What would the Grand Tourist be looking at in terms of the Classical World?

The arrival in Rome would be an exciting encounter for the Grand Tourist. They would be surrounded by the ruins of a classical world they had only read about. Firstly, there was the Roman Forum, which had the ruins on many buildings. Once they had settled into their lodgings, their Bear Leader or Cicerone would take them to the Roman Forum, or rather the Campo Vaccino. The Forum was known as the ‘Campo Vaccino’ from the end of the 16th C as it was a place where peasants grazed and watered their animals as well as sold their produce.[i] It wasn’t the excavated site we see today.

Temple of Castor & Pollux – Canaletto: Rome ruins of the Forum looking towards the Capitol, 1742 (Copyright of the Royal Collection in Wikimedia Commons)[ii]

This of 1742 painting shows men at the base of the temple ruins looking up at it and some are conversing. Maybe they are young men with their Bear Leader being instructed.


The marshland where the Forum now stands was drained in the 7th C BC. The history of Rome is embodied in the Roman Forum and the Imperial Fora around it.

A Brief History of Rome

753 BC: Foundation of Rome

753 BC to 535 BC Regal Kings

509 BC: The Roman Republic is Founded

48 BC: Julius Caesar becomes Dictator & Foundation of the Roman Empire – Later besides Caesar, other emperors built their own Imperial Fora (monumental public squares) around the area of the Roman Forum (namely: Augustus, Vespasian, Domitian, and Trajan)

69 AD: Expansion of the Roman Empire

200 AD: Start of the Decline of the Roman Empire

284 AD: Division of the Empire into East & West

By the 18th C the study of classical architecture and art was on the curriculum. The Roman Forum offered a variety of buildings and architectural ruin to examine.

The Roman Forum

Arch of Septimius Severus

The ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome were the blueprints of civilised societies. The development of thought in social organisation, philosophy, statecraft, allegorical mythology, drama, poetry, and rhetoric needed a physical environment. The design of cities, roads, and buildings were of great focus. The buildings themselves were considered in terms of placement, function, form, and ornament.

The buildings were symbols of power, whether that be from the Roman Republic or from the Roman Imperial Period. They were physical statements that enable civilised functions to operate. The diversity of requirements included buildings for strong government, palaces and villas, squares, justice, entertainment, religious ritual and worship, economic activity, libraries, offices for various functions, legislative requirements, public oration, triumphal success, storage of supplies, military organisation & security, and hygiene (baths, sewers, and water supply).

A View of the Forum by Antonio Joli (1700-1777)[iii] From left to right: Temple of Antonius and Faustina, the Basilica of Maxentius, the church of Santa Francesca Romana with the Colosseum behind, the arch of Titus and the Palatine Hill.

Closer view of Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the centre (141 AD)

Back in England, the country house was a power house that would embody these functions in a microcosm. They were stylised estates of functions that could accommodate a whole system of a civilised city in miniature. The country house needed rooms of state, a chapel, services, private rooms, garden temples, a library, a gallery, symbols of power, taste, and a classical education, as well as conform to formal civilised rituals. The wider estate could be furnished with model farms and agricultural order. A young patrician would likely be involved in local politics and town or city planning back home in Britain. They needed to study buildings and how the civilised cities of the ancients were organised and functioned.

For this the remains of the buildings in the Roman Forum were a good grounding. How they experienced them would depend upon their inclinations or the direction of their Bear Leader. They could look at them technically, organisationally, historically, artistically, allegorically, or even romantically. It would generally be the would-be architects who would need to examine the building structures, designs, and techniques in depth.

Lying between the Capitoline, Esquiline and Palatine hills is a flat area upon which was built the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Expanded and built on by successive emperors, it was at the heart of the city. The Forum in classical time was the centre of public, political, commercial, religious, and judicial life. It would be buzzing with everyday life in the lines of shops, open-air markets, temples, and public buildings. The Colosseum was the place for entertainment.


A view of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine by Antonio Joli. 18th C.[iv]

The Arch of Titus & Colosseum


The place to live for the wealthy was on the Palatine Hill, which overlooks the centre of society.

Circus Maximus & Palatine Hill with the Palace of Domitian. The palace sits within a complex of other buildings. The Domus Augusti (House of Augustus) is on the left.

View of the Palatine Hill from the Circus Maximus – the Palace of Domitian. It was designed by the architect Rabirius and built in 81-92 AD. Built on top of earlier buildings. It consists of the: Domus Flavia, the Domus Augustana & the Stadium (garden).


An honorific arch on the Via Sacra, Rome.

Arch of Titus (c. 81 AD)


Temple of Venus & Rome. Largest of the ancient temples. One of Hadrian’s buildings – inaugurated by him in 135 AD

FORUM OF CAESAR (Forum Caesaris)

Temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Caesar (46 BC)


The oldest shopping mall in the world

Trajan’s Market – part of Trajan’s forum. A complex of offices, apartments & shops as well as a library. Dates from circa 110 AD. Probably designed by Apollodurus of Damascus, Trajan’s favourite architect.

THEATRE OF MARCELLUS (Theatrum Marcelli)

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) based his design of the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford (built 1664-69) on this building. He had seen Sebastiano Serlio’s (1475-1554) engraving of the theatre.

Theatre of Marcellus (13 BC)

Engraving: ‘Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae – Theatre of Marcellus’ by Pirro Ligorio (1513-1583). Copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art (in Wikimedia Commons).[v] This engraving gives an idea of what Sir Christopher Wren would have worked from.

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (built 1664-69)

THE THOLOS (or THOLUS) TEMPLE STRUCTURE – Temple of Hercules Victor

Temple of Hercules Victor (c. 142-132 BC). Greek style with a colonnade supporting a roof. This temple type is known as a tholos (Ancient Greek) or tholus (Latin). There are 26 Corinthian columns. The original architrave and roof no longer exist. the original roof would have been a dome.


In Classical Rome it contained four Roman Republican temples & the remains of Pompey’s Theatre). It was where Julius Caesar was assassinated on the 15th March 44 BC.

Largo di Torre Argentina

Approximate place of Julius Caesar’s assassination

Now cats are the guardians of the Largo di Torre Argentina. One inspects some interesting wall frescos.



[i] ‘View of the Forum Romanum’, Web Gallery of Art <https://www.wga.hu/html_m/j/joli/forumrom.html> [accessed 18 Mar 2022].

[ii] ‘Ruins of the Forum, Looking towards the Capitol’ by Canaletto (1697-1768), Wikimedia Commons<https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rome-_Ruins_of_the_Forum,_Looking_towards_the_Capitol.jpg  [accessed 18 Mar 2022].

[iii] ‘A View of the Forum’, by Antonio Joli (1700-1777), Wikimedia Commons<https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ANTONIO_JOLI_ROME,_A_VIEW_OF_THE_FORUM.jpg [accessed 18 Mar 2022].

[iv] ‘Rome, a view of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine’, Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rome,_a_view_of_the_Colosseum_and_the_Arch_of_Constantine.jpg [accessed 17 March 2022]

[v] Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘Speculum Romanae Magnificentia – Theater of Marcellus’, Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Speculum_Romanae_Magnificentiae-_Theater_of_Marcellus_MET_DP870458.jpg> [accessed 25 March 2022].


Hibbert, Christopher, The Grand Tour, (London, Methuen London, 1987)

DK Eyewitness, Rome 2020, 2nd edn., (London, Dorling Kindersley, 2019)