A quick visit to the world’s oldest shopping mall

In one of my recent posts, I talked about the reasons why the Roman emperor Trajan deserved more attention.

During his reign, Trajan embarked on a substantial building project in Rome. Since Julius Caesar, who built the temple of Venus Genetrix and the Julian Forum adjoining the main Roman forum, many other Roman rulers also left their mark around the area adjoining the Roman forum by building their own fora (which is why the road is still called Via dei Fori Imperiali- Imperial fora).

Trajan was no exception and built a massive complex including a baths complex, a  forum, a basilica (called the Basilica Ulpia referring to Trajan’s family name Ulpius) and the massive markets complex built to fit the slopes of the Quirinal hill.

In the 21st century we are well used to the concept of market places and malls. But can you imagine that a shopping mall that could hold its own against any of our modern shopping complexes existed in the middle of Rome? This complex had space for more than 150 shops or offices and had a covered market hall that looks like it could have been built yesterday.

 

View of Trajan's Markets at Night
View of Trajan’s Markets at Night
Via Biberatica
Via Biberatica- located on the third level of Trajan’s Markets

Each of the shops looked out on to a corridor or a street and was called a taberna. Most of the shops had a U shaped barrel vaulted roof.

View of the Hemicycle of Trajan's Market
View of the Hemicycle of Trajan’s Market
In the olden days, the hemicyle of Trajan's market would have fitted into the exedra of Trajan's Forum. Just before Trajan's column would have been the Basilica Ulpia
In the olden days, the hemicyle of Trajan’s market would have fitted into the exedra of Trajan’s Forum. Just before Trajan’s column would have been the Basilica Ulpia
View of the Hemicycle- occupied by a number of tabernae
View of the Hemicycle- occupied by a number of tabernae
One of the tabernae- you can see the traces of painting still left behind (in red colour)
One of the tabernae- you can see the traces of painting still left behind (in red colour)
Diagrammatic representation of the six levels of Trajan's Markets
Diagrammatic representation of the six levels of Trajan’s Markets
View of the Central Market Hall- this modern looking structure as built in Trajan's times in the early 2nd Century CE (of course railings and panellings are new)
View of the Central Market Hall- this modern looking structure as built in Trajan’s times in the early 2nd Century CE (of course railings and panellings are new)
Another view of the market hall. You can see how most of our modern malls have their provenance in this structure built in Rome in the second century CE
Another view of the market hall. You can see how most of our modern malls have their provenance in this structure built in Rome in the second century CE
Another view of the second and lower levels of Trajan's market. Background right you can see the Via dei Fori Imperiali
Another view of the second and lower levels of Trajan’s market. Background right you can see the Via dei Fori Imperiali

Rome was the thriving nerve centre of an empire that spanned its largest size during the reign of Emperor Trajan. In your mind you can think of the sheer variety of shops that would have occupied this market in the 2nd century.

Today Trajan’s market is the site of a very interesting museum on the Imperial Fora. There are numerous model recreations of the other Fora that existed including Augustus’ forum which is right next to the markets. If you happen to visit before September 2018, there is also a great exhibition on Trajan as the first kind of forefather of a unified Europe (I am sure that the Dacians, who were brutally beaten in battle by Trajan’s forces would disagree, but hey! that’s history for you).

Let me know what you think about the markets in your comments.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Nirmala says:

    It’s amazing!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Yes it is!

  2. neihtn2012 says:

    I don’t think that today’s shopping malls will last 2000 years, even as ruins.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      I totally agree- sometimes I wonder what we will leave behind- just plastic and toxic waste it seems.

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