Palatine Hill




Rome’s Palatine Hill stands in the centre of the ring formed by the other six hills on which the city was built. It stands some 250 feet above the surrounding land and is encircled now by the ancient Roman monuments of the Circus Maximus, the Forums, the Colosseum, and the Arch of Constantine. Its importance is reflected in the fact that the word “palace” is derived from it.


Habitation of the Palatine Hill however goes back to 1000 BCE, five centuries before the formation of the Roman Republic, and habitation continued throughout the duration of the Roman Empire.


When Octavian, the heir of Julius Caesar, wrenched the control of Rome out of the hands of the senate, having raised Julius to a deity, took on the name of Augustus in preference to Romulus, he thought it would ally him to the gods. Augustus, who considered himself the founder of “New Rome,” was responsible for the first archaeological excavation on the hill, finding Bronze Age artefacts of the original town.


It is perhaps significant that when Augustus’ house was excavated in 2007, the cave where according to legend Romulus and Remus were raised by the she wolf is said to have been found. The cave however is decorated in a style contemporary with Augustus, and some opinion think it is a triclinium or nymphaeum from the time of Nero.


The legend of the founding of Rome and that of Romulus and Remus however is quite complicated. The cave where they lived on the Palatine Hill is known as the Lupercal, the cave of the wolf, where the festival of Lupercalia was enacted to cleanse and give fertility to its participants, who ran through the streets naked whilst being whipped. Romulus and Remus killed their uncle to seize power, and then Romulus killed Remus, thus preventing the city being called “Remu.”


The whole basis of Roman culture is credited to the Greek Euander who is said to have brought the law, the alphabet, and the Greek pantheon to Italy, along with the festival of Lupercalia, from Arcadia. Euander was said to be the son of the god Mercury and the goddess Carmenta, who came from Troy with a group of migrants to settle in Italy, naming his new city on the hill, Pallantium.


The nocturnal Greek rite of passage for young men known as Lykaia was performed on Wolf Mountain. It appears to have included human sacrifice and cannibalism leading to lycanthropy. Excavations of the site have apparently shown links to the Minoan bull cult.


The massive site of the Palatine Hill is full of archaeology, with layer upon layer of buildings built one above the other by successive generations, including a massive rebuilding following the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE.


Outstanding amongst surviving buildings is the Palace of Septimius Severus, a massive structure overlooking the valley and the site of the Circus Maximus. Alongside this he built a large bath complex, although it is dwarfed by the Baths of Caracalla built by his son to the south of the Palatine Hill. To the north of the palace is the Circus or Hippodrome of Domitian thought to have been a running track but probably built originally as an oval garden. Domitian did however build a larger hippodrome to the west of the city, which is now the Piazza Navona.


The Flavian Palace built and extended by Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian takes up much of the central area of the hill, with the Domus Augustana and the Domus Flavia. To the north lie the Temple of Cybele, the House of Augustus where he was born, the House of Livia his wife, and the Temple of Apollo built by Augustus.


Overlooking the Forum to the north west are the ruins of the Palace of Tiberius, however during the Middle Ages the Palatine Hill came under the ownership of the church and convents and church buildings were built, and the massive botanical gardens were laid out by Cardinal Farnese, replacing much of it.


Italian Tour



The Palace of Septimius Severus


Baths of Severus


The Stadium of Domitian


Flavian Palace


House of Augustana


Temple of Cybele

Magna Mater


House of Flavia


House of Romulus


Overlooking the Forum