THE ROMAN FORUM AND PALATINE HILL
For 12 euros admission to the Forum, Palatine and Colosseum, valid over two days, this is Rome’s best value-for-money ticket. (The next is Ostia Antica, a short rail trip out of town.) The same cannot be said for Trajan’s Markets across the street for nine euros, and a frankly disappointing array of displays.
My first time on the Palatine, and it did not disappoint. Here we see how the other less than one percent lived in unimaginable splendour. The Palatine has a 360 view of the hills of Rome and the Tiber. Imperial balconies are situated well above the heat and humidity of the city, catching the cooling breezes in high porticos. But where did domestic slaves live in a complex as grand as this?
Well before the late sixth century, the Palatine was effectively deserted as the aristocratic class fled to Constantinople and other, safer venues around the Mediterranean. The Palatine became the biblical ‘haunt of jackals’ – and forlorn domestic cats.
The public buildings of the ancient city, once so familiar to Gregory and Augustine, were much like the ancient city we see today, and in largely the same state of repair. Before the 18th century there had been little or no interest in recovering the Roman past. Columns and arches were almost completely buried beneath layers of soil and rubble. This also reflects the attitude of the Church from the sixth century onwards; pilgrims came to Rome not for its magnificent imperial past (rather, the collapse of Rome was seen as a divine punishment), but for the relics of saints who had died at the hands of pagan Rome.
Such was the contempt for the old that when the roof of old St Peter’s basilica needed repair, the Church stripped the gilded tiles from the roof of the Basilica of Maximus and Constantine, a magnificent building in the Forum where legal cases were once heard. Both Gregory I and Augustine would have seen this building in its original state – the roof was only stripped of its tiles in the early seventh century.
But attitudes have changed. Archaeological explorations are now extensive. The past is seen as having value in itself, able to tell us something about our selves, where we’ve come from, and possibly where we might be going, if we wisely choose.
I left the Palatine through the exit into the Via di S. Gregorio, just yards across the road from St Gregory’s Monastery. After meeting the new Prior, I retraced the steps that Augustine and his monks may have taken as they departed on the first leg of their long journey to England, past the Circus Maximus to a waiting ship moored along the Tiber. The only alternative would have been to travel by road west to Ostia, calling at St Paul’s monastery which is on the Via Ostiense some 3 km away.