The Forum at Pompeii was at the core of Pompeii’s political and religious power and it is an absolute must-see on your visit to Pompeii. It was the heart of this ancient city and in this most complete guide on the internet to the ruins of the Pompeii Forum you’ll learn about each of the main buildings, including its temples, markets, and public buildings, and when and how to visit it.
- Why visit the Pompeii Forum?
- When Should you see the Pompeii Forum?
- 6 Most Important Things to See at the Pompeii Forum
- 1. Temple of Jupiter
- 2. Temple of Apollo
- 3. Pompeii Forum Baths
- 4. Pompeii Basilica
- 5. Temple of the Lares Publici
- 6. Macellum
- Other Interesting Buildings in the Forum
- Frequently Asked Questions about the Forum at Pompeii
- Keep Planning Your Trip to Pompeii and Ancient Rome
Why visit the Pompeii Forum?
The whole breadth of existence is found among the Pompeii ruins: from the brothel to the amphitheater, and from the gladiators’ barracks to family homes, you can find all elements of Pompeiian life.
The forum stands out for giving us a feeling of what public life would have been like in Pompeii before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD that ended life in Pompeii and in other nearby cities such as Herculaneum.
The Pompeii Forum was the city’s seat of power – and Pompeii was an important city, considered the center of political and religious power in Ancient Rome.
It offers some amazing examples of Roman architecture – preserved when so many buildings in Rome itself made way for more modern buildings over the centuries.
Thanks to its surviving frescoes, the Pompeii Forum also gives us an insight into contemporary notions of fashion and culture.
Measuring around 500 feet by 100 feet, this once-bustling area has left us with a relatively large space to be explored – and the clear view of Mount Vesuvius leaves no doubt as to the source of its doom.
If you are in any way a fan of history, this is an unmissable spot. The world may be full of destinations that we can visit to commemorate the events that happened there, but how many are preserved to such an eery and fascinating degree?
When Should you see the Pompeii Forum?
This is the best tip I can give you about visiting the Pompeii Forum. Pompeii is a very large site and it’s tempting to start at the beginning and see the fascinating brothel, and then move on to the Basilica.
The Basilica opens out onto the Forum, and so it is usually the third thing that people see. However, you can enter at different gates and many thousands of people discover the Pompeii Forum by approaching it from other directions.
What this means is that the Forum gets busier throughout the day. First thing in the morning, it is almost deserted and you can take great photos. By midday, however, the Forum is packed with people.
So plan your visit around visiting the Pompeii Forum first – there’s no other part of the ancient city that gets as crowded. You can read all about how to plan your trip to Pompeii here:
6 Most Important Things to See at the Pompeii Forum
Here are six of the most important sites to look out for at the Pompeii Forum.
1. Temple of Jupiter
Though Jupiter might conjure the image of a planet before a God, it was actually the name of the Roman god of thunder – their equivalent to the Greek god Zeus.
The building dedicated to Jupiter was the main temple found in Pompeii. Located on the northern side of the Forum, it was constructed in 150 BC and gave historians a major clue regarding religion in Rome.
While in previous centuries, Apollo was the principal deity in worship, the Temple of Jupiter is a clear sign that by this time, Jupiter – Apollo’s father -had begun to grow in popularity.
The Roman religion was not monotheistic of course, and there are also signs here that the site was used to worship Apollo’s siblings, Minerva and Juno (or Athens and Hera, as they are known in Greek mythology).
2. Temple of Apollo
On the western side of the forum, just to the north of the Basilica, is the Temple of Apollo.
This temple was built long before the Temple of Jupiter, in around the 5th century BC, by the Romans’ neighbors, the Etruscans.
Apollo would have been the patron deity of the ancient city and locals would have come to this temple to pray for his help and guidance in their working lives.
The change in focus of the religious ceremonies from Apollo to Jupiter went hand in hand with Rome’s increasing influence on this area to the north and west of the Eternal City.
