Guide to Rome's Ancient Architecture
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Colosseum
  2. Roman Forum
  3. Pantheon
  4. Baths of Diocletian
  5. Palatine Hill
  6. Circus Maximus
  7. Castel Sant'Angelo
  8. Baths of Caracalla
  9. Arch of Constantine
  10. Appian Way

Imagine stepping back in time, walking the cobblestone streets of Rome, surrounded by some of the world's most iconic structures. That's the magic of Rome's ancient architecture. This guide will take you on a journey through the heart of ancient Rome, exploring its impressive remnants and offering fascinating insights. So, if you're interested in ancient architecture in Rome, you're in the right place. Let's take our first steps and explore the grandeur of the Colosseum together, shall we?


When you think of ancient architecture in Rome, the first image that probably pops into your mind is the Colosseum, and for a good reason. The Colosseum, officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater, is a testament to Roman engineering skills and is one of the city's most famous landmarks.

Built in the 1st century AD, the Colosseum was a social gathering place where Romans came to watch gladiatorial contests and public spectacles. It could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators at its maximum capacity. Here are some cool facts about this iconic symbol of ancient architecture in Rome:

  • Building the Colosseum: Emperor Vespasian initiated the construction of the Colosseum around 72 AD, but it was his son, Titus, who completed it in 80 AD. It took just eight years to build this colossal structure—quite an achievement, considering the methods and tools available at the time.
  • Architectural Marvel: The Colosseum is a perfect example of the Roman arch construction technique. This design, which relies on a series of arches for support, allowed the Romans to build larger and more stable structures. The Colosseum stands as a testament to their innovative engineering skills.
  • Surviving the Test of Time: Despite being nearly two millennia old, the Colosseum is still standing. Although parts of it have been damaged due to earthquakes and stone-robbers, it remains a powerful symbol of Rome's imperial past.

Visiting the Colosseum offers you a chance to step back in time and experience the grandeur of ancient Rome firsthand. So, when you're exploring ancient architecture in Rome, make sure this historic amphitheater is on your list.

Roman Forum

Next on our journey through the ancient architecture in Rome is the Roman Forum. The Forum served as the heart of the Roman Republic and later, the Roman Empire. It was the central hub for political, legal, and religious activities, bustling with life in its heyday.

Today, the Roman Forum is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and occasional archaeological excavations, giving us a glimpse into Rome's ancient glory. Walking through the Forum is like flipping through the pages of a living history book. Here are some intriguing highlights:

  • The Senate House: Known as the Curia, this was the meeting place for the Roman Senate. It's where they debated laws, prosecuted criminals, and made decisions that shaped the course of the empire. Can you imagine the heated debates and passionate speeches that echoed off these walls?
  • The Temples: The Forum is home to the remnants of several temples, each dedicated to a different Roman deity. These include the Temple of Saturn, the Temple of Vesta, and the Temple of Castor and Pollux. These temples were not just places of worship but also served as banks, law courts, and public meeting places.
  • The Rostra: This large platform was the stage for public speeches, announcements, and even trials. It's where Mark Antony famously delivered his funeral speech for Julius Caesar—a moment etched in history and immortalized by Shakespeare.

Exploring the Roman Forum gives you a unique perspective into the daily life of ancient Rome. It's an unmissable experience for anyone interested in ancient architecture in Rome or the intriguing stories of the past.


As we continue our tour of Rome's ancient architecture, we can't skip the Pantheon - a marvel of engineering and a testament to the grandeur of the Roman Empire. In Latin, Pantheon means "Honor all Gods", and it was indeed a temple dedicated to all Roman gods.

What's fascinating about the Pantheon is its architectural brilliance. It was built around 126 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian and is best known for its massive dome, which is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world even today. Now, isn't that something?

Here are some noteworthy features of the Pantheon:

  • The Oculus: At the centre of the dome is a large opening or 'oculus'. This 9-meter wide hole is the only source of natural light in the Pantheon. On a sunny day, the beam of light entering through the oculus creates a breathtaking spectacle.
  • The Portico: The entrance to the Pantheon is a large portico with granite columns. The triangular pediment above the portico is bare today, but it once contained a marble frieze.
  • The Interior: Inside the Pantheon, you'll find several chapels and tombs. Among them are the tombs of two Italian kings and the artist Raphael. Yes, you heard it right - the Raphael!

The Pantheon is not just an impressive example of ancient architecture in Rome, but it's also a living monument, still in use today as a church and a popular tourist attraction. So, when you visit, remember - you're stepping into a place where history meets the present.

