The Roman Forum is a rectangular plaza located between the Palatine and Capitoline hills in the center of Rome. This area was also referred to as the Forum Magnum in antiquity. Considered the oldest part of the city, 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.
For centuries this Roman gathering place 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, then later the heart of the mighty Roman Empire.
The 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 marshes and carry the growing city's waste to the river Tiber (which ran near the city). Remains of paving show that flooding and sediment eroding from the surrounding hills had been raising the level of the Roman forum for centuries - even to early Republican times. The final travertine paving, which can still be seen, dates from the reign of Augustus (27 B.C. to 14 A.D.).
The most important, and many of the oldest, city structures were located on or near the plaza:
The former royal residence of the city's king
Statue dedicated to Julius Caesar
The temple of Vesta and surrounding buildings of the Vestal Virgins.
The temples of Castor and Pollux, Venus and Roma, Vespasian and Titus, Caesar, Romulus and Saturn. The shrine of Venus Cloacina was also near the plaza.
The Basilicas of Aemilia (179 B.C.), Julia (c. 49 B.C.) and Maxentius / Constantine (312 A.D.)
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.).
The Regia (a structure that originally served as the residence / main headquarters of Rome's kings. It later became the office of the Roman religion's high priest, known as the Pontifex Maximus.)
The Comitium (the Republic's assembly area)
The Senate meeting house (where also the Republican government itself began).
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 (even to this day): All roads lead to Rome.