Palatino

sights / Historic

Palatino information

Location
Rome , Italy
Address
Via di San Gregorio 30 & Via Sacra
Telephone
+390 6 3996 7700
Getting there
Metro: Colosseo
More information
www.coopculture.it
Prices
adult/reduced incl Colosseum & Roman Forum €12/7.50
Opening hours
8.30am-1hr before sunset
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Sandwiched between the Roman Forum and the Circo Massimo, the Palatino (Palatine Hill) is an atmospheric area of towering pine trees, majestic ruins and memorable views. It was here that Romulus supposedly founded the city in 753 BC and Rome's emperors lived in unabashed luxury. Look out for the stadio (stadium), the ruins of the Domus Flavia (imperial palace), and grandstand views over the Roman Forum from the Orti Farnesiani .

Roman myth holds that Romulus established Rome on the Palatino after he'd killed his twin Remus in a fit of anger. Archaeological evidence clearly can't prove this, but it has dated human habitation here to the 8th century BC.

As the most central of Rome's seven hills, and because it was close to the Roman Forum, the Palatino was the ancient city's most exclusive neighbourhood. The emperor Augustus lived here all his life and successive emperors built increasingly opulent palaces. But after Rome's decline it fell into disrepair, and in the Middle Ages churches and castles were built over the ruins. During the Renaissance, members of wealthy families established gardens on the hill.

Most of the Palatino as it appears today is covered by the ruins of Emperor Domitian's vast complex, which served as the main imperial palace for 300 years. Divided into the Domus Flavia, Domus Augustana, and a stadio , it was built in the 1st century AD.

On entering the complex from Via di San Gregorio, head uphill until you come to the first recognisable construction, the stadio . This sunken area, which was part of the main imperial palace, was probably used by the emperors for private games and events. To the southeast of the stadium are the remains of a complex built by Septimius Severus, comprising baths (the Terme di Settimio Severo ) and a palace (the Domus Severiana ) where, if they're open, you can visit the Arcate Severiane , a series of arches built to facilitate further development.

On the other side of the stadio are the ruins of the huge Domus Augustana , the emperor's private quarters in the imperial palace. It was built on two levels, with rooms leading off a peristilio (peristyle or porticoed courtyard) on each floor. You can't get down to the lower level, but from above you can see the basin of a big, square fountain and beyond it rooms that were originally paved with coloured marble. In 2007 a mosaic-covered vaulted cavern was discovered more than 15m beneath the Domus. Some claim this is the Lupercale, a cave believed by ancient Romans to be where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a wolf.

The grey building next to the Domus Augustana houses the Museo Palatino , a small museum dedicated to the history of the area. Archaeological artefacts on show include a beautiful 1st-century bronze, the Erma di Canefora, and a celebrated 3rd-century graffito depicting a man with a donkey's head on the cross.

North of the museum is the Domus Flavia , the public part of the palace complex. This was centred on a grand columned peristyle – the grassy area you see with the base of an octagonal fountain – off which the main halls led. To the north was the emperor's throne room; to the west, a second big hall that the emperor used to meet his advisers; and to the south, a large banqueting hall, the triclinium .

Near the Domus, the Casa di Augusto , Augustus' private residence, features some superb frescoes in vivid reds, yellows and blues. Further illustrations adorn the Casa di Livia , the separate home of Augustus' wife Livia. Built around an atrium leading onto what were once reception rooms, the Casa is frescoed with depictions of mythological scenes, landscapes, fruits and flowers.

Behind the Casa di Augusto are the Capanne Romulee , where it's thought Romulus and Remus were brought up by a local shepherd called Faustulus.

Northeast of the Casa di Livia lies the criptoportico , a 128m tunnel where Caligula was thought to have been murdered, and which Nero later used to connect his Domus Aurea with the Palatino. Lit by a series of windows, it's now used to stage temporary exhibitions.

The area west of this was once Tiberius' palace, the Domus Tiberiana, but is now the site of the 16th-century Orti Farnesiani , one of Europe's earliest botanical gardens. A viewing balcony at the northern end of the garden commands breathtaking views over the Roman Forum.