Baths of Diocletian

Let's move on to another remarkable example of ancient architecture in Rome, the Baths of Diocletian. Back in the day—around 300 AD to be precise—these were the largest public baths in Rome, covering an area of 120,000 square meters. Imagine having a spa that big in your neighborhood!

The Baths of Diocletian were named after Emperor Diocletian, who commissioned their construction. They could accommodate up to 3,000 people at a time. Now, that's a lot of bathers!

Here are some interesting features to note about the Baths of Diocletian:

  • The Design: The baths were more than just a place for bathing. They were a multi-purpose leisure center that included a gym, libraries, and gardens. The design of the baths was symmetrical, with rooms for hot, warm, and cold baths.
  • The Construction: The Baths of Diocletian were built using brick and concrete, a common combination in Rome's ancient architecture. The walls were adorned with marble and mosaics, giving the baths a luxurious feel.
  • The Present Use: Today, the Baths of Diocletian are part of the National Roman Museum. As you explore the baths, you'll also find a collection of classical art and artifacts.

Visiting the Baths of Diocletian is like time-traveling back to Rome's ancient days. You'll get a glimpse of the lavish lifestyle the Romans enjoyed, and how they turned a simple act like bathing into a grand social event. Now, isn't that a lesson in how to live life king-size?

Palatine Hill

Next on our journey through the ancient architecture in Rome is the Palatine Hill, one of seven hills Rome was built on. This hill offers more than just a panoramic view of Rome; it's steeped in history and legends. Did you know, according to Roman mythology, the Palatine Hill is where the she-wolf found Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome?

The Palatine Hill was a desirable address in ancient times, housing emperors and aristocrats. Walking around the ruins, you can almost hear the whispers of the past.

Here's what makes Palatine Hill a must-visit:

  • The Flavian Palace: One of the most impressive ruins on Palatine Hill. This grand palace, also known as the Domus Flavia, was the official residence of the Roman Emperors. It's worth checking out for its sheer scale and grandeur.
  • The Farnese Gardens: These were the first private botanical gardens in Europe, built in the 16th century. It's a great place for a leisurely stroll amidst the ruins.
  • The View: From the top of Palatine Hill, you get a breathtaking view of the Roman Forum and Colosseum. It's the perfect spot for a memorable photo of Rome's ancient architecture.

So, when you're exploring the ancient architecture in Rome, remember to wear comfortable shoes. The Palatine Hill is a bit of a climb, but trust me, the history and the view from the top are worth every step.

Circus Maximus

Let's move forward on our journey through ancient architecture in Rome and land at the Circus Maximus — an iconic symbol of Roman society and entertainment. You might be wondering: what was so special about it? Well, back in the day, this was the largest stadium in Rome and could house about 150,000 spectators. Imagine that!

Located between the Palatine and Aventine hills, the Circus Maximus was primarily a venue for chariot races. But it wasn't just about the races. With shops and eateries, it was a social hotspot, where people from all walks of life came to mingle and have a good time.

Here are some key highlights of the Circus Maximus:

  • The Racing Track: The long, oval track is where the thrilling chariot races took place. Even though it's now a public park, you can still trace the layout of the original track.
  • The Spina: This was a central barrier in the racing track, adorned with obelisks and statues. Even though it's not there anymore, the Spina played a crucial role in the races, making them more challenging and exciting.
  • The View: With the Palatine Hill on one side and the Aventine Hill on the other, the location of Circus Maximus offers a unique view of ancient Rome's architecture.

So, next time you find yourself in Rome, do visit the Circus Maximus. Walk the same grounds where once charioteers raced for glory, and soak in the atmosphere of what was once the beating heart of Rome's social scene.

Castel Sant'Angelo

If you're exploring the wonders of ancient architecture in Rome, then you absolutely cannot miss the Castel Sant'Angelo. This cylindrical building, with its rich history and unique structure, is a testament to Rome's architectural prowess.

Originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and his family, the Castel Sant'Angelo has worn many hats throughout history. It has served as a military fortress, a papal residence, and even a prison! Today, it stands proudly as a museum.

Here's what to look out for when you visit:

  • The Mausoleum: The initial purpose of the Castel Sant'Angelo was to serve as a resting place for Emperor Hadrian and his family. The ashes of subsequent emperors were also placed here, making it a significant historical site.
  • The Papal Apartments: In the 14th century, the Castel Sant'Angelo was connected to St. Peter's Basilica by a covered corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. This allowed popes to seek refuge in the castle during times of danger. Inside, you can tour the lavishly decorated papal apartments.
  • The View: Make sure to climb to the top of the castle. The view from the terrace is breathtaking, offering a panoramic vista of Rome.

