middle of the large forum square, or near the entrance. However, the temple ruins that still exist, and the coin image, tell us there absolutely was a temple, and its location was somewhere behind Trajan's Column and the libraries, as shown in the map/diagram above showing the exact location of the column and capital behind Trajan's Column.

However, it is a certainty that this column and capital were found elsewhere and repositioned to beside the Column of Trajan. Though their original precise location is not known, it is very likely they were found close-by. Because there are new buildings adjacent to the ruins, the archaeologists moved the capital and column to the nearest available part of the ruins - in this case, the Column of Trajan area - this is a common practice of archeologists. Thus, my guess is they were found just past the bottom of the photo shown above (where roof is), perhaps a bit further.

photo of column from Temple of Divine Trajan lying in underground levels of  the Palazzo Vaneltini just north of the Column of Trajan
Column from Temple of Divine Trajan in Palazzo Vanentini underground
Image by ScienceDirect - Fair use - Educational

According to Jeff Bondono of the website by the same name, another large granite column from the Temple of the Divine Trajan exists in the underground levels of the Palazzo Valentini, which is across from the column and capital shown in the photo above. I have found a photo of the column, shown above.

Forum of Trajan surviving floor section showing actual marble tiles that still exist and also showing marble colors of white and golden yellow
Surviving floor section from Trajan's Forum showing white and gold marble floor tiles

As shown in the image above, within the ruins of an Exedra structure (Forum of Trajan Map #3 with circle) you can still see some of the same white/gold marble floor tiles that were also used in the Basilica Ulpia and the porticoes on the north and south side of the forum.


Entire Trajan's Market seen from a distance
Trajan's Market seen from a distance
Licensed from Dreamstime

In its time, Trajan's Market was almost modern in its architectural design. This structure was an ancient Roman shopping centre complex built across multiple floors. It was 35 metres high (115 ft) and 170 rooms still remain. The building complex also contained apartments and offices for the administrators of Trajan's Forum. The architect was Apollodorus of Damascus, who also designed the forum itself. In its prime, this market was filled with stores selling wine, olives, textiles, spices, olive oil, Etc. It also contained many taverns and eateries - not unlike today's shopping malls.

Trajan's Marketplace is located next to one of the southern exedras of the Forum of Trajan. It was built over a period of three years, from 107 to 100 AD. The ruins of this ancient marketplace were excavated from 1924 to 1936. Structures that had been built over site were removed; for example, a Dominican convent that had been there for three centuries.

In the image below, Trajan's Marketplace is shown still standing in relatively good condition. In the foreground are the remains of the exedra mentioned above.

Trajan's Market in the year 2019 looking north
The front of Trajan's Market with two portico columns in front

The two partial columns in the foreground of the photo above are from the eastern portico. The single white column in the rear is from the southern exedra adjacent to the eastern portico. This white column is seen again in the middle of the first photo at the start of this section. The whole structure of Trajan's Market was divided into multiple levels interconnceted with staircases and passageways.

looking down on Trajan's Market from above
Looking down on Trajan's Market
Licensed from Dreamstime

In the the photo above, we are now looking down on the front area of Trajan's Market. You can see how the whole building curves to match the circular exedra that existed along one of the porticos of the Forum of Trajan. The photo below shows a large, arched ceiling made of concrete vaults that provided protection from the Sun and rain. Notice also the many doorways that led to offices and businesses.

photo of Trajan's Market looking down from a balcony into the central area showing many doorways and concrete ceiling vaults
Looking down from a balcony into the central area under the concrete vault ceiling

Apart from the bold concrete ceiling vaults, the rest of the structure is built from a reddish brick with light-coloured travertine stone framing the doorways. In the past, like many Roman structures, the brick was covered with a combination of stucco, marble panels and marble decoration that have mostly all been removed by pillaging over the centuries. The photo above provides a really great view of the concrete ceiling vaults and the courtyard below. It truly is amazing how well-preserved this ancient market is. The photo below shows the view from the ground floor.

photo of Trajan's Market taken from the ground floor with many of the doorways seen and the concrete vaulted roof above today in the 21st century
Looking at Trajan's Market from the ground floor in 2016
Image courtesy of Darren & Brad - CC BY-NC 2.0

I can just imagine many ancient Romans shopping in this old mall on a busy day, moving from doorway to doorway, people talking, children yelling and scampering around excitedly - not that far removed from our present-day shopping malls. If one could only travel back in time to see what it was really like.


photo of the Forum of Trajan Basilica Ulpia ruins today in the 21st century showing some of the columns
The Basilica Ulpia and Trajan's Column in the 21st Century
Image courtesy Bgabel CC BY-SA 3.0

This photo shows the remaining columns of the Basilica Ulpia with Trajan's Column behind them. There actually should be even more columns extending a lot further to the left and right because this ancient basilica extended much wider than shown by these columns. Unfortunately, in the 1930s, the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini built roads right through the forums, which you can see on either side of the photo, causing the obliteration of some ruins.

