The History and Architecture of the Palatine Hill

One of the Seven Hills of Rome and home to some of the ancient parts of the city, the Palatine Hill stands tall at 40 meters above the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus. According to archeological digs, this Roman landmark was once inhabited during the 10th century BC. This explains the belief that the origin of Rome is on the Palatine.

IMG_0639However, long before archeologists discovered signs of life on the hill, Roman mythology hailed it as the origin of Romans. The Palatine is believed to be the location of the Lupercal cave, which is where Romulus and Remus were raised by the she-wolf Lupa. Later, the shepherd Faustulus found the babies and raised them with his wife Acca Larentia. Once they became adults, the boys killed their great uncle and planned to build a new city on the River Tiber. However, Romulus killed Remus after a violent argument, which is how Rome received its name.

Mythology aside, Rome’s Republican era flourished on the Palatine Hill. Marc Anthony, Augustus and Cicero have all built homes on the hill due to its beautiful views of the city below. In addition, historians report that the cleaner air was also an incentive for emperors as it protected them from diseases festering in the working class. Regardless, the entire hill is covered by architectural beauties, ranging from Ancient Roman palaces to churches and convents from the Middle Ages.

Entering the Palatine Hill, visitors will be greeted by the Farnese Gardens, which were laid out for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese by Vignola and later Raialdi in the 16th century. The gardens, terraces and pavilions were designed to accommodate gatherings of like-minded people such as The Arcadia literary academy. Attracting art lovers are the fountains and stucco decoration of the gardens. However, with excavation underway, the remains of the palace of Tiberius may be added to the area’s attractions.

However, the oldest architectural structure on the hill so far is the Temple of Cybele, which was built in 204 BC. Part of the Farnese Garden, the temple houses the Black Stone of the goddess Magna Mater (the Great Mother). With evidence of life in front of the temple, historians have christened the dwelling site as the House of Romulus.

Other structures worth investigating are the House of Livia, the Palace of the Flavians, and Baths of Septimius Severus. The House of Livia is part of the palace of Augustus; like the rest of the palace, its external buildings are simple while the interior reflects the comfortable lifestyle of Romans during the era of Christ. In fact, ceramic pipes in the walls provided central heating to rooms decorated with Pompeian paintings. As for the House of Augustus, the two and three story building remains a monumental structure on the hill as it was home to many dignitaries of the Empire over the years.

Finally, the Palace of the Flavians is in the center of the Palatine Hill. Built by renowned architect Rabirius by the first century AD for Domitian, the structure is famous for its Domus Flavia. The dome added a sense of splendor to the building, complementing the large pillared courtyard, large dining room, marvelous throne room, and shrine.

Visitors can head to the Palatine Hill for guided visits between February and October, engulfing themselves in the most beautiful artifacts and architecture left behind by the Roman Empire.

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Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

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