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THE WHITE MARBLE COURTYARD OF THE FORUM OF TRAJAN (Continued)



As mentioned in the previous page, the huge courtyard of the Forum of Trajan was paved with over 3,000 large slabs. And of all that marlbe, only one partial slab has survived - the only one I know about. Fortunately, Mr. M.G. Conde gave me access to a photo of the marble paving slab (shown below) that has survived 1,900 years. Additionally, also courtesy of Mr. Conde, I have viewed two small thumbnail photos (click to view) by Historian James Packer, and they are labelled "Area Fori sole surviving paver." It is entirely possible there are some other pieces of surviving pavement marble elsewhere in the forum, but none that I can actually validate.


photo from 2008 showing the only surviving white marble paving slab from the Forum of Trajan's courtyard
An actual white marble paving slab from the Forum of Trajan
Photo permission: M.G. Conde - June 2008

The photo above was taken fifteen years ago, and it seems to still be there when viewing the Forum of Trajan with these Google Earth Rome Coordinates. The marble pavement slab (paver) is located next to a doorway in a wall that borders the end of the elevated Via Alessandrina roadway that ends in the Forum of Trajan. You can rotate the Google Earth camera and get a good angle to see that the paver is indeed still there. This image guide will assist you is identifying various aspects of the courtyard.

At least half of the paving slab is missing, and the walls seen behind are the remains of churches and structures built long after the Western Roman Empire collapsed. Time has discoloured the marble and removed its lustre, but in the past this slab was one of thousands that dazzled people for over 700 years - from 112 AD to the mid 800s AD, at which point the marble slabs started being pillaged and replaced with concrete slabs (according to archaelogist Andrea Carandini, Atlas of Ancient Rome).

Very long ago, the broken marble slab shown above was one of thousands, as shown in the images below looking straight down on the Forum of Trajan's immense marble courtyard measuring approximately 110 metres long (360 ft) and 85 metres across (280 ft).


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

The huge courtyard was 42 marble slabs long and 73 across (approx.)

All those slabs look small in the images above, but they were actually rather immense in size. It is unfortunate that not even one of those marble slabs has survived fully intact so that we can appreciate its dimensions. I have recreated one of the white marble slabs, shown below. The diagram shows the width, length, and thickness of each marble paving slab. Each slab was placed on a bedding of thick mortar, and it is through the surviving impressions of marble slabs in the mortar that we know the size and approximate total number of slabs that existed centuries ago. Below the mortar was a bedding of rubble to provide a good foundation to the mortar and marble slabs above.


photo from 2008 showing the only surviving white marble paving slab from the Forum of Trajan's courtyard
© atouchofrome.com

Numerous excavations have confirmed many aspects of the marble pavement of the courtyard of the Forum of Trajan. Additionally, we know that the courtyard had lines of trees because excavations show the ditches in the courtyard where trees were planted.

Additonally, fragments of the Forum Urbis Romae huge marble map of Rome that survived show the floorplan of parts of the Forum of Trajan - part of the Basilica Ulpia, a library behind, and a tiny part of the courtyard, which you can see by clicking this image. The lines of trees were aligned with the small porch on either side of the front of the Basilica Ulpia. I imagine that the purpose of the trees within the vast white marble courtyard was to provide relief from the Sun and heat, while also adding to the overall beauty of the forum's architecture.


WHITE MARBLE, NOT TRAVERTINE


photo 2011 showing several ancient white marble slabs that formed the floor of the Basilica Ulpia in 
       the Forum of Trajan - the ancient mortar below the slabs is also very prominent and you can see the impressions of now missing
       slabs in the mortar
Photo source: Philipp Schmitt - November 2011
Photo courtesy of: M.G. Conde - June 2023

Many thanks to the Alda Fendi Foundation in Rome that has done so much to preserve the ancient Roman ruins below the Palazzo Roccagiovine building located above part of the northern end of the Basilica Ulpia. This photo really shows the quality and beauty of the white marble floor, despite some cracks. Though these are not the same marble slabs used to pave the courtyard of the forum, nevertheless you can get an idea of how beautiful the huge expanse of the marble courtyard must have been.

Additionally, the ancient mortar below the slabs is very prominent - you can see the impressions of ancient slabs that are now missing. And it was a similar layer of mortar in the courtyard of the Forum of Trajan, and the impressions of pavement slabs, that provided archaelogists with priceless information about the number and size of the ancient white marble slabs. The marble floor slabs in the picture above are, in my judgement, not quite even half as thick as the pavment slabs which were 15 cm (6 in) thick. When I return to Rome next winter, I will examine these marble slabs and attempt to measure them.


COMMENTARY

Over the years, when I encountered a website stating that the Forum of Trajan was paved with marble, I thought someone was just once again assuming the forums of Rome were paved with marble, when actually they were all paved with travertine, such as the forums of Caesar, Augustus, and Nerva, for example.

However, I was incorrect, and I began to realize this after reading a Twitter post by Historian Gareth Harney that discusses the Forum of Trajan. I contacted him in regards to his statement where he claimed the forum's courtyard was paved with over 3,000 slabs of white marble, and he kindly replied with some definitive answers that proved he was correct.

In particular, Mr. Harney pointed me towards the writings of esteemed Historian and Archaelogist Amanda Claridge (1949-2022). Her analysis of the Forum of Trajan verified the marble pavement, which I quote below:

... the square itself, 110 m long and 85 m wide (360 RF x 290 RF), (was) once paved with 3,000 huge slabs of white Italian marble (8 RF x 4 RF and 6 inches thick).
- "Rome - Oxford Archaeological Guide, 2nd Ed, Pg. 183"


I then began to search for photos of any surviving marble pavement slabs from the Forum of Trajan - which proved to be very difficult - in fact, I could not find any. Consequently, I reached out to various historians and people with a great knowledge of Roman civilization. Fortunately, Independent Researcher M.G. Conde provided a vital photograph of the actual surviving marble pavement slab in addition to other relevant photos and information that helped me to write this section.

There were many features about the Forum of Trajan that made it very unique among Roman forums. Of course, the huge Column of Trajan was very impressive, as was the sheer size and beauty of the Basilica Ulpia, the grand entrance, the libraries, and the temple. But what also made this great forum very special was the huge courtyard paved extravagantly with thousands of immense white marble slabs - this was the "icing on the cake." I wanted to draw people's attention to this amazing aspect of the forum that must have been so beautiful when it was new and sparkling on a sunny day.

A final thought on the marble courtyard regards what the cost would be to pave such a vast courtyard today with the same marble the ancient Romans used. Based on some research into the cost of marble in 2024, it would be very expensive indeed. Today, white Carrara marble (in U.S. dollars) costs $400 to $500 approx per sq metre ($40 to $50 per sq ft) - it would cost many millions of dollars, considering the courtyard was over 9,000 sq metres (100,000 sq ft) in area. This example indicates strongly how much money and resources were required in the building of the Forum of Trajan 1,900 years ago. It also shows us how the Roman Empire, at its peak, was very rich and very resourceful.

In the winter of 2024, I will be returning to Rome, and I will take many photos, make measurements, and speak to many people about the Forum of Trajan. Afterwards, I will be adding many more insights and great photos to this section. For those wondering why I am going in winter, the answer is simple: very few tourists, no summer heat, lower prices.


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