While the very term of Trajan’s Market was probably coined in the 20th century, the complex in itself stands as a testament to the infrastructural legacy of ancient Rome, constructed sometime between 107-110 AD. In essence, the structure epitomized the thriving urban culture of Rome, thus in many ways mirroring the burgeoning Roman Empire of the period that reached its greatest extent during Trajan’s rule. As for the architectural side of affairs, the complex was possibly built under the supervision of Apollodorus of Damascus, Trajan’s close aide and the architect also responsible for building the emperor’s forum and famed column.
In terms of spatial scope, Trajan’s Market was a massive commercial area comprising over 150 shops and offices. In that regard, the entire structure is actually multi-storied, with its different levels being built into the terraced hillside behind, and connected by accessible staircases. Among these the ground level alcoves directly faced the street, thus pertaining to the various small shops – with their sizes being so tiny that the customers were expected to make their purchase at the door without entering the space. These were accompanied by arcades of shops on the higher level, while the upper-most level housed a central building that was (probably) used as an apartment block. The commercial building, which additionally served as the main office for Cura Annonae (food ration supply), was also extended along its left wing that functioned as a fully covered shopping arcade.
Now from the structural perspective, Trajan’s Market is often viewed as one of the brilliant examples of Imperial Roman architecture, with its core being constructed from concrete, while the facades were draped in arrangement of bricks. Interestingly enough, the very slope of the rear hill was terraced as a solution to prevent landslide in the proximate area, which would have acted as a protective measure for the nearby Forum (a triumphal project that represented Trajan’s hard won victory in the Second Dacian War). To that end, the lower levels were intentionally designed in a roundish manner so as to withstand the pressure from the hill – thus resulting in a Great Hemicycle that has served its structural purpose for over 1,900 years.
The structural ambit was also complemented by a range of visual and architectural elements. As Mark Cartwright writes in Ancient History –
The decorative semi-circular façade includes brick pilasters with travertine bases and capitals framing each archway on the second level. Decorative brick-work gives an added elegance, including entablatures of carved brick and alternate triangular and semi-circular pediments. White stucco would have once covered much of this brickwork and the pilasters, entablature, and pediments display evidence of having once been painted red.
And finally, much like its modern-day counterparts, the Trajan’s Market possibly even had refreshment areas that served drinks to the shoppers. And as for the commercial aspect of (possibly) the world’s oldest known public shopping center, the multifarious products sold at the market came from the various corners of the Roman Empire, thus ranging from fruits, vegetables, fish to oil, wine and even spices.
Featured Image Source: Khan Academy