Palatine Hill: let’s start from Rome’s origins

Palatine Hill is the centermost of the famous seven hills of Rome. Sandwiched between the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus, the hill has one of Rome’s most spectacular sight, towering pine trees, majestic ruins and unforgettable views. On one side, you can admire the Circus Maximus from high up. 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.
The Palatine Hill may be overshadowed by the fame of its next-door neighbour, the Colosseum, but you wouldn’t want to miss it. You can’t understand Ancient Rome without visiting the Palatine and its remarkable history.

Rome’s birth place: Romolus and Remus

The hill has a strong link to Roman mythology, especially with Rome’s most important myth, the legend of Romulus and Remus. It is believed that on Palatine Hill, the twins Romulus and Remus were found in the Lupercal Cave by their four-legged shepherd mother, who raised them. This is where Romulus supposedly founded the city in 753 BC, as roman myth tolds, after he’d killed his twin Remus in a fit of rage.

Therefore, it was on this hill that the Roman Empire began.

Archaeological evidence, however, puts the establishment of a village here to the early Iron Age (around 830 BC). The Ancient Romans even identified an Iron Age hut as the “Hut of Romulus”, the home of the founder of Rome. The remains of this hut can still be seen on the south western corner of the Palatine today.

In Ancient Rome it was considered one of the most desirable neighborhood in the city, both from aristocrats and emperors. As it was close to the Roman Forum, the Palatine was the ancient city’s most exclusive neighbourhood. Since Rome’s Republican era, wealthy people lived in luxurious villas on the Palatine. So the hill became the fashionable place to live, due to the amazing views above the city.
It was also believed that the air was cleaner atop the hill and that those who lived on it were less likely to catch diseases, unlike the working class that lived in the bad air below.

Imperial Palaces

The emperor Augustus was born on the Palatine, and he lived here in opulent palaces 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.
The hill later became home to Tiberius and Domitian. These emperors, along with Augustus, left us most of the impressive ruins we see today, including the Flavian Palace, the Stadium of Domitian.
In the Middleage, due to Rome’s decline, the area fell into disrepair. Imperial Palaces fell dawn and churches and convents were built over the ruins.
Later, in the Renaissance, almost the entire hill was owned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who created a botanical garden on top of the ruins. Nowadays, the Palatine is opened to the public as one of Italy’s most important archaeological site.

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  • “Palatine” is the origin of the word “palace”. As well as “palace” in English, “palazzo” in Italian and “palais” in French also derive from “Palatine”.
  • Legend has it that the Palatine was once home to a fire-breathing giant called Cacus. Not far from the Hut of Romulus is an area known as “the steps of Cacus”. Cacus was a fire-breathing cannibal who lived in a cave on the Palatine. He regularly terrorized the residents of the neighbouring Aventine Hill until he was defeated by Hercules.
  • There was once an enormous temple dedicated to the god Apollo. During the construction of the House of Augustus, a lightning struck the interior of the villa. Viewing this as an omen, Augustus decided to build the Temple of Apollo Palatinus. This grand temple was directly connected to the House of Augustus and it had a rooftop lined with statues. Unfortunately, unlike the well-preserved villa, virtually nothing is left of the temple.
  • Caligula was assassinated on the Palatine. The Praetorian Guards and senators conspired to have the emperor assassinated. Caligula was only 28 when he was attacked in the Cryptoporticus beneath the imperial palaces on the Palatine. Rumors has that Caligula was stabbed to death 30 times. Caligula’s uncle Claudius was found hiding behind a curtain in the palace, and became emperor shortly afterward.