Trajan's Market in Rome — the Oldest Shopping Mall in History

Would you like to better understand the life of Ancient Rome? Then you need to visit Trajan's Market and its “neighbor” — the Trajan's Column. Trajan's Market, a five-story shopping complex, was built on the Quirinal Hill in Rome in the second century by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. It's one of the earliest shopping mall architecture in the world. 1900 years ago the market was more grandiose and extended far beyond its current limits. But even now it is still quite impressive. Since 2007, Trajan's Market has been part of the Museum of Imperial Forums.

Historic Background

Trajan was the emperor who extended the ancient Rome Empire to its utmost. In 107 the emperor decided to finance a major expansion of the Roman Forum located between the Capitoline and the Palatine Hills. Trajan asked Apollodorus of Damascus to develop a project to make room for a further enlargement of the Forum. For that purpose, Apollodorus decided to level to the ground the southern part of Quirinal Hill: he then built on the flattened land a new forum dedicated to Trajan where he placed a gigantic column.

Apollodorus realized that the hilly ground behind the new construction was both a poor background for the buildings and a potential threat as it could slide down on them. Eventually he built a low wall to mark the boundaries of Trajan's Forum, and the slope of the hill was terraced and became the site of a commercial district (Trajan's Markets).

The lower terraces were given a round shape because in this way they better withstood the pressure of the hill. So the so called Great Hemicycle is both a finely designed monument and the evidence of an advanced knowledge of construction techniques. After 1900 years it still serves the purpose for which it was built.

The upper terraces have an irregular shape. In Ancient Rome, there were about 150 shops and taverns, as well as points of free distribution of products to the population. Each shop had an exit (vitrina) to the street. The shops sold spices, fruits, wine, olive oil, fish, silk and other goods from the East. Across the center of the market came Via Biberatica, a street named after the taverns on it.  In the lack of newspapers it was also the place where people went so they would know what was going on. Most of the travertine blocks which frame the shops are the result of modern reconstruction.

Trajan's Column

The Trajan's Column, which is nearby the Trajan's Market, has excellent spiral frieze which pictures the two battles Trajan had in Dacia (modern day Romania). The column was so well-preserved because it was taken over by the Catholic Church; however, Pope Sixtus V, during the Renaissance, replaced Trajan's figure on top with St Peter.

The tomb of Emperor Trajan should be underneath the Trajan's Column even though we cannot see it as tourists.

Location and Tickets

You can access the Trajan's Market through Imperial Forums Museum (Museo dei Fori Imperiali) located on Via dei Fori Imperiali near Colosseum. One of the easiest ways to get to the place is to book a one-day ticket online that permits the entrance from 09:30 am until closure. 

Available time: everyday from 09:30 am to 07:30 pm. The ticket office closes at 06:30 pm.

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