The Palatine may be overshadowed by the fame of its next-door neighbor, the Colosseum, and overlooked by many tour companies in Rome, but you wouldn’t want to miss it. No visit to Rome is complete without a thorough exploration of the ancient city, including the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. This majestic hill towers over the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus, the ruins of its ancient palaces still visible from a distance. It was once the home of emperors and the site of temples, and was at the center of Rome’s most important myth – the legend of Romulus and Remus. You can’t understand Ancient Rome without understanding something of the Palatine and its remarkable history. The Palatine is also something of a green haven. Wild flowers grow among the ruins, and you might spot a rabbit scampering across the hill. Come here for a picnic, or to seek shade beneath the trees in the Farnese Gardens. Even at the height of the tourist season, the Palatine is surprisingly peaceful, so it’s a good place to escape the crowds. And then there are the views – perhaps the best in Rome. On one side, you can admire the Circus Maximus from high up, and look across to the Aventine Hill on the other side of the valley. But the most spectacular views are on the other side, where you can see the labyrinthine ruins of the Roman Forum in their entirety, the Colosseum, and the Capitoline Hill. For a fresh perspective on Rome and its history, there’s no better place than the Palatine.
ABOUT THE PALATINE HILL
WHAT IS THE PALATINE HILL
The Palatine is the most famous of Rome’s seven hills. In Ancient Rome it was considered one of the most desirable neighborhood in the city, and was the home of aristocrats and emperors. It was also believed to be the location of the Lupercal (the cave where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf). These associations with ancient legends and imperial power made the Palatine one of the most important places in Rome. Today, the Palatine is an extensive archaeological site, where the ruins of the Flavian Palace and Stadium of Domitian can still be seen, along with the legendary Hut of Romulus. The remains of the House of Augustus and the House of Livia have also recently been opened to the public, and are worth visiting for their amazing, well-preserved frescoes. The Palatine is next to the Roman Forum and Colosseum, and a ticket for one site includes admission to the other two, so it makes sense to visit at least two sites on the same day.
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.
Tickets for the Palatine Hill
Tickets for the Palatine cost €12 and include admission to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
- A – BOOK ONLINE — The simplest way to avoid the queues at the ticket desk is to buy your tickets in advance online. When you purchase your ticket, make sure to read the small print, as you may still need to visit the ticket desk, in order to have your order code scanned – you’ll then be given a specific time slot and ticket. Print your tickets at home, and bring them to the Palatine.
- B – TICKET OFFICE — Don’t make the mistake of joining the queue for the ticket desk at the Colosseum. Although you can buy Palatine tickets at the Colosseum, we’d recommend the ticket desk at the Palatine, on Via di San Gregorio, or near the Roman Forum, in Largo Salaria Vecchia at the crossroad between Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Cavour. The queues are much shorter.
- C – BOOK A TOUR (recommended) — If you go on a guided tour of the Palatine, you won’t have to worry about tickets or queues. There are shared and private tours of the Palatine, including the Colosseum and Roman Forum. On some tours, in addition to the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum you can also see the Colosseum Underground. you can also visit the You’ll get to skip the lines and explore the heart of Ancient Rome with an expert.
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.
- On Wednesdays, with the exception of late July and August, the Pope holds an audience at St Peters Basilica. You can get tickets to see the Pope give a Papal Audience or Papal Mass for free. It takes place in St Peter’s Square. If you just want to see the Basilica, then avoid Wednesdays, as you won’t be allowed in until the papal audience has finished.
- The Vatican museum is a ten-minute walk away from St Peter’s Basilica, and is worthwhile visiting. There is a charge for entry, however it is free on the last Sunday of every month from 9:00 to 13:45.
- Be very careful with your belongings. There are lots of pickpockets around Vatican City, preying on distracted tourists. The number 64 bus has got a reputation for being particularly bad, as it is mainly used by tourists.
- As mentioned earlier, make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing. You don’t want to reach the front of the queue only to not be allowed in. If it is too hot you could always take a scarf with you to drape over your shoulders.
- If you have a fear of heights, are claustrophobic or have a heart condition then you may wish to avoid climbing the 554 stairs to the top of the Basilica.
- Some tourists think that the queue for St Peter’s Basilica will also grant them access to the Sistine Chapel. This is not the case; the Sistine Chapel is accessible through the Vatican Museums. Free entry is granted to the museum on the last Sunday of each month and on world tourism day (September 27th).
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!