Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trajan's Market: Overlooked jewel in the heart of Rome

ROME — On a heavily trafficked street where few tourists pass in the heart of ancient Rome lies the entrance to one of the Eternal City's most extraordinary and overlooked monuments -- Trajan's Market.

Built in the second century AD as a series of vaulted offices for managers of the nearby Trajan Forum headed up by a "procurator", the architectural complex has served as a fortress, a convent and a barracks over the centuries.

Clinging to a hillside that overlooks the Roman Forum, the nearly 2,000-year-old monument offers spectacular views over the Colosseum.

The site is often referred to as the "world's oldest shopping mall," but its name is something of a misnomer as it was never the main market of Imperial Rome, site director Lucrezia Ungaro told AFP.

"It was like a large administrative centre to manage Trajan's Forum situated right by it. You have to imagine offices, meetings rooms buzzing with civil servants," he said.

The monument spreads out over thousands of square metres (feet) and is divided into six floors with dozens of arches.

Three pedestrian roads run through them, including the ancient Via Biberatica, paved with hefty basalt blocks.

The Emperor Trajan ruled between 53 and 117 AD and is well known for his extensive public building, as well as conquests that widened the empire.

Trajan's Column next to the Market commemorates his victory in the Dacian Wars when Rome took over a vast area between the Black Sea and the Adriatic.

The majestic Great Hall has the most spectacular views but weary tourists can also find a spot of calm in the Garden of the Militias, a haven in Rome's busy traffic overlooked by the mediaeval Tower of the Militias.