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Monuments of Rome - Forum of Trajan

Last among the Imperial Forums, in order of time, to be built, was also the grandest. Begun in 107 (the year of Trajan's triumph over the Dacians), it was completed in 113 AD, by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus . He, in order to create space for the construction of the Forum, had the saddle that formerly joinedCapitol Quirinal . Testimony to this is the inscription at the base of Trajan's Column: "ad declarandum quantae altitudinis mons et locus tantis operibus sit egestus" ("To indicate how high the hill was that was demolished with these works"): the column thus also served to indicate the original height of the hill cut down to free the area for the Forum. This 'liberation' entailed the destruction of the Atrium Libertatis (where the liberation of slaves took place), and a section of the Servian Wall between the Capitoline and Quirinal Hill, which was now devoid of function

The Forum, 300 m long and 185 m wide, was divided into terraces elevated above each other. The entrance was from the side of the Forum of Augustus through a large single-arched arch, surmounted by the statue ofTrajan on a triumphal chariot, pulled by six horses (we have evidence of this through coins). The vast rectangular square, in the centre of which was the grandiose equestrian statue of Trajan, had two sides closed by colonnaded porticoes at the bottom of which opened semicircular exedras (perhaps used as seats for schools). Of the two, the eastern one is clearly visible, at the height of the Trajan's Markets from which it was separated by a wall made of peperino blocks. Statues of previous emperors and members of their respective families were to be displayed in these porticoes. The bottom of the square was occupied and barred by the imposing Basilica Ulpia (from Marcus Ulpius Trajan, full name of the emperor): measuring 170 x 60 m it was the largest ever built in Rome. The interior, accessed by three steps, was divided into five naves by four rows of columns: among the functions of the Basilica, besides the ordinary, judicial and economic ones, was the one inherited from the demolished Atrium Libertatis. Behind the Basilica were the two libraries, the Greek and Latin, which framed the column. The latter, which is 29.78 m high (but reaches about 40 m if the base is also considered), is made of 17 large blocks of Luni marble: in the base is the entrance door, facing the Basilica, which leads to the interior and to the spiral staircase, lit by narrow slits, which led to the top of the column. The purpose of the column was to serve as the emperor's tomb: in a small room in the base was in fact kept the golden urn with Trajan's ashes. On the shaft of the column the bas-relief narration of the two wars waged at the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. by Trajan against the Dacians unfolds in a spiral (23 turns for 200 m long!). The figure of a Victory writing on a shield serves to indicate where the narrative of the first war ends and that of the second begins. The relief was made when the column had already been raised, so the observer's point of view was taken into account: the bands increase in height as one goes upwards, so that from below they all look the same. The reading of the relief was then aided by its original polychromy. Behind the column, after the death of the emperor and his wife Plotina (121 AD), a grandiose temple dedicated to him was built by Hadrian, of which only one white marble column remains. The column is said to have survived thanks to Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) who, struck by a scene showing Trajan helping a woman whose son had been killed, prayed for the salvation of the emperor's soul. God then granted grace to the pope, warning him, however, not to pray for pagans any more. According to legend, when the ashes were exhumed, Trajan's tongue, still intact, told how his soul had been saved from hell. The earth was then declared sacred and the column was spared. It is interesting to recall that a small chapel, leaning against the base of the column, and therefore called San Niccolಠad Columnam, had its bell tower in the column itself, at the top of which the hermit, who officiated at the chapel, had placed a bell that he himself rang by means of a long rope. This little chapel, very old, since it is mentioned in a document from 1336, was demolished in 1500 by order of Paul III . At the time of Sixtus V , around 1587, the statue of Trajan, placed on top of the column, was replaced by that of St Peter . Fortunately, the cost of transporting the column to France was so high that Napoleon III, in 1865, had to renounce the robbery of this work of art: he then limited himself to having its bas-reliefs engraved in plaster. It was on that occasion that traces of gold and vermilion and blue enamel were noticed on it. A considerable excavation campaign is currently underway, which also tends to bring to light new elements but above all to restore unity to the Forum, hitherto cut off by the presence of modern roads.

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