Palatine Hill, Rome

Of Rome’s seven hills, the most famous, and central is Palatine Hill. Home to the oldest part of the city of Rome, this historic gem provides not only a fascinating look into Rome’s past but also a mesmerizing view of the Rome of today.

Palatine Hill, Rome

Overlooking the Roman Forum, and the Circus Maximus as well as providing a panoramic view of Rome, it’s no wonder this is one of the very best destinations in the city.

While most people focus on the nearby Colosseum, few remember to pay a visit to this sensational archaeological site. Numerous ruins can be found on Palatine Hill, including the Flavian Palace and the Stadium of Domitian. Though this may be outside of the Vatican city, you can also find some remarkable frescoes here in the houses of Augustus and Livia.

Emperors Augustus, Tiberius, and Domitian all lived on Palatine Hill Hilland left behind the majority of the ruins that we can now explore. This area was of such significance to leaders and royalty that the word ‘palace’ originates from this area.

The History of Palatine Hill

The Palatine Hill was favoured by wealthy Romans of the past. With its central location, cleaner air, and views of the city, it was certainly a prime location. Luxurious villas would have adorned its sides allowing its residents to be a part of the city without having to tolerate its busy streets, noise, and dirt. The hill became the home of many notable Romans that constructed grand buildings, the ruins of which are still found on the hill today.

Palatine has a rich mythological history, telling the story of Romulus and Remus. The twin brothers are said to have lived in a cave on the hill having been raised by a she-wolf. An archaeologist once claimed to have discovered the cave (called the Lupercal) beneath the House of Livia, but this theory is widely criticised. Romulus is the so-called ‘founder of Rome’ after he killed Remus following disagreements about founding the city. The place where he was rumoured to have lived, The legendary Hut of Romulus, can still be viewed on Palatine Hill. While the story behind the Hut of Romulus may be mythological, the one-room building has been dated back to as early as the 8th Century BC and it is estimated that there were human settlements on the hill as early at the 10th century BC.

Another legendary tale from the hill is that of Cacus, the fire breathing giant who lived in a cave on Palatine. Though the story goes that the hero Hercules defeated him, his name was given to the steps of Cacus, very near to the Hut of Romulus.

The House of Augustus and the House of Livia

House of Augustus

Since Palatine Hill was widely considered to have been the very first place that people lived in Rome, it makes sense that it would then develop ahead of other areas to become the most prestigious neighborhood. The House of Augustus sits on top of Palatine Hill and was the home to Rome’s first ever Emperor, Augustus. The original building belonged to an orator named Hortensio but it was rebuilt and expanded over the following years. During the construction of the House of Augustus, the building was struck by lightning which Augustus saw as a terrible omen. This led the Emperor to build the Temple of Apollo Palatinus in to appease the gods. Augustus’s wife, Livia, also has a house on the hill and these two houses contain some of the best examples of ancient art in Rome. The frescoes found within are stunning and many can still be viewed today.

The House of Livia was excavated in the 19th Century. During excavation, a lead pipe labelled ‘IVLIA AVGVSTA’ was discovered and identified the ruins as belonging to her house. The frescos within depict mythological and nature scenes and are so intricate in detail and beautifully preserved that you can imagine what the rooms would have looked like in their prime. The reason the frescoes are so well preserved is that the rooms remained underground for centuries, being protected from changing conditions and weather that could have faded them.

Other important sites at Palatine Hill

Flavian Palace

The Flavian Palace was built by Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus in 92 AD and was later added to by Septimus Severus. This site contains the ruins of large rooms where grand functions were held and the remaining shell of the building is an impressive sight. Connected to Domitian’s residence was the Hippodrome of Domitian. It is not entirely known what this site was used for but it likely that it showcased chariot races. The building was rectangular and lined with pillars with a stand at one end from which the emperor could watch the dramatic events take place.

A short walk away is the Farnese gardens, the first ever botanical gardens in Europe. In 1550 the wealthy cardinal Alessandro Farnese bought a piece of land on Palatine Hill to build a private botanical garden. Within the garden he planted flowers and plants from all over Italy and also included a nymphaeum (a monument to the nymphs), frescoes, sculptures, and aviary. The gardens have recently been restored and have reopened to the public. Stroll amongst the beautiful flora and fauna and take in the beautiful views over Rome.

A visit to Palatine Hill will be a highlight of your visit to Rome, and to explore the ruins and learn of the history, both mythological and factual, is an experience like no other. The site is remarkably peaceful and is a lovely place to take a picnic whilst you relax away from the city crowds. Look out towards the Circus Maximus and the Aventine Hill on one side and across to the spectacular Roman Forum on the other. You will see Rome in a new, beautiful way with its vibrant, modern culture living side-by-side with its rich past.

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