Trajan's Markets reopened to the public Thursday after two and a half years of work shoring up the famed complex and stocking up its glittering new Museum of the Imperial Forums.
The venue, which houses a wealth of artefacts found in recent digs, is "a unique example" of a museum of ancient architecture set in ancient surroundings, said Rome Cultural Heritage Superintendent Eugenio La Rocca.
"We have saved a jewel," said Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni.
The museum boasts statues of Dacians conquered by Hadrian in 101-106 AD, a set of splendid pillars in human form, called caryatids, from the Forum of Augustus, and a series of medieval ceramics that turned up among the ruins.
Other highlights are marble recreations of two legendary lost sculptures originally situated in the Forum of Augustus, cast from copies in Cordova, Spain: Trojan hero and Roman forerunner Aeneas carrying his father Anchises and leading his little son Ascanius, and Rome's founder Romulus holding a trophy from a defeated king. "The museum holds symbolic pieces from every forum," said Trajan Forum archaeological chief Lucrezia Ungaro.
Stand-outs include a bronze foot from a Winged Victory in the Forum of Augustus; an armoured figure from Trajan's Forum and two pieces from Caesar's Forum; and a frieze with cupids and a cornice stone from the Temple of Venus decorated with dolphins and tridents.
Another attraction from the Forum of Augustus is a fragmented Greek-marble hand from a giant lost statue of the the first emperor, called the Colossus.
Audio-visual displays and computer reconstructions will help visitors grasp how the forums were built up by various emperors between 46 BC and 113 AD.
The markets, which date from 113 AD, are in fact no longer believed to be the world's first great shopping mall but a set of administrative buildings for Trajan, who ruled from 98 to 117 AD.
The revamped 'markets' will be part of a swathe of old and new museums and cultural sites centred on the Capitol Hill which Veltroni said would amount to "a new Louvre".
The new exhibition network, to be unveiled in 2010, will be called The Great Capitol.