Last year, Rome launched a nighttime light show in the Imperial Forum (Fori Imperiali) at the Forum of Augustus. This year, it’s not only bringing the Forum of Augustus show back — it’s also starting a second one, at the Forum of Caesar. (Both will run from 22 April to 30 October 2016).
I did the Forum of Augustus tour last year. It was excellent. I’m sure the Forum of Caesar tour will be the same.
What makes these light shows/tours so cool? For one thing, both lead visitors through a usually-inaccessible archaeological site: the Imperial Forum, which was built by Caesar and the emperors who followed him and which, unlike the Republican Forum on the other side of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, you can’t buy a ticket to wander through. Instead, usually, all you can do is peer down at the Imperial Forum from the road. (Or from the museum at Trajan’s Market).
But the shows don’t just give you access. The automated (and well-done) voiceover, through headphones, provides the stories behind what you’re seeing. Here, though, is what really sets them apart from a normal, guide-led tour: lights illuminate the ruins around you, re-drawing various sections as you go — allowing you to see the Forum as if you were an ancient Roman, doing your shopping with friends or heading to a temple to pray.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to the tour at Palazzo Valentini — which, when it launched in 2011, was the first of its kind in the city. It went on to become an extremely popular site, one that for a while topped the Tripadvisor list of attractions in Rome. From the rave review I gave Palazzo Valentini the same year, you can tell that I thought this was merited.
I’m no less excited about the evening light shows at the Imperial Forum i than I was about Palazzo Valentini. Are both experiences a little corny? Is the music a tad overdramatic? Sure. But the problem that many visitors have in Rome is that — for all but those with Ph.Ds in Roman history — it can be really, really tough to look at ancient columns and walls and imagine the brightly painted, marble-and-bronze buildings they once would have been. These shows go a very long way toward solving the problem.
After all, a great tour guide can bring Rome’s ruins to life with fantastic stories of murder and lust, war and politics, Vestal Virgins and Julius Caesar. But even the best tour guide can’t do that. (And as both a former tour guide and someone who regularly enthuses about the value of getting a top-notch tour guide for Rome’s ancient sites, at least, you know that says something).
The video below gives you a good sense of what the experience is like, complete with triumphal music.
At €15 (€25 if you want to do both the Forum of Caesar and the Forum of Augustus), the price is a little steep, compared to Rome’s other attractions. Then again, this is also a pretty different experience.
The details: Each of the light shows/tours departs every 20 minutes, 22 April to 30 October, and are offered in eight languages (including English, obviously). I’d recommend booking this online in advance to ensure you’re spot, for which there’s a €1 surcharge (€2 if you’re doing both). Check out the official Viaggio nei Fori website for exact times and to book, but ignore the awkward design: the show is a lot slicker than that.
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