Roman Forum of Empúries

Lola Domènech: The Roman Forum of Empuries, located to the south of Roses bay, is one of the most relevant historical and cultural heritage sites in the Mediterranean. This archeological restoration has recovered one of the most important spaces inside the ancient Roman city. In Roman cities the forum was where the most important social events were held. It was the centre of the city’s political, economic, religious and judicial activity. The Forum was a large open-air square that was surrounded by different types of buildings dedicated to different functions. Archeological excavations of this area, which covers around 10,000 m2, were commenced in 1900 and lasted until the year 2000. Once the excavations of the Roman Forum had been completed, in 2001, it was decided that it was necessary to refurbish the archeological site and make it suitable for museum visits.

Before beginning the Forum refurbishment project the team of architects and archeologists carried out an exhaustive analysis in order to identify the site’s key problems after which they set down the guidelines for the project. To begin with, we realized that visitors couldn’t clearly distinguish the different areas, spaces and buildings that made up the Forum. The square, the ambulacrum, the tabernae, the cryptoportico, the basilica, the curia, the religious area and the garden were unrecognizable spaces for visitors. Visitors couldn’t identify the main roads, the cardo and the decumanus, either. Secondly, some of the areas inside the Forum were closed off to visitors for safety reasons, because they were in a bad state and inaccessible.

On top of this, there was the serious problem of accessibility and the lack of a route inside the Forum. The space inside the Forum was inaccessible and even dangerous because of the uneven levels produced following previous archeological excavations and due to soil erosion from the rain. Once the problems were studied and identified the next step was to set down the project’s key objectives: The first priority was to conserve and preserve the archeological remains and the second priority was to make the area of the Forum accessible, visitable and comprehensible. The project of refurbishing the Forum for museum visits entailed close collaboration between the archeologists and architects, who after coming up with these objectives went on to define the specific strategies for the renovation work.

One of the first tasks was to demolish all the inaccurate reproductions (executed during previous archeological interventions) in order to preserve the value of the original ruins. The second task was to consolidate, restore and rebuild some of the most significant and relevant archeological structures according to the criteria set down by the team of archeologists from the MAC. Another key criterion was to recover the original floor levels and to suggest in a subtle way what the different archeological spaces that make up the Roman forum were like. The aim here was to show and highlight the emblematic features of the Roman Forum’s architecture by differentiating the (drained) paving surfaces in each particular space thus making it stand out from the others.

And finally to mark out a suitable route for visitors inside the site. The new entrances for visitors were strategically placed on the former roads, the cardo maximus (N_S) and the decumanus maximus (E_W) thus highlighting the Cartesian order. Visitors are now able to clearly understand the relation between the different spaces that make up the Forum (the square, the ambulacrum, the tabernae, the curia, the basilica, the temple, the garden and the cryptoportico.
The project basically intended to recreate the atmosphere of order that prevailed in the Roman city. When carrying out the works special attention was paid to the materials, techniques and designed solutions, constantly looking for a balance in the dialogue between the original ruins and the new structures, steering clear of mimicry and false reproductions. The refurbishment of the Roman Forum was not only an archeological and architectural undertaking but a landscaping one as well. At all times this project was respectful with the value of history and the landscape.

Lola Domènech, architect

Pre-Finalist- XI BEAU / Selected- Premis Fad 2010 /Finalist premis girona 2010 / Selected- VI European Urban Landscape Biennial
Authors: Lola Domènech, architect in collaboration with the MAC archeologist team
Area: 7.435m2
Location: Empúries, Girona
Drafting: 2000/2001/2007
Execution: 2008/2009
Project management: Lola Domènech, architect and the MAC archeologist team
Structure: Ignasi Ribas
Building engineer: Josep Lluís Reventós
Engineer: Julian Rios
Development company: departament de patrimoni – generalitat de catalunya

1 Comment
  • Greg Bryla 02.04.16

    this is an incredible project. Thank you for outlining your design process and collaboration with the archeologists. Beautiful execution of respect for antiquity.


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Published on September 27, 2012
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