Google Earth view of Basilica Ulpia area from above Eastern view of Forum Roman in Rome

Basilica Ulpia columns in 121 AD versus 2021 AD

The basilica columns we see today are standing because they were raised through a process called Anastylosis. These columns had all fallen and were broken into pieces which were then re-assembled, the missing parts were filled in with cement; after which, the newly-formed columns were raised once again.

In fact, the only "column" in this whole forum that has remained standing for over 1,900 years is Trajan's Column, seen behind the resurrected columns of the Basilica Ulpia. And for those who are wondering what those domed buildings on both sides of the basilica ruins are in the photo above, they are churches. Located very close to these ruins are the Church of Saint Mary of Loreto (built in 1500s) on the left. On the right side is the Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary at the Trajan Forum (built 1751).

photo of ruins of Trajan's Forum showing the Basilica Ulpia from behind with Trajan's Column
The Basilia Ulpia and Trajan's Column from behind with the 'Altare della Patria' monument on the right (completed 1935)

This next view above shows the Basilia Ulpia at sunset with Trajan's Column and the modern Altare della Patria on the right. The newer and massive structure is also known as the Victor Emmanuel II Monument, and it was built over a period of 50 years, from 1885 to 1935. I think it looks like a new forum built on multiple levels, and it is undoubtedly majestic and quite Roman looking.


engraving showing how the Forum of Trajan looked in 1810 ad approximately, showing the Column of Trajan and numerous partial columns poking
out of the ground and marking the location of the Basilica Ulpia
Forum of Trajan in 1810 AD approx
Giovanni Battista Cipriani 1766–1839

The Forum of Trajan remained in use as a public space until at least the mid-800s AD, at which time people began removing he travertine tiles that covered the ground surface of the vast square in front of the Basilica Ulpia. The tiles were used in lime kilns, where they were burnt into a lime powder used to make mortar. By that time, those ground tiles had been there for over 700 years (112 to 850 AD approximately). And it can be assumed that all of the forum's bronze roof tiles had been removed much earlier, including all the bronze statues and marble veneers covering the walls. Additionally, it can be assumed that the earthquakes that greatly damaged the neighbouring forums also greatly damaged the Forum of Trajan.

By the early 1800s, the Forum of Trajan, except for Trajan's Column and Trajan's Market were buried under 3 to 4 metres (10 to 12 feet) of sediment and debris. The only visible signs of the former huge and glorious Basilica Ulpia and its porticos were bits of columns sticking out of the ground, and seen in the old drawing above. This was before excavations in the 1920s and 1930s

During the years 1928-1934, under the direction of Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini, the forum was dug up, and attempts at restoration were made. The excavations that exposed more of the forum allowed for partial reconstruction of some of the columns which visitors to this forum see today. Unfortunately, Mussolini also authorized the construction of the Via dei Fori Imperiali roadway in 1933, which goes right through one side of the Basilica Ulpia, as well as other forums.

Today, all that remains of the forum are: Trajan's Column, Trajan's Market, and several columns from the Basilica Ulpia and porticoes - most of those columns were broken and lying flat on the ground. As mentioned earlier, through the process of anastylosis, the columns were reconstituted and raised. Amazingly, some floor sections have survived, still displaying the beautiful white and gold marble for us to see in the 21st century.

The following photo below shows a broad view of the forum in the 21st Century. The photographer is looking directly west at Trajan's Column in the top center. Along the bottom, you can see what is left of the northern Portico and its exedra which Trajan's Market surrounds.

Photo of Trajan's Forum in year 2014, looking west at remains of Basilica Ulpia, northern portico, Trajan's column, and part of Trajan's Market. 
       A photo of what Trajan's Forum looked like in the 2nd century is in the top right corner so the viewer can compare and see the extent of damage and 
       missing structures
2014 view looking west, compared 112 AD view
Part of this image is a photo by C. Rodoto

In the centre-left area, you can see columns from the Basilica Ulpia with Trajan's Column behind. Furthermore, you can see the elevated roadways tearing through both sides of the basilica. Interestingly, you can also see bits of white and yellow marble floor tiles along the northern Portico. At bottom right, you can see the red brick walls of Trajan's Market. The guide in the top right corner compares the current to the ancient view.

The full width of the Basilica Ulpia extended right to the far-right edge of the northern portico and beyond the second elevated roadway seen on the left. The standing columns show about half of the basilica's true extent only. Also, the colums we do see today are only the inner ones - there were many rows of columns that were used in the basilica's construction.


