Slowly climbing the steep ramp to Rome's Campidoglio at dusk, the confines of the narrow streets of the medieval city left behind and the jumble of rooftops left below, Michelangelo's raised piazza, bounded by facades glowing gold in the reflected sunlight, is dominated by the bronze equestrian statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in its centre. In 1539, Pope Paul III moved the ancient statue from the porticoes of the papal Lateran Palace where it had been on display for centuries, to face the city and the sunset to the west.1 Its position invites us to turn towards the skyline view dotted by the domes of the Baroque city; they seem to float like helium-filled balloons above the city, with Michelangelo's dome of St Peter's soaring above all. After the sun sets, a small stairway behind Rome's city hall entices you into an excavated abyss scattered with fragmented white marbles of the Roman Forum glowing under the moon rising over the Coliseum in the background. Once the central public space of ancient Rome from 627 BC to AD 394 when its temples were closed for ever, this giant excavated space is now a huge sunken void in the heart of modern Rome. Like Ground Zero in New York, its edge can only be skirted around the ruins of the monuments which celebrate the city's violent and disruptive past.
According to Aldo Rossi, the Roman Forum is of fundamental importance for a comprehensive understanding of urban artefacts and a demonstration of the ‘intimate and protracted ...