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A curia in early Roman times was a subdivision of the people, i.e. more or less a tribe, and with a metonymy it came to mean also the meeting place where the tribe discussed its affairs. Etymologically it is derived from the Old Latin term "co-viria," literally an "association of men." This archaic pronunciation - note that in Classical Latin "v" is always pronounced as "w" - eventually evolved into the more recognizable word.
The curia ''per antonomasia'' was the Curia Hostilia in Rome, which was the building where the Senate usually met. The Senate, initially just a meeting of the city elders from all tribes (its name comes from "senex", which means "old man"), saw its powers grow together with the conquest that brought a town of humble origins to rule a large Republic (and then decrease steadily with the advent of the Empire).
During their expansion, the Romans exported the model to every city that gained the status of ''Municipium'', so that it had its own Senate and its own officials charged with local administration (although they weren't usually elected but nominated by the central government; the only place where officials were actually elected by the people was Rome itself, and by Imperial times even those elections, although kept for the sake of tradition, had no more significance). Senators themselves were not elected since the early Republic, having been transformed into a hereditary nobility.
By the Imperial period, a curia was any building where local government held office, i.e. judicial proceedings, government meetings, bureaucracy, etc., and shortly afterwards the term started to refer also to the people making up the local administration (see curiales).
The Curia situated in the Roman Forum functioned as a senate house for meetings and discussions over the Roman Empire to be held. It was to the north of the Forum, and was particularly used to conduct the affairs of the Roman state, more effectively, although not exclusively, during the republican period. It is one of the few buildings in the Roman Forum that is still standing, making it easy to imagine its original state.
During the late Roman Empire, the government assumed a dual character, secular and religious. The fall of the Western Roman Empire ended the secular curia, but not the religious one, which has continued to the present day. After the end of the Roman Empire, the term, Curia, was used to designate the administrative apparatus of the Roman Catholic Church, and more specifically, the Vatican.