The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum, although the Romans called it more often the Forum Magnum or just the Forum) was the central area around which ancient Rome developed, in which commerce, business, prostitution, cult and the administration of justice took place. Here the communal hearth was located. Sequences of remains of paving show that sediment eroded from the surrounding hills was already raising the level of the forum in early Republican times. Originally it had been marshy ground, which was drained by the Tarquins with the Cloaca Maxima. Its final travertine paving, still to be seen, dates from the reign of Augustus.
An anonymous 8th century traveler from Einsiedeln (now in Germany) reported that the Forum was already falling apart during in his time. During the Middle Ages, though the memory of the Forum Romanum persisted, its monuments were for the most part buried under debris, and its location was designated the "Campo Vaccino" or "cattle field," located between the Capitoline Hill and the Colosseum. The return of Pope Urban V from Avignon in 1367 led to an increased interest in ancient monuments, partly for their moral lesson and partly as a quarry for new buildings being undertaken in Rome after a long lapse. Artists from the late 15th century drew the ruins in the Forum, antiquaries copied inscriptions from the 16th century, and a tentative excavation was begun in the late 18th century.
A cardinal took measures to drain it again and built the Alessandrine neighborhood over it. But the excavation by Carlo Fea, who began clearing the debris from the Arch of Septimius Severus in 1803, and archaeologists under the Napoleonic regime marked the beginning of clearing the Forum, which was only fully excavated in the early 20th century.
In its current state, remains from several centuries are shown together, due to the Roman practice of building over earlier ruins.
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