That is not to say that Apollo was neglected. The temple suffered considerable damage in an earthquake in 62AD and was sufficiently beloved for it to be rebuilt.
Of course, Mount Vesuvius would erupt in 79AD, putting paid to the restoration work, and leaving us with just the fragments of the original temple.
Today a bronze statue of Apollo stands in the temple, armed with a bow and arrow, opposite a bust of Diana.
3. Pompeii Forum Baths
You’ll find the Pompeii Forum Baths behind the Temple of Jupiter at the far northern end.
While a lot of Pompeii relies on the visitor’s power of imagination, the baths are wonderfully intact. This reflects the great care lavished upon them, as bathing was an integral part of the lives of Pompeii’s high and mighty.
They were repaired immediately after being damaged in the earthquake and were the only functioning baths in Pompeii at the time of Vesuvius’ eruption.
The baths were divided into men’s and women’s areas, complete with separate entrances.
The apodyterium was a kind of changing room complete with wooden closets and stone walls. The apodyterium’s roof had a primitive form of skylight which allowed sunlight to enter and illuminate the stucco decorations on the walls.
The frigidarium was where the baths’ customers could take a cold bath. The room is square in shape with a round bath in the center. Much of the room’s decoration has come away over the centuries, but its ornate nature is still clear to see.
The tepidarium, where patrons could have a warm bath, is much better preserved. Its curved roof makes it almost claustrophobic but would have been ideal for trapping the heat, and its decor is luxurious.
Finally, the caldarium was the site of the hot water bath. So hot, in fact, that there was a marble labrum (a small basin) with cold water used for guests who had overheated and wanted to cool down.
The temperature in the room itself would have been high too, heated as it was by an ingenious ancient form of air vent.
The women’s baths – though slightly smaller – were set out in a similar fashion on the other side of the central boiler room, which heated all the water throughout the building.
4. Pompeii Basilica
The Pompeii Basilica was a large building that dominated the western side of the forum. Built around 120 B.C., it covered 1,500 square meters and served purposes related to trade and justice.
It began life as a marketplace, before evolving into a building dedicated to administering justice in the city
It had five separate entrances separated by pillars made of tuff – a porous volcanic rock. Inside, the basilica was divided into three long narrow strips – naves – which were divided by two rows of grandiose ionic columns topped with capitals.
The remnants of the basilica’s decoration gives us an idea of how extravagant it once would have looked.
The suggestum, an imposing, raised platform, stands as proud and as solid as it did two thousand years ago. Located on the western side of the basilica, this was where judges would have sat and passed sentences.
The bronze statue of a centaur found here, made in 1994 by Igor Mitoraj, is a replica of the one thought to have adorned the basilica.
The elaborate touch also extends to the walls which are decorated with stucco to create a kind of marble effect.
Like the Colosseum and Pantheon in Rome, the basilica is truly an opportunity to step back in time, being one of the oldest surviving buildings from the Roman Empire.
5. Temple of the Lares Publici
There is something blackly comic about the Temple of the Lares Publici.
The construction of the temple, on the eastern side of the Pompeii Forum, was supposed to be an act of penance to appease the wrathful gods after the 62 A.D. earthquake.
There wasn’t even time to finish it as Vesuvius erupted less than two decades later.
The word lares refers to the different kinds of statues which this building would have housed, depicting gods, influential local families, and everyday city life.
The building itself would have been quite different from the others found in the forum. It had no roof and was completely open on the side that gave out onto the Pompeii Forum.
Visitors would have entered the temple via a portico (think the entrance to the White House) which adjoined a colonnade (a roofed pathway lined with columns).
The floor would have had a geometric pattern made up of colored marble. The center of the temple was dominated by an altar, some remnants of which are still standing.
The niche found at the rear wall of the temple is thought to have been the home of three statues dedicated to the city’s deities. On either side of the entrance, more niches can be found, and other lares would have been displayed here.
