Architecture Lessons: Ancient Rome

Any visitor of the ancient ruins of Rome sees that many of our contemporary understanding of the buildings are ancient: they built stadiums, public spaces, courts of judges, public facilities such aqueducts, sewerages, public baths and even seven story malls. We invented less, but we consider ourselves more sophisticated than ever. I felt humble under the 2000 years old Pantheon’s dome or understanding both the human and monumental scale of forums.

Beside that, the incredible short promenade trough the Roman Forum is a walk-through the built environment of the most modern and democratic western society base: the Senate (the germ of parliamentary system), the basilicas (courts of judges), the forum itself being the place of public debate and constructions of spiritual conscience of the people (temples). At one of the ends is the incredible Coliseum and the entire path is seeded with triumphal arcs that mark victories of a proud and powerful society and its members.

Roman Forum
Roman Forum: Curia Iulia (the Senate), Basilica Aemilia (Court)

The ancient Rome was a triumph of the human society. Despite some of the practices and cruelties that such a young society developed with an apparent lack of morality, it is the cast in stone evidence of where the human endeavor and innovation can lead us. The same ages when many of our ancestors did not well-passed the stone age, an amazing sophisticated society blossomed and established, giving us, more than 2000 years later, concepts that allow us to have a real civilization.

This old city is also the base of the humanist renaissance, centuries later. This old city is the inner core of democratic systems. This old established incredible democratic situations: millenniums before the French Revolutions, both plebeians and aristocrats bathed in the same public baths.

Don’t understand me wrong: the same time, this was one of the most cruel, corrupted and inequitable society. But they constituted rules that would terrify our politicians running for public positions now. Even the most humble citizen elected his own representative to different levels of public positions. No office could be held more than one or two years and almost every high ranked person had to prove his abilities during tough military campaigns.

Writing those words allow me to better understand Rome’s legacy. Despite a first impression that it is the result of ancient architects, it is not. Not the architects built this city, but the public order that asked for forums, baths, temples, courts, block of flats, and triumphal arks. The Roman engineers didn’t build the sewerage and aqueducts, they answered to the public demand.

The open-minded, the pragmatism, the solidarity and the innovation built this city. The large domes are not just a use of concrete, but the will that built them.

We want beautiful, efficient and healthy cities. It is not the architects and planners that can provide us such places, but the will of the community.

It is our role to determine where our habitat will be like. But we need good will, open minds and common sense. The architects? They will be glad to follow the rest!

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