The Ultimate Guide to The Palatine Hill
An off-the-beaten-track trip to Rome wouldn’t be complete without exploring the Palatine Hill. Overlooking the Circus Maximus, and the Roman Forum, sits this picturesque hill, dotted with ancient palaces from the past.
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. And, 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. Palatine Hill looks out over the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Aventine Hill, and the Capitoline Hill, giving off views as pretty as a postcard.
WHAT IS THE PALATINE HILL
Out of Rome’s seven hills, Palatine is the most famous. It dates all the way back to ancient Rome, when it was one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the town. Back in those times, Palatine Hill is where one would find emperors and aristocrats going 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 Romulus and Remus.
Now, 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 frescoes that have been very well-preserved. Palatine Hill can be found next to the Roman Forum, and if you buy tickets, you’ll get admission into both.
PALATINE HILL HISTORY
The legends surrounding the area is where the history really begins. During ancient times, the Romans believed that Romulus and Remus 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 was restored over and can still be seen today by visitors. Aside from the mythical stories, this hill has proved to have 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.
It garnered so much love and attention for quite a few reasons. The views of the city have always been incredible from Palatine Hill, and paired with the associations of mythical history, as well as the central location, clean air, and cool temperatures during the summer, it became a hot spot. For those living in Palatine Hill, there was access to the culture of the city without the dirt and crowds. One of the best times in history to be living in this area was during the Republican era, when 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, have 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 Palatine Hill was left vacant, and remained that way for years before being re-opened as an archeological site.
PALATINE HILL FACTS
- The story goes, that a giant who breathed fire once resided on Palatine. His name was Cacus and the stories say 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 PALATINE HILL
Located in Rome’s historic center, 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 walkable, and is close to the Colosseo metro station, also known as Line B. 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.
PALATINE HILL TICKETS
Tickets for Palatine Hill will cost 12 Euros. However, the price also includes admission to the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.
There are three different options for booking a ticket:
- Book a Tour: A guided tour of Palatine Hill will allow you to avoid any queues and stress over buying your ticket. You can opt for a group tour of the three attractions or a private tour for you and your group. In addition to these attractions, a guided tour will give you access to the Colosseum Underground as well.
- Book Online: Buying your tickets online can save you time and worry that may come with waiting in the queue. Make sure to read all of the information provided about the ticket, as you may still need to visit the ticket desk to have it scanned once you arrive. At the booth, they may give you a specific time to come back in order to tour the area. You will be required to print the ticket out, or show it on your smartphone.
- Ticket Office: While you can get in the queue for the Colosseum to buy tickets for Palatine Hill, try to avoid this because it’s much longer. Instead, try the ticket desk that is located on Via di San Gregorio, or the one near the Roman Forum in Largo Salaria Vecchia. This one can be found at the crossroads between Via Cavour and Via dei Fori Imperiali.
WHAT TO SEE WHEN VISITING PALATINE HILL
Palatine Hill can be difficult to navigate if you don’t visit with a guidebook or a guide. While some of the highlights can be seen right away, others are just a mound of bricks with no significance unless you have someone or something to educate you on it. So, if you’re visiting, here are some of the top things on Palatine Hill to see.
This one is obvious, and a great place to start because it’s pretty hard to miss the stunning views from Palatine Hill. The best thing to look at is Rome; you won’t get better views of the city than here. The Roman Forum down below is of particular beauty to those viewing it from the hill. Photographers will particularly love this spot, as some of the best shots can be had 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. However, don’t let the extra cost scare you off. 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 an expert on Roman history.
The Flavian Palace:
Built in 92 AD during Emperor Domitian’s reign, this giant palace was then 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.
Insider Tips For Palatine Hill:
- Make sure to bring a camera. The views and the ruins are stunning, so you may 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 of everyone else.
- Get a tour guide. If you want a really in-depth experience, you should consider hiring a tour guide. They’ll be able to give you so much more history and context than you would get just wandering around yourself. They will tell you stories about the emperors who used to live there, answer your questions, and give you details about everything you’re looking at 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 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 a bit off the beaten track but is full of interesting history and beautiful views. Make your trip to Rome a little bit different this year.