Famous columns in Rome: all you need to know (with map)

by marta

A curated list of columns in Rome: what they are, where they are and fun facts about the columns of Rome you may encounter during your visit.

Columns are an important part of Rome’s urban decor.

Free standing, ancient Roman columns grace some of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome, often acting as a focal point for these large spaces.

Others are a structural part of historical buildings and some bear witness of grand Rome constructions now lost.

Columns in Rome Forum part of ancient temple

Walking around Rome, you will encounter many of them.

This is a list of columns in Rome, a map with their location and some facts about the most famous Rome columns you may encounter as you stroll around Rome.

List of famous columns in Rome + location and type

Name of Rome ColumnType of ColumnDateLocation
Trajan Column (Colonna Traiana)Triumphal ColumnII century ADTrajan’s Forum, Piazza Venezia, Rome
Marcus Aurelius’ Column (Colonna Antonina)Triumphal ColumnII century ADPiazza Colonna
Phoca’s Column (Colonna di Foca)Triumphal ColumnVI century ADRoman Forum
Antoninus Pius’ Column (now lost)Triumphal ColumnII century ADVatican Museum Yard
Columns from the Tempe of Venus GenitrixDecoration46BCForum of Caesar
Columns of Via SacraDecorationVia Sacra, Roman Forum
Column of the Immaculate Conception (Colonna dell’Immacolata Concezione)CelebratoryXIX centuryPiazza Mignanelli, 00187 Rome
The Columns of the PantheonSupport/decorationI century ADPiazza della Rotonda
The Columns in Piazza di PietraDecorationII century ADPiazza di Pietra
The Columns of VittorianoDecorationXIX centuryVittoriano, Piazza Venezia
Faro del GianicoloLighthouse1919Passeggiata del Gianicolo, 00165
St Peter’s Square ColonnadeDecoration1656 Piazza San Pietro

Famous columns in Rome: map

The most famous columns in Rome

Trajan’s Column

The column of Trajan is the most spectacular and most significant example of a triumphal column in Rome.

Trajan's column Rome

As the name suggests, the column dates from the time of Emperor Trajan (II century AD) and celebrates the war achievements of this valiant general in Dacia, where he lead a successful campaign.

The column was unique at the time of its construction.

100 Roman feet tall (about 30mt) the column is free-standing and was always intended as a celebratory monument, not an architectural element.

It was most likely part of a large design of the Forum of Trajan, that would have also included the large Basilica Ulpia (Ulpian Basilica), a column of which is still visible inside nearby Palazzo Valentini.

Along the surface of the column, there is a carving telling the story of the Emperor’s campaign in chronological order.

This is the first example in history of a film, a ribbon that develops along the columns and reads like a story, told in stone.

Read here >>> all you need to know about Trajan’s Column

Marcus Aurelius’ Column

The column of Marcus Aurelius is an imperial time column in Rome’s Piazza Colonna.

The Roman Column of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Rome Piazza Colonna

The column dates from the second century AD.

Work started in 180AD, the last year of Marcus Aurelius’ Empire, and it was completed un 193 AD, under Emperor Commodus, his successor.

The column drew inspiration from that of Trajan and has in common with it the elaborate carving on its surface, in this case telling the successes of Marcus Aurelius over the German and the Sarmans.

Marcus Aurelius’ column is 100 Roman feet tall (about 30 mt), it is made of 20 blocks of marble from Luni and stands on a base that is 12mt tall.

Inside, a spiral staircase that brings to the top of the column – this is not open to the public.

At the top of the columns stands a statue of St Paul: this replaced the original in 1589, by order of Pope Sixtus V.

Good to know: for a time, historians believed this column belonged to Antoninus Pius, on the basis of documents that reported the existence of a triumphal column for the emperor. However, the column of Antoninus Pius was a different one, now lost: all we have of it is the beautiful basement, now preserved in one of the gardens of the Vatican Museums.

Phoca’s Column

Phoca’s Columns is the most recent column you see inside the Roman Forum.

Much more recent than the other victory columns in Rome, the column of Phoca takes its name from the Byzantine Emperor Phoca, whose successes it celebrated.

The column is Corinthian in style, has a round section and stands on a tall, rectangular basement close to the Arch of Septimius Severus.

It dates from the VII century AD; however, it also incorporates parts of a much more ancient column dating from the II century AD.

Phoca’s column is the tallest column in the Roman Forum and stands at 13.60mt.

The Columns of the Roman Forum

Columns were a popular architectural element in ancient Roman architecture and you can see very many of them inside the Roman Forum.

Roman Forum with Colosseum: one of the best photo spots in Rom

Some of the most impressive, I believe, are those flanking Via Sacra, the triumphal road leading from where now stands the Colosseum to the feet of the Capitoline Hill, and all those associated with temples to Roman Gods and Goddesses such as Vesta, Saturn and Jupiter.

Worth noticing are also those of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, one of the Forum’s best preserved and most visually impressive buildings.

You can read here >>> how to visit the Roman Forum + what to see

The columns of the Temple of Venus Genitrix

Inside the Forum of Caesar, it is still possible to see the Roman columns once belonging to the temple of Venus Genitrix.

Roman Columns of the ancient temple of Venus Genitrix in the Forum of Caesar in Rome, Italy

Venus was one of the most important goddesses of the Roman Pantheon and, according to the legend surrounding the birth of Rome, divine ancestor of Romulus, Rome’s founder.

Caesar ordered the construction of the temple in 46BC.

The structure had eight columns in origin but several more were added during restructuring work carried out under Trajan and later on in the history of the Empire.

