This week, the Roman Forum, the 2,500-year-old landmark, opened its Imperial Ramp for the first time in history.

By Erica Firpo
October 23, 2015
Erica Firpo

It's not every day that the Roman Forum, the city's 2,500-year-old open air museum, gets something new. This Wednesday, a zigzagging covered network known as the Imperial Ramp was opened to the public for the first time in history. Visitors follow in the foot steps of emperors when they traverse the four of seven original ramps that connected the Palatine HIll with the Roman Forum.

Nearly 1,000 feet in length, the ancient covered passageway was a direct route for emperors like Domitian to gain undetected entrance into the throes of daily life in the Forum, as well as quick getaways to luxury residences on the hill above. The brick tunnels had thirty-foot-high ceilings, which allowed the emperors to travel the steep incline by horseback to the top of the Palatine Hill, more than 180 feet above. Today, visitors walk to the top of the fourth ramp, which rewards them with a spectacular view of the remaining buildings and arches below. On ground level, visitors also get up close to the late 8th century frescoes of the 40 Martyrs oratory, and while walking the first ramp, can peek into Santa Maria Antiqua, a sixth church with an ongoing conservation project.

The walk offers a broader scope of life in the area, highlighting the proximity of the emperor and his court to the markets and forums. By Spring, visitors will have more access to the city's layered networks, when the ramp's connection to the Clivus Vittoria, a famous covered road used by servants and subsequently those on Palatine hill, is projected to open (in March, says Italy's archaeological superintendent of Rome Francesco Prospetti).

Erica Firpo

According to Prospetti, the imperial ramp was previously uncovered by archaeologists more than a century ago, but it was only recently that a full restoration was complete. "The routes are divided between the ones used by servants and the ones used by patricians," Prospetti said.

Over the past year, the Forum ticket has gotten better and better. In mid-2014, Rome celebrated the anniversary of the death of Augustus with the opening of the House of Augustus and the reopening of the Palatine Antiquarium. Last December, the panoramic Palatine terrace also saw a redo. Along with the Clivus Vittoria, Santa Maria Antiqua, the Forum's oldest Christian monument, is slated for a Spring opening.