Decaying ruins, wildflowers, umbrella pine trees…elements of the romantic beauty of Palatine Hill. The hill that gave us the term palace is one of the most beautiful places in all of Roma. A combo ticket grants you entry to this Rome attraction, as well as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. I recommend entering just past the Arch of Constantine. That entrance lets you scale the summit as Roman elites once did. Passing by colossal aqueducts that once let water flow to the palatial estates on the hill, you are struck by how big everything was in ancient Rome.
Legend has it that Palatine Hill played an important role in Rome’s past. A horrid king, Amulius, ordered the death of two baby twins, Romulus and Remus, because he didn’t want them to grow up and claim the throne. They were to be thrown in the Tiber River and drowned, but a servant placed them in a basket which carried them safely down the river. The basket caught by a tree at the base of Palatine Hill.The twins were kept alive by a she-wolf that suckled them giving them nourishment until a shepherd came along and gave them a home. After the boys grew up they killed Amulius and each founded a new city—Romulus founded his on Palatine Hill and Remus started his on Aventine Hill. Romulus killed Remus and, according to Livy, Roma was born on Palatine Hill on April 21, 753 BC. Indeed, archaeological evidence suggests that a village was located on the area where legend states that Romulus lived. Today, you can visit the outline of Iron Age huts—called the Romulean huts (an awning covers holes which once held the wooden posts of the round huts).
Because of its proximity to the river, Palatine Hill and the surrounding area grew quickly. The summit provided shelter from flooding and allowed for easier defense. Additionally, the area had spiritual connotations because certain cults had started there or had designated it sacred land. In late Republican times, Palatine Hill was a popular neighborhood for ruling elites. Augustus, the first emperor, made it an important part of imperial Rome by building his palace next to Romulus’ hut, as well as building a temple to Apollo close by. Subsequent rulers made Palatine Hill their home with Tiberius creating the first massive residence, Domus Tiberiana, and Nero building his golden palace there—the Domus Aurea. As the Roman Empire started to crumble, Palatine Hill remained the seat of emperors but lost much of its political power. In the 11th and 12th centuries AD, it was turned into a fortress. Palatine Hill had a brief heyday during the Renaissance, but then the frescoed walls and mosaic floors of its palaces were plundered for other building projects. Gradually, it turned into the haunting beauty it is today.
If you plan to go without a tour guide, I would highly recommend securing a book of the area with a map. For around 10€, you can purchase a guidebook with map onsite. Additionally, Rick Steves’ Rome travel guide has a walking tour of Palatine Hill with a hand-drawn map that is surprisingly accurate.
I find Palatine Hill to be one of the loveliest areas in all of Rome. To explore it, plan on spending a couple of hours. You will want to bring a bottle of water…and maybe a picnic lunch. The hill has plenty of quiet areas to enjoy the beautiful view and survey the city as Roman elites did. Here are some places to see if you can (they are coordinated with a map from Rome’s archaeological association link here):
- Iron Age huts (10-7th centuries BC)–#30 on the map
- Temple of Magna Mater (191 BC)–#31
- House of Augustus and House of Livia (1st century BC)—#32—these can only be viewed with a special ticket. See http://www.coopculture.it/heritage.cfm?id=19 for tickets.
- Domus Flavia (1st-4th centuries AD)—#28
- Domus Augustana (1st-4th centuries AD)—#26—make sure you check out the stadium (stadio) area—#25
- Domus Severiana (2nd century AD)—#23—check out the Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) in front
- Farnese Gardens (1550 AD)—#33
- Barberini Vineyard and churches (15-17th centuries AD)—looking at the map they are the area to the right of the Farnese Gardens
- Palatine Museum—#27
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