It is impossible to miss the ruins of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in the Roman Forum – it is one of the most impressively huge monuments in Rome and at nearly 6,000sqm is a serious piece of real estate by anyone’s standards.
Like the Arch of Constantine, which stands adjacent to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, the basilica was started by Emperor Maxentius in 308AD and finished by Emperor Constantine in 312-313AD.
The structure is unmissable if you visit the Forum because it is conveniently situated near the exit – however, from a vantage point on the Palatine Hill, the enormous three-groin vaulted structure dominates the Forum.
The basilica housed a court of justice as well as a market. It is still possible to appreciate the basilica’s footprint simply by standing in what was the nave, which measures 80m long and 25m wide. All human life is dwarfed.
The structure has also been built in the shape of Roman bath house – a frigidarium – rather than the traditional form of a basilica. The frigidarium was the coldest stage of the bathing process, designed to invigorate and close the pores. It was a rectangular building with recesses for the bathing pools.
The basilica is also a tribute to Roman building and engineering methods, with supporting columns made from the Romans’ infamously indestructible concrete tufo – made from volcanic ash – to support the roof that would have spanned the building. It is possible however that the roof would have been self-supporting, with the columns defining the interior space and its many uses. The tufo has been covered with a brick fascia, as is shown in the image below.
For more information about the construction of the basilica, Yale University has a very useful online video lecture as part of its archaeology course on the Roman Forum and the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine.
The video includes a reconstruction of how the basilica would have looked in Roman times.
Images copyright A.Meredith 2018
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