Rome – Historic centre

The historic centre in Rome has been recognised, since 1980, as part of UNESCO World Heritage. Outlined by the perimeter of the Aurelian Walls, testament to nearly three millennia overlapping, it is an expression of the historical, artistic and cultural heritage of the Western European world.


Founded by Romulus in 753 BC, according to tradition, and definitively fallen as capital of the Roman Empire in 476, Rome was born at the crossroads of the road that connected the coastal salt pans with the interior of the peninsula, with the one between Etruria and Campania. Very soon, on the left bank of the Tiber, cosmopolitan places of exchange developed. In the 6th century BC, with the Etruscan dynasty of the Tarquinii, the civic centre of the city was structured around the Forum thanks to daring drainage work that until then had been marshy. The end of the Punic wars in 146 B.C. led to a rapid development of the city. The power of the Republic was celebrated by the construction of temples, basilicas, triumphal arches and memorials, mostly concentrated in the Forum area. Very soon, the growth of the city made the construction of new public spaces necessary. Thus, over little more than two centuries, five new Forums developed, those of Caesar, Augustus, Vespasian, Domitian/Nerva and Trajan, aimed at exalting the dynasty then in power. Until the fall of the Empire, many Emperors tried to gain the favour of the Roman people by commissioning performance buildings – circus, stadium, theatre, amphitheatre, odeon… -, commemorative monuments – arches, columns, nymphaea… – as well as large thermal complexes.


the past

To the west, the Republican Forum, crossed from east to west by the Via Sacra, was dominated by the façade of the Tabularium, seat of the city archives, in front of which stand the eight columns of the temple of Saturn, which served as the seat of the treasury of the Roman state. Leaning against the Tabularium are the foundations of the temple of Vespasian and Titus, deified emperors: of this temple only three columns are preserved, next to which stand the three arches of the Arch of Septimius Severus, built in 203, whose bas-reliefs narrate episodes of the emperor’s campaigns against the Parthians. Near the arch, the Curia Julia, built by Caesar, was the meeting place of the senators. Occupied by minor monuments and honorary columns, the large space in front of the Tabularium is bordered to the north by the Basilica Aemilia, dating back to the 2nd century B.C., and to the south by the Basilica Iulia, begun by Caesar as part of a major project to monumentalise the Forum. Further east, the temple of the Dioscuri, dating back to the first years of the Republic, but rebuilt in the age of Tiberius, stands opposite the temple of Antoninus and Faustina, whose façade has kept its six marble columns; this temple was transformed into the church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda in the Middle Ages. On the right side of the church, the temple of Romulus was dedicated by Maxentius to his son, deified in 309. At the eastern end of the square, the arch of Titus commemorates the conquest of Jerusalem in 71 AD, while the basilica of Maxentius was inaugurated by Constantine after his victory at the Milvian bridge, in 312. From the last century of the Republic, new spaces of leisure, commerce and commemoration were created: the Forum of Caesar, with the temple of Venus; the Forum of Augustus, dominated by the temple of Mars the Avenger; the Forum of Vespasian; that of Domitian, completed by Nerva; finally, the most grandiose, built by Apollodorus of Damascus for the Emperor Trajan after his triumph over the Dacians, between 107 and 113. To the east of the Forum, inside the park of Nero’s domus Aurea, in 68 AD Vespasian undertook the construction of an amphitheatre known as the Colosseum, derived from Nero’s bronze Colossus, 35 m high, which stood next to it; its complex network of service basements dates back to an intervention by Domitian. To the north of the amphitheatre, Titus had a thermal complex built on a scale then unheard of in Rome. In this same area, marked by a monumental conical fountain of Domitian age, the Meta sudans, Hadrian built one of the largest temples in the city, dedicated to Venus and Rome; later, Constantine celebrated his victory over Maxentius with the construction, on the ancient triumphal way, of a splendid three-arched arch.


