Thirty years ago, the Roman Forum was like the Wild West. The more-than-3,000-year-old archaeological site in the center of the city was practically a playground where visitors could be found counting coins on the floor of the Basilica Aemilia, climbing the steps of the Temple to Antonino Pio, and even scaling the crumbling walls of the Colosseum.
The Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Palatine Hill have gone through dramatic changes since the 1980s. The Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici (the Italian national entity that monitors and oversees all archeological sites) has not just reigned in the horseplay around the ruins, it has modified, opened, and closed areas within and around the Roman Forum’s perimeters.
However, in their haste to open “new” sites, government officials often ignore safety issues. Sites will open only to be quickly closed again when crumbling structures put visitors in danger.
Case in point: the Domus Aurea, also known as Rome’s ancient revolving door. Nero’s gold palace, circa 64 AD, has opened and closed many times over the years due to structural issues. Current status: closed indefinitely.
The Basilica Aemilia: a few years ago, a pathway was constructed through the first-century basilica to incorporate it into the general Forum visit, but now is off-limits to visitors. Current status: closed indefinitely.
For now, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (with the House of the Griffons, House of Augustus, and Baths of Septimus Severus) are still “open” but with limited hours and the understanding that they could shut down in an instant. The Forum and Palatine are also in archeological limbo. Several remarkable structures like the House of Livia, Santa Maria Antiqua and the Comitium are scheduled to open to the public, but when and for how long?
All this change leads to one unchanging piece of advice: before you visit Rome, do your research and take advantage of every opportunity to walk around, under, and above the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. These places won’t be the same next time you’re in town.
Part of a NileGuide Special Report: 25 Destinations to See Before They Change Forever.
Photos by Darius Arya