So, when you're wandering through the ancient city, take a moment to visit the Castel Sant'Angelo. It's more than just a castle—it's a symbol of the ever-changing roles and functions of buildings in the eternal city. In the words of many a tourist, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"—and the Romans definitely visit the Castel Sant'Angelo!

Baths of Caracalla

When you think of ancient architecture in Rome, the first thing that comes to mind might be grand Colosseums or towering basilicas. But what about gigantic bathhouses? The Baths of Caracalla, one of the most impressive examples of Roman leisure architecture, will leave you in awe.

Constructed during the reign of Emperor Caracalla, these baths were more than just a place for Romans to get clean. They were a social hub, complete with gyms, libraries, gardens, and even shops. Imagine the equivalent of a modern-day spa, gym, and shopping mall all rolled into one!

Here's what makes the Baths of Caracalla so special:

  • Scale: The sheer size of the Baths of Caracalla is mind-boggling. They could accommodate over 1,600 bathers at a time, making them one of the largest bathhouses in ancient Rome.
  • Design: The complex had a symmetrical design, with the main building surrounded by lush gardens. The bathhouse itself included a frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room), and caldarium (hot room), each with their own impressive architectural features.
  • Mosaics: The floors of the Baths of Caracalla were decorated with intricate mosaics depicting athletes, mythical creatures, and scenes from daily life. Some of these mosaics can still be seen today.

Visiting the Baths of Caracalla is like stepping back in time. You can almost hear the echoes of ancient Romans as they enjoyed a dip in the baths, worked out in the gym, or simply lounged about in the gardens. So, as you explore the wonders of ancient architecture in Rome, make sure to include these remarkable baths on your list!

Arch of Constantine

As you stroll through Rome, exploring the ancient architecture, you'll inevitably stumble upon the Arch of Constantine. This monumental arch, standing tall near the Colosseum, is a significant symbol of victory and power in ancient Rome.

So, what makes the Arch of Constantine so special in the realm of ancient architecture in Rome? Allow me to share a few captivating facts:

  • Historical Importance: The Arch of Constantine was erected to commemorate Emperor Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. It's not just a beautiful structure but also a tangible piece of history.
  • Design: This arch is the largest Roman triumphal arch, standing at about 21 meters high and 25 meters wide. It features three archways and is covered in detailed sculptures and reliefs, many of which were borrowed from older monuments.
  • Influence: The Arch of Constantine served as a source of inspiration for many later monuments and structures. Even the Arc de Triomphe in Paris drew influence from this Roman arch.

As you stand under the towering Arch of Constantine, try to imagine the victorious Emperor Constantine parading through it. The arch, being one of the well-preserved pieces of ancient architecture in Rome, allows you to feel a real connection to the history of this remarkable city.

So, are you ready to take your Roman adventure to the next level? The Arch of Constantine is waiting to impress you with its grandeur and historical significance!

Appian Way

If you've ever dreamed of walking the same paths as Roman soldiers, senators, and peasants, then the ancient Appian Way in Rome is a must-visit. Known as the "queen of the long roads," it was a vital artery of the Roman Republic and later, the Roman Empire.

Before we dive into the significance of the Appian Way, let's explore some fascinating details that make it stand out among Rome's ancient architecture:

  • Age and Length: Built in 312 BC, the Appian Way is one of the oldest surviving roads in the world. It originally stretched over 350 miles from Rome to Brindisi, serving as a crucial trade route.
  • Construction: Unlike most modern roads, the Appian Way was made of large, tightly fitted interlocking stones. This robust construction is why much of it survives today.
  • Historical Landmarks: The Appian Way is lined with tombs, monuments, and ruins that offer a glimpse into Rome's past. From the Circus of Maxentius to the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, each landmark tells a story.

Walking the Appian Way is like stepping into a time machine. As you tread on the same stones that countless others have walked on over the centuries, you can't help but feel a profound connection to the past.

Ready to lace up your shoes and experience this unforgettable journey through ancient Rome? The Appian Way, with its rich history and timeless charm, will not disappoint.

If you enjoyed exploring Rome's ancient architecture and are inspired to create your own artistic interpretations of these architectural marvels, check out the workshop 'Composing Complex Illustrations using Basic Shapes' by Juliet Schreckinger. This workshop will teach you how to break down complex structures into basic shapes, making it easier to capture the essence of Rome's ancient architecture in your own artwork.