The columns have been erected again in 1933 and give an idea of the original location and size of the temple.

The Columns of the Pantheon

The Columns of the Rome Pantheon are very impressive.

The Columns of Rome Pantheon at night

They support the front of the building and create a beautiful, powerful entrance to the Pantheon, a temple originally built in honor of all Roman Gods (now a church).

The columns are monolithic blocks of grey Assuan marble; they are 11.8mt tall and have Corinthian-style capitals in white marble.

They are significantly larger than other columns you see in Rome and this makes sense if you think of the support they needed to provide to such a big structure.

You can read here >>> my guide to visiting the Pantheon

Good to know! Very close to the Pantheon, you find Piazza di Pietra. Here, you have fantastic remains of the Temple of Hadrian, whose columns you can still admire!

The Columns of Vittoriano

Vittoriano is a modern monument built in Piazza Venezia at the end of the XIX century and flaunting a large and beautiful colonnade and decorative free standing columns.

The colonnade of Vittoriano, Rome

The building is the Altar to the Fatherland and has a style that recalls that of classic Rome architecture, of which columns as we have seen were an important part.

The columns on Vittoriano decorate its middle terrace; the free standing ones act as support to winded Victories, part of the elaborate symbolism of the altar.

You can read here >>> all about Vittoriano and its symbols.

The Columns of St Peter’s square

One of the most impressive sets of columns in Rome is the stunning colonnade of St Peter’s Square.

Colonnade St Peter square, Rome

The Colonnade is designed by Bernini and it is an integral part of the Master’s Vision for Vatican City.

Bernini wanted to symbolise the welcoming nature of the Church and imagined a large piazza with two semi- circular wings designed to welcome the pilgrim into an architectural embrace.

The focal point of his design was St Peter’s Basilica, but his columns where more than just a visual aid to lead the attention to the church and are now one of the many proves of Bernini’s mastery.

If you stand in the center of the Colonnade, you will notice that the many layers of the colonnade disappear from your field of vision, giving the illusion of a single-line pillar structure.

This is called forced perspective and it is one of the most famous optical illusions hidden in Rome’s urban decor.

You can read more about the square and its design here >> visitors’ guide to St Peter’s Square

The Column of the immaculate conception

The Column of the Immaculate Conception (colonna dell’Immacolata concezione) stands in Piazza Mignanelli, a square in Rome City center adjacent to Piazza di Spagna.

The Column of the Immaculate Conception, Rome, Italy

The column dates from the XIX century and celebrates the idea of the Immaculate Conception, which was introduced as dogma by the Catholic Church just at that time.

The column wa designed by architect Luigi Poletti and holds a statue of Mary represented while stomping a septet, symbol of the original sin she was born pure of.

The column was dedicated on 8 December 1857, the date the Catholic Church still celebrates the immaculate conception of Mary. It is 11,81 mt tall and its material is marble.

Rome obelisks

Obelisks are not columns as such however, they have the same celebratory use of some of the most ancient columns of Rome so I believe they are worth a mention.

Rome's Spanish Steps with an obelisk in front of Trinita' dei Monti church

Obelisks are monolithic pillars from ancient Egypt. Typically, they have a square section, smooth faces to allow for carvings and a pyramidal top.

In Egypt, there were often used to decorate the entrance of important temples and the Romans carried several of them into the city as war treasure when they made Egypt a Roman province (I century BC).

There are over 20 obelisks in Rome, some of them from Egypt, some made in Rome following Egyptian styles.

Obelisks are not technically columns: they only have decorative value and are not used as support for vaults of ceilings.

However, they have much in common with triumphal columns.

Like the Roman columns celebrating the victories of emperors, the obelisks of Rome were celebratory monuments and are often used to decorate large piazzas, either on their own or as part of a more elaborate design (see in Piazza Navona, the Fountain of the Four Rivers for instance – one of the most famous fountains in Rome)

What were columns in Rome used for?

A column is an architectural structure used as decoration or support.

They were a very common decorative element in Ancient Rome and the city still bears witness of their popularity.

In architectural terms, columns can be categorised in many different way that go beyond the scope of this article.

From the point of view of the visitor, I find it useful to know the following columns facts:

Columns in Rome can be classified as triumphal columns, celebratory columns or decoration / support columns.

Triumphal columns are typical of Imperial times and they were celebratory monuments commemorating the victories and successes of the ruling Emperor.

There are four of them in Rome, the most significant of them are the column of Trajan and that of Marcus Aurelius.

Support / decorative columns are very popular in Rome.

If the structure they were part of collapsed, you often see them as free standing pillars or sets of pillars; in other cases, you can see them as still part of the building.

A great example are the columns of the Pantheon or the stunning columns in Piazza di Pietra.

A celebratory column with religious significance is the Immaculate Conception one.

In terms of architectural styles, columns are often categorized as Doric, Ionic or Corinthian: these are not originally from Rome but influenced Rome architecture, which embraced especially some of them.

Display of capitels of Roman Columns in Rome's Domus Aurea

The Doric order is the most ancient and usually sees columns with a larger base and slightly thinner top, surmounted by a simple capital. The pillar usually has vertical grooves.

The Ionic order also presents tall columns with virtual grooves, usually deeper than that of the Doric columns; they have a capitel with twin volutes.

The Corinthian order of columns is the most recent of the three and is it well represented in Rome.

Its most recognisable characteristic is the elaborate capital with carved leaves of acanthus used as decoration.

I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of the most famous columns in Rome and it helped you identify those you encounter during your visit. Safe travels!

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