Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.
The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was the political and economical centre of Rome during the Republic. It emerged as such in the 7th century BCE and maintained this position well into the Imperial period, when it was reduced to a monumental area. It was mostly abandoned at the end of the 4th century.
The Roman Forum is located in a valley between the Capitoline Hill on the west, the Palatine Hill on the south, the Velia on the east and Quirinal Hill and the Esquiline Hill to the north. The Velia was levelled in Antiquity.
The importance of the Roman Forum area is indicated by the presence of many of the central political, religious and judicial buildings in Rome. The Regia was the residence of the kings, and later of the rex sacrorum and pontifex maximus; the Curia, was the meeting place of the Senate; and the Comitium and the Rostra, where public meetings were held. Major temples and sanctuaries in the Roman Forum include the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Saturn and the Temple of Vesta. Commercial and judicial activities took place in the basilicas, the two remaining are the Basilica Aemilia and the Basilica Julia. Due to the political importance of the area there were also numerous honorary monuments.
Originally the area of the Roman Forum was humid and covered in grass, as it was not suitable for construction. A necropolis has been found, dating from the 10th century BCE, but otherwise the area doesn't seem to have been used much. This changed in the 7th century with the construction of the Cloaca Maxima. This sewer system was based on a natural stream, which was enclosed and covered to drain the area, a sign that the settlements on the Palatine Hill was spreading into the valley.
In republican times the construction on the Roman Forum continued, with a series of basilicas, notably the Basilica Sempronia and the Basilica Aemilia. Also from this period are the Temple of Saturn, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and the Temple of Concord.
The current image of the Roman Forum is a result of the changes made by Julius Caesar as pontifex maximus and dictator, which included the construction of the Basilica Julia where the Basilica Sempronia stood, the building of a new Curia and the renovation of the Rostra, the speakers platform. Caesar didn't see all his plans realised before his death, but most was finished by his successor Augustus, including the Temple of Divus Julius, dedicated to Caesar deified.
The Column of Phocas was the last monument to be erected in the Roman Forum in 608 CE, but at this time the area was already half in ruin.
The Roman Forum suffered damage and destruction repeatedly. When political strife in republican times deteriorated into violence, the Forum would regularly be the scene of fierce fights between rivalling factions, often followed by destructive fires. Fire was always a problem in Ancient Rome, and parts of the Roman Forum burnt down several times, the worst fire being in 283 CE. Later the Roman Forum suffered destruction and pillage at the hands of invaders. Most of the buildings on the Roman Forum was destroyed completely in 410 CE, when the Ostrogoths of Alaric sacked the town. Many religious sites were abandoned and fell in ruin after the ban of non-Christian cults in 394 CE.
Archaeological excavations began in 18th century, but the site have only been excavated systematically in the 20th century. Many of the later additions to buildings and monuments have now been removed and the original street level has been restored over large parts of the Roman Forum.
The site of the Roman Forum is still subject to excavations, and several parts of the Roman Forum cannot be visited, but the whole area have the status of an archaeological site, open to visitors.