Palatine Hill

Of all the Seven Hills of Rome, the Palatine Hill played the most important part in Roman history.

According to legend, it was here that Hercules strangled Cacus, a fire-breathing giant who had been terrorising the area, here that the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus had her cave, and here that Romulus founded Rome when he returned here as an adult. 

Humans first settled on the Palatine Hill in the 10th century BC: 200 years before Romulus founded Rome. Throughout the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, it was continuously inhabited: first by Rome’s most eminent residents, later by the city’s succession of Caesars. 

Click on the history button below to learn all about the Palatine Hill.

Why was Rome built on the Palatine Hill?

Simply put, the Palatine Hill was perfect for human habitation. Stretching some 51 metres above the often-flooding River Tiber, its earliest inhabitants enjoyed the convenience of easy access to water with the safety of living away from the stagnant swampland and festering disease below.

Between the Palatine and Capitoline to the northwest was a stagnant valley which, when the Etruscans drained it, became the Roman Forum. When archaeologists excavated the Roman Forum during the time of Mussolini, they found human remains dating back to before the Iron Age. 

This means that as well as swampland, the valley beneath the Palatine Hill used to be a necropolis, a city of the dead. One of the wildest, boggiest cemeteries imaginable. 

Palatine Hill during the early Republic

In his Aeneid, a text written during the Age of Augustus (31 BC - 13 AD), the poet Virgil described a group of Arcadian Greeks living on top of the Palatine. Their rulers, we are told, were King Evander and his son Pallas. To give some historical context, this predated Romulus, who lived in the 8th century BC, by some 500 years,

Why is the Palatine Hill famous: The story of Romulus and Remus

Hardly anyone has heard of Evander or Pallas. Most people know about the second named figure to occupy the Palatine. This was Romulus, a son of Alba Longa nobility, who moved south from the modern town of Castel Gandolfo to found a city of his own. 

Romulus settled on the Palatine Hill around the middle of the 8th-century BC. Legend has it that Romulus and his twin brother Remus were raised by a she-wolf (though the Latin double-meaning of the word lupa meaning both she-wolf and prostitute has thrown this theory into slight disarray). 

To mark the boundary of his newly founded city, Romulus ploughed a furrow around the circumference of the hill. You can see an artist’s interpretation of this in the Capitoline Museums.

We’ll never know the truth about Romulus’ supposed act of fratricide. The most popular version of the story is that he killed his twin Remus because he’d jumped over the ramparts Romulus had built on the Palatine. The archaeology suggests that there might be some truth in the story. 

Archaeologists have discovered Iron Age huts on the Palatine Hill dating more or less exactly to the time of Romulus. Such a discovery led archaeologists to label one of these huts La Casa di Romolo (the House of Romulus).

If you'd like to visit this incredible site, let us know: we can take you to see it on our private Classic Ancient Rome tour

What was the Palatine Hill used for?

Aside from the Rome’s foundation story (Romulus act of fratricide), the Palatine Hill is famous for being the Beverly Hills of the ancient world. This might sound like an exaggeration, but the sheer opulence of the palaces and temples on the Palatine was absolutely mindblowing.

During the Roman Republic (510 BC - 31 BC), the Palatine Hill was home to the residences of the rich and famous. Cicero had a home here for which he paid 3.5 million sestertii. If that sounds like a lot, it's because it is: working out at what 2,400 Roman workers would earn in a year.

The Palatine Hill in the 3rd century AD

During the Roman Empire (31 BC - 410 AD), successive imperial dynasties started building their own palatial residences on the Palatine Hill.

Augustus was the first. His house was modest, but that shouldn't surprise us. After all, Augustus was Rome's first ever emperor, a man who'd come to power in the wake of years of civil war. This war had broken out largely because of the assassination of Julius Caesar which his murderers had tried to justify on the grounds that Caesar was aspiring to become king.

Augustus couldn't look like a king if he wanted to hold power.

By extension this meant that he couldn't live like one either.

His successors had no such problems, however. After Augustus' death in 14 AD, his successor Tiberius got to work building his own resplendent palace, the Domus Tiberiana, on the Palatine. Tiberius didn't stay in Rome for long, preferring the solitude of Capri just off the Amalfi Coast to the prying eyes of the capital. But his successors made great use of his imperial abode.

The Domus Augustana or 'Palace of Domitian'

The emperor Domitian (81 - 96 AD), whose legacy in Rome includes the circus beneath Piazza Navona and the importin of many obelisks in Rome, constructed his enormous palace complex here. Named the Domus Augustana, it stretches across the majority of the hill looking over the Circus Maximus.

OPENING HOURS:

Daily 8:30 am - 7 pm

 

How do I visit the Palatine Hill?

Visiting the Palatine Hill requires a combo ticket also covering the Colosseum and Roman Forum. You can do this independently, but to get the most out of these sites it really pays to have an expert licensed tour guide.

Walks Inside Rome offer several tours walking you through the Palatine Hill.

Our most comprehensive coverage of the Palatine is our private Ancient Rome with Colosseum tour.

→ Book our private Ancient Rome with Colosseum tour.

The nearest metro stop is Colosseo (Line B).

The nearest bus stop is Colosseo (services: 60, 75, 84. 85, 87,l 117. 175, 186, 271, 571, 810 and 850).

 

Where do I enter the Palatine Hill?

Via San Gregorio, 30

Did you know:

It’s from the Palatine Hill that we derive our word palace? And not just in English. The Italian palazzo, French palais, Spanish palacio - even the German palast all derive from the Latin palatinus.

But where did palatinus come from?

There are several theories. Livy tells us it was because of the Greek settlement of Pallantium that stood atop it. Another ancient theory is that it comes from an archaic Latin word for heaven or sky.