A Visitors Guide to The Palatine Hill

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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trip to Rome wouldn’t be complete without exploring The Palatine Hill. This picturesque hill, dotted with ancient palaces from the past, sits overlooking the Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum. 

The site is steeped in history, as it once served as the home to majestic temples and royal figures. It’s even surrounded by the legend of Remus and Romulus, making it a significant part of the local history. Aside from its historical roots, the modern-day hill is a green retreat for nature lovers who want to break away from city life. Visitors are encouraged to pack a picnic and sit under the shady trees that surround the on-site garden.

While enjoying lunch among the wildflowers, visitors will have some of the most incredible views of Rome. The Palatine Hill looks out over the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Aventine Hill, and the Capitoline Hill, with views that are as pretty as a postcard.

WHAT IS THE PALATINE HILL

Of Rome’s seven hills, Palatine is the most famous. It dates back to ancient Rome when it was one of the most prestigious neighborhoods. The Palatine Hill is where emperors and aristocrats would go about their day. Part of its popularity stemmed from the belief that it was the location of Lupercal. For those who are familiar with mythology, this was the cave where the she-wolf was said to have found Remus and Romulus.

The Palatine Hill is considered an archeological site, famously featuring the Stadium of Domitian, the Hut of Romulus, and the Flavian Palace. Recently opened to the public are the remains of the House of Livia and the House of Augustus, which are popular for their well-preserved frescoes. The Palatine Hill can be found next to the Roman Forum, and if you buy tickets you’ll get admission into both.

THE PALATINE HILL HISTORY

The legends surrounding the area is where the history really begins. During ancient times, the Romans believed that Remus and Romulus resided on this hill. They even named a particular hut as being the home of Romulus, the supposed founder of Rome. Over the years, this hut has been restored and can still be seen today by visitors.

Aside from the mythical stories, The Palatine Hill has an ancient history. In fact, human settlements on the hill have dated back to the 10th Century BC. Historians have called Palatine the very first home of the Romans, and it has been known over time to be one of the most prestigious settlements in Roman history.

The views of the city from The Palatine Hill are incredible and, paired with the mythical history, the central location, clean air, and cool temperatures during the summer, it became a popular very location. During the Republican era, the hill was filled with luxurious villas. Years later, Palatine became home to the very first emperor, Augustus, as well as Domitian and Tiberius. It was the emperors who built most of what is now considered the ruins that visitors come to see today. Many well-known buildings, like the Temple of Apollo and the Septizodium, vanished without a trace over time.

It was during the Middle Ages that convents and churches were constructed on the hill, and a famous family, the Farneses, turned part of the hill into botanical gardens during the Renaissance period. It was after this period that The Palatine Hill was left vacant and remained that way for years before being re-opened as an archeological site.

ABOUT THE PALATINE HILL

  • The story is told that a giant who breathed fire once resided on Palatine. His name was Cacus and legend is that he lived in a cave and would terrorize the neighboring settlement of Aventine Hill. Apparently, he was a cannibal and was eventually defeated by Hercules.
  • The origins of the English word, palace, the French word, palais, and the Italian word, palazzo, all came from Palatine.
  • The Farnese family built Europe’s first botanical gardens on Palatine Hill. Alessandro Farnese, the cardinal, bought the land back in 1550 and turned it into the gardens. They featured an aviary, an art collection, and a nymphaeum. Over time, the gardens fell apart, however, there are small sections that can still be seen today.
  • Mythical legend says that the founder of Rome, Romulus, and his twin brother, Remus, lived on Palatine in a cave. The story says that a she-wolf discovered them living here and decided to raise them. An archeologist once claimed to have found the real cave located under the House of Livia, but many people still remain skeptical.
  • At the age of 28, it’s said that Caligula was killed on Palatine Hill. The story goes that he was in a tunnel under one of the Palatine palaces and was stabbed around 30 times. His guard then proceeded to kill anyone who was nearby, even those who were innocent.
  • Augustus, the original Roman emperor, was said to be born on Palatine. Adopting a life of luxury, him and his wife, Livia, lived the rest of their lives there together. Both of their houses can still be seen by visitors today; the House of Augustus and the House of Livia.

HOW TO GET TO THE PALATINE HILL

Located in Rome’s historic center, The Palatine Hill can be found in close proximity to the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. From Palatine, visitors can also walk to Piazza Venezia, as well as Circus Maximus. The entire area is known for being very walkable.

If you would rather take the bus, there are plenty of them that stop in the area, such as 87 and 75. Visitors can also take a taxi to reach Palatine Hill, however, on Saturday and Sunday, the road that connects the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, is closed and may require you to do a bit of walking.

WHAT TO SEE WHEN VISITING THE PALATINE HILL

The Palatine Hill can be difficult to navigate if you don’t visit with a guidebook or a local guide. While some of the highlights can be seen right away, others appear to just be a mound of bricks unless you have someone who can educate you about the history. If you’re visiting, here are some of the things that you will see.

The Views:

This one is obvious, and a great place to start because it’s pretty hard to miss the stunning views from The Palatine Hill. You won’t get better views of the city of Rome from here. The Roman Forum, below, is particularly spectacular when viewed from the hill. Photographers love this spot, as some of the best shots are taken from this vantage point.

The House of Augustus and The House of Livia:

These well-preserved homes should be booked separately if you want to tour them. They were once the homes of the emperor Augustus, and his wife Livia, and have been extremely well-preserved. They feature colorful frescoes and a well-intact private study that used to be that of Augustus.

The Palatine Museum:

This is a great place to visit, especially if you don’t have a guide. You can learn a lot about the site’s history while checking out some artifacts. Visitors can see what was found from the hippodrome, as well as a display of the Roman statuary. Before leaving, you’ll be filled with knowledge of Roman history.

The Flavian Palace:

Built in 92 AD during Emperor Domitian’s reign, this giant palace was expanded upon by Septimius Severus. While on Palatine Hill, you can get pretty close to the ruins, however, the best views come from down below near the Roman Forum.

The Stadium of Domitian:

No one is exactly sure of the exact function for this building. It’s been widely debated, with some thinking that it resembled the hippodrome, and others believing that it could have been the private garden of the emperor. Despite its purpose, historians know that the structure was definitely part of the imperial palace.

Tips for Visiting The Palatine Hill:

  • Bring a camera. The views and the ruins are stunning, and you will be disappointed if you don’t capture it on camera.
  • Make sure to carefully plan your sightseeing day. If you happen to be seeing the Roman Form and the Colosseum on the same day, consider doing the Palatine Hill during the hottest time of day. Because of its location, it’s much cooler. If you can, pack a picnic lunch that you can eat under the shady trees atop the Palatine Hill. There are also water fountains available so make sure to bring a reusable water bottle to fill up.
  • Make sure to book tickets for the House of Augustus. Not that many people know about the House of Livia and House of Augustus, and when they get to the top, they wish they would have. If you book tickets in advance, you’ll be a step ahead.
  • Book a tour with a local guide. If you want a really in-depth experience, we can arrange a private guide for your tour. They’ll give you much more history and context and will tell you stories, answer questions, and give you details so that you can really appreciate it fully.
  • Do a little background research before you go. Whether you are visiting with a tour guide or not, it’s a good idea to learn a little bit about The Palatine Hill before you go. Some background knowledge can help you understand what you’re seeing once you arrive and deepen your appreciation for the site.

If you’re planning an upcoming trip to Rome, don’t let the Palatine Hill skip your itinerary. This site is full of interesting history and beautiful views. Make your trip to Rome a little bit different this year.

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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