The Roman Forum is a rectangular plaza located between the Palatine and Capitoline hills in the center of Rome and is considered the oldest part of the city. This area was also referred to as the Forum Magnum in antiquity. Today it is surrounded by the ruins of several ancient government buildings. It has been called the most famous meeting place in the world throughout all human history.
In early times, the Roman Forum was used for athletic games. It was considered THE place to meet in Rome and was the center of public life. It was a place of triumphal processions, gladiatorial matches and statues commemorating the city's great men. It was also where elections and criminal trials were held, public speeches were made and business affairs were handled. It was not only the city's economic hub but also the center of the Republic. It later became the heart of the mighty Roman Empire.
The Forum site was originally marshy ground which was drained by the Tarquins (the city's famous fifth king named Lucius Tarquinius Priscus who ruled from 616 to 579 B.C.) using the Cloaca Maxima. The Cloca, built by the king, was one of the world's earliest sewage systems. Its purpose was to drain the local Roman marshes and carry the growing city's waste to the river Tiber (which ran near the city).
Paving remains bear proof that flooding and sediment erosion from nearby hills had been raising the area's level for centuries, even to the time of the early Roman Republic. Some of the travertine paving, which still exists, was laid at the time Augustus (Emperor from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D.).
The most important, and many of the oldest, city structures were located on or near the Roman Forum plaza. For example, the former royal residence of the city's king, a statue dedicated to Julius Caesar and the temple of Vesta and surrounding buildings of the Vestal Virgins is located near it. Also located close to this area are the temples of Castor and Pollux, Venus and Roma, Vespasian, Titus, Caesar, Romulus and Saturn. The shrine of Venus Cloacina, along with the Basilicas of Aemilia (179 B.C.), Julia (c. 49 B.C.) and Maxentius and Constantine (312 A.D.) are also in this center of Roman life.
Additionally, the arches of Augustus (reigned 27 B.C. to 14 A.D.), Tiberius (14 to 37 A.D.), Titus (79 to 81 A.D.) and Septimius Severus (193 to 211 A.D.) are in this forum area. Lastly, the Regia (a structure that originally served as the residence and main headquarters of Rome's kings. It later became the office of the state's high priest, known as the Pontifex Maximus), Comitium (the Republic's assembly area) and the Senate meeting house (where the Republic's government began) are in the famous meeting area.
The Roman Forum also included the Umbilicus Urbi, the designated center of the city from which all distances in the Empire were measured. Each road coming out of this location was labeled with a master list of all destinations along its route. This configuration of the city's transportation system lent itself to the commonly used phrase that "all roads lead to Rome."