You can’t get much shopping done these days at the world’s oldest shopping mall, but you can still marvel at the earliest construction of such a concept. Trajan’s Market (Mercatus Traiani) contains the remnants of what once stood as a group of storefronts and local watering holes. It proves that while the world continues to change, some things stay the same.
Emperor Trajan ruled from 98 to 117 CE and left his mark on Rome as a leader who improved the standards of living for the city’s citizens. While he also made a name for himself as a conqueror with a penchant for war and expansion, he balanced this with constant public projects like building baths, roads, and markets.
Built between 107 and 110 CE, Trajan’s Market became the predecessor of a shopping complex, including stores and offices located side by side. Historians believe he commissioned Apollodorus of Damascus to design the complex that would serve as both marketplace and forum, completing the Forum of Trajan.
Trajan’s Market appears to have been built on multiple levels with administrative offices and even a library. The street on the top level, named Via Biberatica, hints that there were many drinking establishments along this route, as the name derives from the Latin “biber,” which means drink. But aside from old bars, the market also held shops that sold fruits, spices, vegetables, fish, oil, and wine. It even served as a wheat distribution center for civilians.
Through archaeological studies, it’s been found that the complex was renovated into a fortress with a defensive tower, Torre delle Milizie, during the Middle Ages. Around the 16th century, the Convent of Santa Caterina da Siena was constructed in the vicinity but destroyed in the early 20th century as restoration of the Roman site took place. Part of the convent can still be seen near the upper part of market in the middle of the complex.
You can find your way to Trajan’s Market on Via dei Fori Imperiali at the opposite end of the Colosseum. What remains nestled in the excavation of Quirinal Hill stands as a prime example of ancient Roman architecture and a glimpse of life past. Visitors can walk along Via Biberatica through one of the corridors and through the rooms that once held the tabernae. A ticket gains you entrance to the ruins of Trajan’s Market, including the Imperial Forum Museum. The museum contains exhibits depicting the market’s and forum’s various aspects through models and videos.
Trajan’s Market awaits in Rome on our “7-Night Bucket List Mediterranean” or “7-Night Iconic Greece and Italy” luxe-adventure journeys.