Now we see it naked, but the beautiful bricks visible on its surface were once covered with marble slabs at the bottom and plaster at the top. As many of the monuments of Rome, what we see today is only the skeleton of buildings that were once richly ornamented. On the front, large cemented openings can be seen. They are loculi, and are located at 4 or 5 m from the ground plane since in the Middle Age the ground was much higher than today: with floods of the Tiber and the abandonment of a periodic maintenance of the Cloaca Maxima, the level of the ground began to rise, swallowing and preserving monuments and ruins. The Forum thus turned into a large and luxuriant plain, which was soon renamed Campo Vaccino, the field of cows. When in 1788 Von Fredenheim began to excavate the area, followed by Fea, Nibby and Giacomo Boni, the suggestion of the ruins re-emerging from the ground was enormous, as described by Belli.
The portal that allows the entrance to the building is a copy, but the original still exists, it was in fact removed by Pope Alexander VII and used to adorn the main entrance of the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. Entering the Curia you will experience something that you can hardly feel when visiting an ancient monument: the sense of volume. For once you will not have to make big stretch of the imagination, the Curia is there, right before your eyes. Obviously it doesn’t look exactly as in Caesar’s time. (Incidentally, Caesar did not die here, as many believe, but in the Curia of his historic adversary Pompey, located near the Sacred Area of Largo Argentina). The building that is visible today dates back to the Diocletian period (third century AD). The excellent state of preservation is due to its transformation into a church (S. Adrian) early in the seventh century. There are still traces of frescoes that once adorned it. On both sides of the beautiful marble floor there were low steps on which the senators met, sitting in their folding chairs (the sellae curules, symbol of their power). On the back wall sat the princeps senatus, the moderator of the session, and behind it stood the Statue of the Victory, a masterpiece that no longer exists, but that’s worth talking about. It was realized to celebrate the victory of Augustus at Anzio against Antony and Cleopatra. When in the fourth century A.D. most of the senators became Christian, many of them began to ask the emperor to remove that pagan religious symbol. The two opposite instances were supported by two major players of the century, Ambrose, the future patron saint of Milan, and Symmachus, the great orator, who left us heartfelt words in favour of religious tolerance. Words that were unheard and that led to the removal of the statue, symbol of Roman greatness for four centuries. For some people this was an ominous portent of the near collapse of the Empire.
Before leaving the Curia take a look at the two anaglyphs of Trajan, showing two acts of merit of the Emperor. Look at the background. There are temples, colonnaded buildings, a tree (the fig tree under which the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus): what you see is the Forum of two thousand years ago. One often wonders how the archaeologists can define the elevation of ancient buildings. Well, the great fastidiousness of the Romans helps them: they reported in detail structures that appeared on the scene not only in the reliefs, but also on frescos and coins. We have small and highly detailed reproductions of many of the buildings of the city. But there’s more: at the time of Septimius Severus, they made a huge map of the city in marble, exposed in the Forum of Peace. Let’s go back to the reliefs of Trajan. The one on the right shows the emperor offering very attractive loans to the farmers, the right one sees him good-naturedly sat on the throne while a long line of people burn some books. Yes, the king claims to have made burn the account books of the insolvents! Finally, let’s look up. The ceiling is very high compared to the perimeter of the building, and this is due to acoustic reasons. In this manner, the voice of the speaker could be heard clear and loud by the audience.