Color drawing showing Roman Emperor Constamtois II in 357 AD when he visited the Forum of 
Trajan in Rome for the first time
Roman Emperor Constantius II visits the Forum of Trajan in 357 AD

Huge in size, elaborate in design, and beautiful in its fantastic display of luxurious marbles, granites, and sculptures, the Forum of Trajan impressed Romans and visitors for hundreds of years after it opened in 112 AD. A famous example of a visitor being stunned by the sheer size and beauty of the Forum of Trajan was Roman Emperor Constantius II (317 - 361 AD), grandson of Emperor Constantine I who made Christianity "Religio Licita" - an allowed and legal religion in the Roman empire.

Having living his whole life up to that point in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Emperor Constantius II visited Rome for the first time in 357 AD, which was almost 250 years after the forum had opened. With him when he visited Rome was an army officer and historian by the name of Ammianus Marcellinus (330 - 395 AD) who recorded the emperor's reaction to the forum, shown below, with the original Latin displayed right after.

"When he came to the Forum of Trajan, a unique structure under all heaven, marvelous even to the gods, he was stunned by the gigantic scale of everything that is indescribable. Without hope of ever being able to attempt building something so grand, he could hope to imitate only Trajan's horse statue in the middle of the courtyard."
- Ammianus Marcellinus - Rerum gestarum libri

Verum cum ad Traiani forum venisset, singularem sub omni caelo structuram ... etiam numinum assensione mirabilem, haerebat attonitus, per giganteos contextus circumferens mentem, nec relatu effabiles ... Omni itaque spe huius modi quicquam conandi depulsa, Traiani equum solum, locatum in atrii medio ... imitari se velle dicebat et posse.

By the time of Constantius II's visit, Rome was no longer the capital of the Roman empire - it was a city in decline filled with many examples of a great and former splendour. And even though the Forum of Trajan itself was worn down and faded, it still had the power to amaze people who visited.

color painting showing the sack of a great civilization's city by artist Thomas Cole
The sack of Rome in 410 AD
Artist: Thomas Cole - 1836 - Public Domain

I am sure Constantius II would have thought it unconceivable that, in just over 50 years in 410 AD, Rome would be invaded by barbarians who would sack the city for days and cause great damage to many buildings. For example, the great Basilica Julia and Basilica Aemilia in the heart of Rome were burned and partially destroyed. Perhaps even the Basilica Ulpia in this forum was also damaged.

Shockingly, injuries to the great Forum of Trajan happened almost a hundred years before the sack of Rome. In the year 315 AD, panels filled with carved reliefs and eight statues of Dacians were removed from the Forum of Trajan and used to construct the Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum, shown below.

Arch of Constantine in 2023 showing whole arch and sculptural details on front, showing 4 statues of Dacians and 
sculptured relief panels taken from the Forum of Trajan in 315 Ad
Arch of Constantine in 2023 showing Dacian statues and relief panels along top taken from Forum of Trajan in 315 AD

This is the largest surviving Roman triumphal arch that stands an impressive 21 metres high (70 ft) and 25 metres wide (82 ft). The large central arch has sculptures along its inner walls, which you can see in the photo above. These sculptures were part of the frieze that ran along the upper part of the Basilica Ulpia. Because this huge triumphal arch was dedicated to emperor Constantine I, any sculpture showing Trajan was physically altered. Many other features of this arch - such as the columns and circular sculpture reliefs - were taken from other Roman monuments.

Stripping the Forum of Trajan of its sculptures and reliefs to use in the Arch of Constantine, was just the start of violations to this beautiful forum. For example, in 663 AD, a huge number of bronze sculptures and other parts of the forum were removed by emperor Constans II, of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as "Byzantine" empire today).

Slowly but surely, the great Forum of Trajan was emptied of its treasures, and earthquakes and pillaging decimated the great basillica, porticos, exedras, and courtyard. Nevertheless, even today - in the 21st century - the great Column of Trajan and Trajan's Market still speak to us about the glory that was once the great and beautiful Forum of Trajan. If you ever visit Rome, make sure to visit this forum and try to imagine what it once was like.

This ends my discussion of the Forum of Trajan and thank you for reading all this. It is indeed unfortunate that time and ruthless pillaging of many ancient ruins in Rome has not been kind to this forum, having reduced much of it into rubble. So little has been left to us, and that is a shame - but perhaps we should be grateful there is anything left at all after almost 2,000 years. It is a testament to the former glory of these forums that what remains can still inspire and delight one's imagination of what once was. If you have any comments, please email me. I really enjoy receiving the wonderful emails from people who send me their perspectives, comments, and questions. I always respect everyone's email privacy. The only emails I send to people are replies to emails they send me.

If you would like to explore another of the six great forums of ancient Rome, please touch or click one of the buttons below in the Forum Guide.


The links below offer additonal information about the FORUM OF TRAJAN, including entrance fees, hours, how to get there, etc.

A Tourist in Rome - Trajan's Forum, part of the great "A Tourist in Rome" section at

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