Finally, on either side of the central apse of the temple, there were niches used to display statues of the imperial family.
Standing in the northeastern corner of the Pompeii Forum, the Macellum was the main food market – not just for Pompeii but for other local villages too. First built in the 1st century B.C., it flourished and grew in size under Roman rule.
There would have been a circular structure (tholos) at the center of the market. Amazingly, archaeological excavations revealed ancient remains of many fish scales around this area, leading experts to believe that fish would have been scaled and sold here.
Still surviving are frescos depicting both mythological subjects and day-to-day life, such as local citizens selling produce.
Today there are copies of two marble statues, depicting an armed man and woman, in the niches of a side wall at the Macellum.
There are also fragments of an original sculpture, possibly a portrait of Emperor Titus or Vespasian, suggesting that this area was also a site for imperial devotion as well as trade.
Other Interesting Buildings in the Forum
Behind Igor Mitoraj’s bronze Centaurus is the southern part of the Forum where there are three small buildings, the Municipal Offices.
These aren’t of the same age as the rest of the Forum – they were built after the first earthquake in 62AD to replace the older municipal buildings that didn’t survive the quake.
Archaeologists are not sure about the functions of each of these administrative buildings but there was probably a legal archive (or legal offices) and a Duumviri here. A Duumviri is a meeting room for the two people (called Duumviri) who oversaw Pompeii.
The most interesting of these buildings in the southern part of the main square is an open-air hall called the Comitium and archaeologists think it was a polling station. It was where public office elections were held.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Forum at Pompeii
What was the forum used for Pompeii?
The Forum was the center of life in the city of Pompeii, the main square where most religious, cultural, and political life happened.
The large, open area was surrounded by some of the most beautiful buildings in the city and also contained a thriving market. There were no private houses around this main square at all.
How big was the Forum in Pompeii?
157 x 38 metres (500 x 100 feet)
The Forum was 157 x 38 meters or 500 x 100 feet. All of the residents of Pompeii could crowd into the Forum and its buildings.
Is the Forum at Pompeii well preserved?
The Forum at Pompeii is generally well preserved but has deteriorated in certain aspects. The ash from Mount Vesuvius’ 79 AD eruption has safeguarded many architectural features, like the Basilica and the Temple of Jupiter. However, being exposed to the elements over the centuries (and humans!) has caused damage to some frescoes, mosaics, and buildings.
Were chariots allowed in the forum at Pompeii?
Unless it was a festive occasion, Chariots were not allowed in the Forum. The Forum was designed for pedestrian traffic, and its architectural layout, including colonnades and narrow entrances, would have made it difficult for chariots to maneuver. In the nearby amphitheater, chariots where were used for racing and spectacles.
How did people enter the Forum in Pompeii?
People entered the Forum in Pompeii through several entrances positioned around its perimeter.
The most prominent entryways were located at the northern and southern ends. The northern entrance, known as the Porta Marina, was a main access point for people arriving from the city’s harbor.
The southern entrance, which connected the Forum with the Via dell’Abbondanza, was an entry point for citizens coming from residential and commercial areas. These entrances featured impressive gateways and narrow passageways, to help create a smooth flow of pedestrian traffic into the Forum.
Who discovered the Forum in Pompeii?
In 1592, Roman architect Domenico Fontana excavated a canal beginning at the Sarno River and extending through the elevated terrain of “La Cività.”
Later, antiquarian Lucas Holstenius suggested that this area could be the location of the lost city of Pompeii.
What happened to the Forum in Pompeii?
The Forum in Pompeii met its tragic fate on August 24, 79 AD, when Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the entire city, including the Forum, in a thick layer of volcanic ash, pumice, and debris.
Over time, some frescoes and sculptures have experienced deterioration due to exposure to natural elements, such as rain, wind, and sunlight. Others have been relocated to museums, such as the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
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