Palatine hills is a four-sided plateau rising 131 feet (40 meters) south of the Forum in Rome and 168 feet (51 meters) above sea level. It has a circumference of 5,700 feet (1,740 meters).
The Palatine hill towers 40 meters over the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus, the ruins of its ancient palaces still visible from a distance. Centre of the Seven Hills it was once the home of emperors and the site of temples, and was at the center of Rome’s most important myth – the legend of Romulus and Remus. The associations with ancient legends and imperial power made the Palatine one of the most important places in Rome. It was believed to be the location of the Lupercal (the cave where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf).
You can’t understand Ancient Rome without understanding something of the Palatine and its remarkable history. The city of Rome was founded on the Palatine, where archaeological discoveries range from prehistoric remains dated 10th century BC to the ruins of imperial buildings. An aristocratic residential area since the republican time, the hill became the exclusive domain of emperors. Today, the Palatine is an extensive archaeological site, where the ruins of the Stadium of Domitian, the ruins of the palaces of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (14 – 37 AD) and Domitian (81 – 96 AD) can still be seen, along with the legendary Hut of Romulus. The remains of the House of Augustus and the House of Livia have recently been opened to the public, and are worth visiting for their amazing, well-preserved frescoes.
The Palatine is also something of a green heaven. Wild flowers grow among the ruins, and you might spot a rabbit scampering across the hill. The Palatine is peaceful, the crowded and noisy city seems so far away. In Ancient Rome it was considered one of the most desirable neighborhood in the city, and was the home of aristocrats and emperors. The Palatine was attractive for a number of reasons – the central location, the spectacular views of the city, the cooler temperatures in the summer, and the cleaner air. The residents of the Palatine got the best of both worlds, living in the center of the city without having to endure the noise and dirt of the streets below. During the Republican era (c.509 BC – 44 BC), many wealthy Romans lived in luxurious villas on the Palatine. The emperor Augustus was born on the Palatine, and later lived here in luxury as emperor 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.s. The emperors are responsible for most of the impressive ruins we see today. Other vast constructions, such as the Temple of Apollo (built on the orders of Augustus), and the mysterious decorative building known as the Septizodium, have disappeared, hardly leaving a trace of their existence.
In the Middle Ages various churches and convents were built on the hill, and in the Renaissance the Farnese family used part of the Palatine for their private botanical gardens. After the Renaissance, the Palatine remained largely untouched, until it was opened to the public as an archaeological site.
Many influent Romans of the Republican period (c.509 BC – 44 BC) had their residences there.
From the start of the Empire (27 BC) it became the city’s aristocratic quarter. The emperor Augustus was born on the Palatine, and later lived here in luxury as emperor 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 gradually became the exclusive domain of emperors; the ruins of the palaces of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (14 – 37 AD) and Domitian (81 – 96 AD) can still be seen.
The Palatine is topographically intricate and scenically attractive, despite a general starkness that is allayed by the artistically landscaped vegetation. Level upon level of multistory buildings has been built on previous sites and structures.
The story of the Palatine begins with its myths and legends. The Ancient Romans believed that Romulus and Remus once lived on the hill, and even identified an Iron Age hut as the “Hut of Romulus” – the home of the founder of Rome. The remains of this hut, which was venerated by the Romans and repeatedly restored over the centuries, can still be seen on the south western corner of the Palatine today.
According to ancient Roman legend, the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars, were abandoned as infants on the flooding Tiber River and were deposited by the receding waters at the foot of the Palatine. The legend purports that they were nurtured by a she-wolf whose cave, or Lupercal, was on the slopes of the Palatine and that they were raised by a shepherd who kept his flocks on the slopes of the Palatine, the centre from and around which Rome grew. Though the cave was long thought to be lost, in 2007 a team of archaeologists identified a vaulted sanctuary—buried 52 feet (16 meters) inside Palatine Hill—believed to be the ancient site Romans revered as the Lupercal.
The Palatine consisted originally of three summits: the Germalus to the north; the Velia, a kind of isthmus that linked the Palatine to the neighboring Esquiline Hill; and the Palatium to the south. The Palatium was the highest of the summits and later gave its name to the entire hill.
With the fall of the empire, the architecture upon the Palatine, too, fell into disrepair. In the Middle Ages various churches and convents were built on the hill, and in the Renaissance the Farnese family used part of the Palatine for their private botanical gardens, the first in Europe. Although the gardens fell into disuse over time, some parts can still be visited today.After the Renaissance, the Palatine remained largely untouched, until it was opened to the public as an archaeological site.
Caligula was killed on the Palatine. At the age of 28 he was assassinated in the cryptoporticus – a tunnel beneath the palaces on the Palatine. According to one account, he was stabbed up to 30 times, and his loyal guard responded by indiscriminately slaughtering anyone who was nearby, including innocent bystanders.
THE HOUSE OF AUGUSTUS AND LIVIA
Many of the Roman Empire’s most powerful men built outlandishly opulent palaces. It’s ironic then that the man who paved the way for their excesses actually lived in what was, by the standards of a day, a humble home. Instead of building a huge villa, Augustus bought a relatively small one on the Palatine Hill. His actions held immense symbolic importance in that they supported his favorite pretense that he was the first among equals (and not an autocratic dictator). They also put him very close to the legendary hut of Romulus, although archeologists have yet to reveal any actual evidence of such a hut. As he consolidated the power of the Roman Empire, along with his own powers, the people told stories of how he slept in the same small, spartan room every night, neglecting to even use much of his own house.
The apartments that Augustus designated for his wife, Livia, were slightly larger and more luxurious, featuring higher arches and more rooms. Livia was actually Augustus’ second wife. They both divorced in order to marry each other, though whether this was because of unquenchable love, or for more political reasons remains a matter of debate. Either way, Augustus lavished a bit more comfort on his wife than he did on himself. Whereas the Casa di Augusto is naked of any marble adornments – another conspicuous modesty – the Casa di Livia features beautiful marble floors. During the excavation of both houses pipes in the walls pointed to the fact that they actually had central heating.
Both houses are immensely well-preserved and taken together form the rarest of archeological sites: ruins that feel like a modern home. Walking through the rooms and corridors it feels as if the inhabitants have simply stepped out for the afternoon and will soon return home to resume life as
One area where Augustus did not skimp was the artwork. He hired the best painters of the day to fresco both his and Livia’s houses with beautiful scenes incorporating realistic (though mathematically incorrect) perspective. They form a proto-trompe l’oeil that turns gray plaster into visions of theatrical shows and country landscapes. Perhaps best of all, they are still in the exact positions in which they were painted. Although they cracked and fell off over time, the pieces were excellently preserved and when the houses were excavated the archeologists were able to simply collect them, clean them off, and put them back together on the walls, piece by piece. Seeing the house today offers you the chance to experience these paintings just as Augustus did over 2,000 years ago.