Going to the Roman Forum was as much a pilgrimage as St Peters. It's holy ground, trodden by emperors, senators, philosophers and the like. The house of Augustus and Livia was closed for excavations, which was disappointing, but made up for by being able to see the Ara Pacis (more on that later). I really wish I could say how special it was to go there. The ruins only hint at what great buildings and temples were once standing there.
From the Forum we went onto the Capitoline Hill and the museum there. No photos (yada no flash photography yada yada) of the famous Capitoline Wolf or the remaining pieces of Constantine's colossal statue, but be assured that they are amazing to look at in the bronze/marble, as it were. Impressed myself by being able to name all the busts of the emperors without having to look at the inscriptions on the pedestals (the gloomy faces of Vespasian and Titus in particular are stuck firm in my mind).
We were going to go to the nearby Santa Maria in Aracoeli church (where Augustus apparently had a vision of the Virgin Mary), but it looked like it was closed and in any case, neither of us were prepared to climb the extremely daunting set of stairs leading up to the church (we went later though, which I'll recount in time).
We wandered around for a bit after that (and had lunch), and saw the monument to Victor Emmanuel II, which locals derisively refer to as 'the wedding cake' (the building has an unfortunate history) before we meandered off in the general direction of the Ara Pacis (and I will say here that Brendan did most of the map checking....those who know me well will attest to my poor sense of direction). The museum in which it is housed has been opened quite recently, and I was extremely pleased not to miss it. It has featured in a number of university lecture slides through the years, so I know it well now and was able to explain to my travelling companion the different reliefs.
That afternoon, we had afternoon tea with Tony, the priest who got us the tickets to the Papal audience. He's a canon lawyer in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and what a character he is. Summoned from Brisbane by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger to work in the congregation, he is exceptionally clever, funny and insightful (and stressed as well....that week, the Pope was about to depart for Turkey, the Archbishop of Canterbury was visiting and the premiere of Nativity was on). We discussed Latin, and he mentioned that there would be a demand for more Latin-speakers in the Holy See (fancy a job in the Vatican, Libby?) in the future, due to the fact that it's no longer taught in many seminaries. Indeed, he told me to keep it up, but even the thought of translating a law document into good Latin makes my head hurt. We did discuss the merits of Tacitus and Cicero though, and he told me about the gruelling Latin tutelage that he was put through by the Vatican's resident Latin expert, Reggie Foster (an American who sounds like the toughest teacher on the planet).
Something I neglected to mention that we did before the Borghese Gardens on Thursday (and how this slipped my mind I have no idea), was to go to the excavations under St Peter's. There is a rich history associated with St Peter's as a place of pilgrimage as the site of Peter's tomb, and you can literally see the 'layers' of history in the excavations. The site was once the burial site for a noble family, whose mausoleums still survive under the foundations of the basilica. Constantine paid them off generously so that he could build his basilica there, over the then-purported burial site of Peter. There are various monuments marking the spot, until you get to the lowest point, where bones purported to be Peter's lie (naturally it is uncertain if they are truly his, and the guide said that it was really up to the individual to decide for themselves). It's a lot more complicated than I'm explaining it, but it is a remarkable thing to see, the history through the building.
In somewhat good news, now that it's the non-ratings period, Nine have seen fit to trot out Rome again. It's showing at 10:50 on Thursday night. For some reason, I have a feeling it'll change timeslots a few times and then Nine will yank it again. Just because the commercial networks are dicks like that. I'd still like to see the uncut version that Steven so kindly burned onto dvd for Judi and I, but that might have to wait until the new year, methinks.