Monumental centre


Colosseum from above

Colosseum, Meta Sudans and Arch of Constantine

Forum of Augustus

Forum of Caesar

Forum of Peace

Roman Forum

Roman Forum, temple of Divus Julius

Forum of Trajan

Colosseum, Canina, 1848

Colosseum, Canina, 1848

Colosseum, Canina, 1848

Forum of Augustus, Canina, 1848

Forum of Caesar, Canina, 1848

Forum of Nerva, Canina, 1848

Roman Forum, Canina, 1848

Roman Forum, Canina, 1848

Forum of Trajan, Canina, 1848

Forum of Trajan, Canina, 1848


a new life

During the Renaissance, the rediscovery of the monuments of the Roman Forum, which became known as Campo Vaccino (“Cow’s Field”), sealed by several metres of floods, was followed by an intense season of excavations: while inscriptions and statues went to enrich private collections, the buildings were mainly used as quarries for building materials throughout the 17th century. The first systematic excavations, started in 1788, gradually brought the ruins to light: between the last quarter of the 19th century and the beginning of the following century, almost the entire area we visit today was already visible. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was for a long time used as a quarry, sparing however its northern part, included in the important pilgrimage route that connected St. Peter’s with the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The plundering of the enormous building stopped only during the pontificate of Pius VII, who consolidated the preserved part of its outer ring, so as to make it a remembrance site of Christian martyrs. The base of the Colossus was destroyed in 1936, together with the Meta sudans, to give way to the military parades of the fascist regime. Incorporated in the convent of Santa Francesca Romana, the temple of Venus and Rome was subject to extensive digging and restoration between 1933 and 1935. All these monuments are part of the area added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980, extended in 1990, which now includes the historic centre of Rome intra muros, the extraterritorial properties of the Holy See and St. Peter’s Basilica fuori le Mura, for a total of more than 1,430 hectares. The numerous public buildings in Rome, extremely well preserved, bear witness to the almost 3,000 years of Rome’s history, when it was at the centre of a powerful Empire. The city, from the Renaissance onwards, has profoundly influenced the evolution of architecture, painting and sculpture throughout the European world, and beyond. The Roman Empire, both pagan and Christian, allowing for unification of much of the ancient world, thus gave a fundamental contribution, particularly in the fields of art, architecture, literature and law, to the establishing of Western civilisation.



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Forum of Augustus

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Roman Forum from west

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roman forum from east

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forum of Augustus

roan forum from west

roman forum from east


Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura

Selection criteria

Criterion (i) : The property includes a series of testimonies of incomparable artistic value produced over almost three millennia of history: monuments of antiquity (like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the complex of the Roman and the Imperial Forums), fortifications built over the centuries (like the city walls and Castel Sant’Angelo), urban developments from the Renaissance and Baroque periods up to modern times (like Piazza Navona and the “Trident” marked out by Sixtus V (1585-1590) including Piazza del Popolo and Piazza di Spagna), civil and religious buildings, with sumptuous pictorial, mosaic and sculptural decorations (like the Capitoline Hill and the Farnese and Quirinale Palaces, the Ara Pacis, the Major Basilicas of Saint John Lateran, Saint Mary Major and Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls), all created by some of the most renowned artists of all time.

Criterion (ii): Over the centuries, the works of art found in Rome have had a decisive influence on the development of urban planning, architecture, technology and the arts throughout the world. The achievements of ancient Rome in the fields of architecture, painting and sculpture served as a universal model not only in antiquity, but also in the Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical periods. The classical buildings and the churches, palaces and squares of Rome have been an unquestioned point of reference, together with the paintings and sculptures that enrich them. In a particular way, it was in Rome that Baroque art was born and then spread throughout Europe and to other continents.

Criterion (iii): The value of the archaeological sites of Rome, the centre of the civilization named after the city itself, is universally recognized. Rome has maintained an extraordinary number of monumental remains of antiquity which have always been visible and are still in excellent state of preservation. They bear unique witness to the various periods of development and styles of art, architecture and urban design, characterizing more than a millennium of history.

Criterion (iv): The historic centre of Rome as a whole, as well as its buildings, testifies to the uninterrupted sequence of three millennia of history. The specific characteristics of the site are the stratification of architectural languages, the wide range of building typologies and original developments in urban planning which are harmoniously integrated in the city’s complex morphology.

Worthy of mention are significant civil monuments such as the Forums, Baths, city walls and palaces; religious buildings, from the remarkable examples of the early Christian basilicas of Saint Mary Major, St John Lateran and St Paul’s Outside the Walls to the Baroque churches; the water systems (drainage, aqueducts, the Renaissance and Baroque fountains, and the 19th-century flood walls along the Tiber). This evidently complex diversity of styles merges to make a unique ensemble, which continues to evolve in time.

Criterion (vi): For more than two thousand years, Rome has been both a secular and religious capital. As the centre of the Roman Empire which extended its power throughout the then known world, the city was the heart of a widespread civilization that found its highest expression in law, language and literature, and remains the basis of Western culture. Rome has also been directly associated with the history of the Christian faith since its origins. The Eternal City was for centuries, and remains today, a symbol and one of the most venerable goals of pilgrimages, thanks to the Tombs of Apostles, the Saints and Martyrs, and to the presence of the Pope.

An initiative promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation - Directorate General for nationwide Cultural and Economic Promotion and Innovation


The site was created in collaboration with the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

Director: Alessandro Furlan
Curator: Prof. Vincent Jolivet
Virtual 3D: Pietro Galifi; Stefano Moretti
Post Production: Luigi Giannattasio
Scientific data collection: Maria Grazia Nini


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