ABOUT THE PALATINE HILL
History of the Palatine Hill
The story of the Palatine begins with its myths and legends. The Ancient Romans believed that Romulus and Remus once lived on the hill, and even identified an Iron Age hut as the “Hut of Romulus” – the home of the founder of Rome. The remains of this hut, which was venerated by the Romans and repeatedly restored over the centuries, can still be seen on the south western corner of the Palatine today. Legends aside, the Palatine undoubtedly has ancient origins. According to some estimates, there were human settlements on the hill as early as the 10th century BC. The historian Livy claimed that the Palatine was the home of the first Romans, and for centuries it was regarded as one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the city.
The Palatine was desirable for a number of reasons – the mythical associations, the central location, the spectacular views of the city, the cooler temperatures in the summer, and the cleaner air. The residents of the Palatine got the best of both worlds, living in the center of the city without having to endure the noise and dirt of the streets below. During the Republican era, many wealthy Romans lived in luxurious villas on the Palatine. The hill later became home to Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, as well as Tiberius and Domitian. These emperors are responsible for most of the impressive ruins we see today, including the Flavian Palace, the Stadium of Domitian, and the House of Augustus. Other vast constructions, such as the Temple of Apollo (built on the orders of Augustus), and the mysterious decorative building known as the Septizodium, have disappeared, hardly leaving a trace of their existence.
In the Middle Ages various churches and convents were built on the hill, and in the Renaissance the Farnese family used part of the Palatine for their private botanical gardens. After the Renaissance, the Palatine remained largely untouched, until it was opened to the public as an archaeological site.
FACTS ABOUT THE PALATINE HILL
The Palatine plays an integral part in the myths and history of Rome. Here are some facts you may not have known:
The English word “palace”, the Italian “palazzo” and the French “palais” all owe their origins to the Palatine.
A fire-breathing giant named Cacus once lived in a cave the Palatine (or so they say!). This ferocious cannibal would regularly terrorize the residents of the neighboring Aventine Hill, until he was finally defeated by the hero Hercules.
Romulus (the mythical founder of Rome) and his twin brother Remus also lived in a cave on the Palatine. They were discovered on the Palatine and raised by a she-wolf. There was great excitement when an archaeologist claimed to have discovered the real location of the cave (known as the Lupercal), deep beneath the remains of the House of Livia, but many are skeptical.
The emperor Augustus was born on the Palatine, and later lived here in luxury as emperor with his wife Livia. The remains of these two houses (the House of Augustus and the House of Livia) have some of the most impressive ancient art in the city, and are beautifully decorated with colorful frescoes.
Caligula was killed on the Palatine. At the age of 28 he was assassinated in the cryptoporticus – a tunnel beneath the palaces on the Palatine. According to one account, he was stabbed up to 30 times, and his loyal guard responded by indiscriminately slaughtering anyone who was nearby, including innocent bystanders.
The first private botanical gardens in Europe were built by the Farnese family on the Palatine. The cardinal Alessandro Farnese purchased a section of the Palatine in 1550 and created beautiful botanical gardens, featuring a nymphaeum, an aviary, and a wealth of art. Although the gardens fell into disuse over time, some parts can still be visited today.
VISITING THE PALATINE HILL
How To Get to the Palatine Hill
The Palatine is located close to the Colosseum and Roman Forum, in the historic center of Rome. It’s also walking distance from the Circus Maximus and Piazza Venezia. The area around the Palatine is well-served by public transport, and is only a short walk from the metro station Colosseo (Line B). There are also lots of buses that stop near the Colosseum, such as the 75 and 87. If you’re planning on getting to the Palatine by bus or taxi, keep in mind that on Saturdays and Sundays, Via dei Fori Imperiali (the road connecting Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum) is mainly closed to traffic, so you may have to walk part of the way, but it is a very pleasurable walk and we actually recommend you walk on Via dei Fori Imperiali.
What To See On The Palatine Hill
Without a guide or guidebook, it can be difficult to make sense of the ruins of the Palatine. However, while some of the remains are little more than a pile of bricks, other buildings have been surprisingly well-preserved. These are the must-see sights on the Palatine:
The Flavian Palace (also known as the Domus Flavia or the Domus Augustana). This enormous palace was built during the reign of the emperor Domitian in 92 AD, and was later expanded by Septimius Severus. Although you can get close-up to the ruins on the Palatine, make sure you check out the view from the Circus Maximus too – when you’re standing below the Palatine, you really get a sense of the sheer size of the palace.
The Stadium of Domitian. There’s been some debate about the exact function of this building, as while it resembles a hippodrome, it may have been the emperor’s private garden. Whatever its purpose, this impressive construction was certainly part of the imperial palace.
The House of Augustus and House of Livia. The houses of the emperor Augustus and his wife Livia can be visited, but tickets need to be booked separately and in advance. The colorful frescoes are astonishingly beautiful and well-preserved, and you can even visit Augustus’s private study.
The Palatine Museum. This small museum contains a display of Roman statuary, including findings from the hippodrome. The information at the museum provides some valuable historical context, and some of the artefacts on display date back to the origins of Roman history.
The views! What can you see at the Palatine? Quite simply, Rome, like you’ve never seen it before. “Breathtaking” is an adjective that gets overused, but the spectacular panorama of the Roman Forum may leave you feeling temporarily short of breath.
Make the most of your trip with our insider tips:
- Plan your sightseeing carefully. If you’ve got a full day of sightseeing planned and are doing the Roman Forum and/or Colosseum on the same day, consider doing the Palatine during the hottest part of the day. Bring a packed lunch and make the most of the shade when it’s sweltering. There are drinkable water fountains on the way, so bring your bottle to refill.
- Go with a guide. Join our guided tour of the Palatine (including the Roman Forum and Colosseum) for a more in-depth experience, learning about the fascinating history of the hill and hearing stories of the emperors who lived and died here. The explanations of a knowledgeable guide will undoubtedly enrich your visit – you don’t want to be one of those tourists who wanders aimlessly around the hill, with no idea of what they’re looking at.
- Book tickets for the House of Augustus. The remains of the House of Augustus and the House of Livia are something of a secret, and many people visit the Palatine without realizing they even exist. When you visit the Palatine, a bit of planning pays off.
- Bring a camera, the view of Rome from here is stunning!