Palatine Hill Walking Tour, Rome

Palatine Hill Walking Tour (Self Guided), Rome

Palatine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome and the most ancient part of the capital. Based on Roman mythology and archaeological evidence, this hill is considered the birthplace of the city – a place where legendary Romulus founded it in 753 BC. Furthermore, the very word “palace” – indicating the emperor’s residence (“Palatium”), much as that of other dignitaries and prominent individuals – has its origin in the name of the Palatine Hill, known in Italian as Palatino.

The name itself originates from the deity Pales, which was adored in the early Roman civilization, and celebrated during the Feast of Parilia, held on the 21st of April, which is traditionally considered the day of the city’s foundation.

Later on, the known world would witness the rise of a kingdom, then a powerful republic, and, finally, the greatest empire of ancient times. Over the centuries, Palatine Hill became a symbol of power and prestige, with many Roman emperors and aristocrats choosing to settle here.

The most notable imperial residence on the hill is the Palace of Domitian, also known as the Domus Flavia. Other luxurious properties of yesteryear nearby include the House of Augustus and the House of Livia.

Nowadays, visitors can explore the extensive archaeological ruins on the hill providing insights into the grandeur and opulence of ancient Rome. The remains of palaces, gardens, courtyards, and various structures showcase the architectural and artistic skills of the Romans. Sadly, after the empire declined, looting and neglect that lasted up until the Renaissance period left a strong mark on the area.

Palatine Hill is also home to the Farnese Gardens (Orti Farnesiani) created during the Renaissance – one of the earliest botanical gardens in Europe. The panoramic views of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum opening from there, make the gardens a popular spot for visitors.

"On the Hill of Palatine, where history breathes, whispers of the past caress the stones, and the spirit of Rome forever gleams." Visiting the remains of what was once the most monumental residential complex of antiquity allows you to immerse in the space where legends were born and empires rose – "a cradle of glory and tales untold, forever etched in Rome's golden mold." For a closer look at the walls, columns, and sometimes surprisingly well-preserved after more than two thousand years artwork, take this self-guided walk.
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Palatine Hill Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Palatine Hill Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Rome (See other walking tours in Rome)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Author: audrey
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Antiquarium del Palatino (Palatine Museum)
  • Palazzo di Domiziano (Palace of Domitian)
  • Tempio di Apollo Palatino (Temple of Palatine Apollo)
  • Domus Augusti (House of Augustus)
  • Villa di Livia
  • Domus Tiberiana (House of Tiberius)
  • Orti Farnesiani (Farnese Gardens)
  • Neronian Cryptoporticus
  • Stadio Palatino (Palatine Stadium)
Antiquarium del Palatino (Palatine Museum)

1) Antiquarium del Palatino (Palatine Museum)

The Palatine Museum, also known as the Antiquarium del Palatino, is a museum situated on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Established in the latter half of the 19th century, it serves as a repository for sculptures, fragments of frescoes, and archaeological artifacts unearthed on the hill.

The first iteration of the Palatine Museum was established by Pietro Rosa in the late 19th century. It was located on the ground floor of the Farnese building on the Palatine Hill and housed sculptures discovered during excavations on the hill, which took place during the reign of Napoleon III. However, in 1882, Rodolfo Lanciani demolished the Farnese building in order to create a connection between the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. During this time, Gherardo Ghirardini cataloged the museum's holdings and transferred them to the Museum of the Baths of Diocletian, which later became the National Roman Museum in 1889.

In the 1930s, Alfonso Bartoli, an archaeologist and the director of excavations on the Palatine Hill, initiated the creation of a new site for the museum. Using the remaining parts of the demolished Villa Mills, a new building was constructed. The museum building consists of two floors, with each floor housing four rooms. The ground floor is dedicated to the history of the Palatine Hill from its origins to the Republican era, showcasing artifacts and exhibits related to that period. On the other hand, the first floor is dedicated to works and artifacts from the imperial era, offering a glimpse into the grandeur and opulence of ancient Rome.

Today, the Palatine Museum continues to provide visitors with insights into the rich archaeological history of the Palatine Hill. It allows visitors to explore the origins of the hill and its significance in the Republican and imperial eras, providing a valuable resource for studying and understanding the history of ancient Rome.
Palazzo di Domiziano (Palace of Domitian)

2) Palazzo di Domiziano (Palace of Domitian)

The Palace of Domitian, constructed between 81 and 92 AD, served as the official residence of Roman Emperor Domitian and was subsequently used by other emperors. Perched atop the Palatine Hill in Rome, the palace remains a commanding presence, surrounded by other palatial structures.

The palace is a vast complex that can be divided into three main areas, which reflect the separation of public and private affairs to be conducted simultaneously. These areas are known today as the Domus Flavia, the Domus Augustana, and the garden or "stadium." The Domus Flavia represents the public wing of the palace, while the Domus Augustana is believed to have been the private wing.

The so-called "Hippodrome" or "Stadium" of Domitian, stretching across the entire eastern side of the Domus Augustana, measures 160 x 48 meters. While it resembles a Roman circus, it is too small to accommodate chariots. In reality, it was an elaborate sunken garden, and many of the statues found in the nearby Palatine Museum originate from this stadium. Some parts of the palace remain hidden beneath more recent structures.

The Palace of Domitian was just one of the architectural endeavors undertaken by the emperor. The palace itself was designed by the architect Rabirius and was built atop earlier structures, notably Nero's Domus Transitoria and the Republican House of the Griffins, both of which have yielded significant remains.

During the reign of Septimius Severus, a substantial extension was added to the southwestern slope of the hill, offering a view overlooking the Circus Maximus. However, the majority of the palace, as originally constructed under Domitian, remarkably survived intact throughout the remainder of the Roman Empire. It served as the official residence of the Roman Emperors until the Western Roman Empire's decline in the 5th century AD.
Tempio di Apollo Palatino (Temple of Palatine Apollo)

3) Tempio di Apollo Palatino (Temple of Palatine Apollo)

The Temple of Apollo Palatinus, also known as Palatine Apollo, was a significant temple situated on the Palatine Hill in ancient Rome. Originally dedicated by Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, to his patron deity Apollo, it stood adjacent to the Temple of Cybele. This temple was the second one in Rome specifically dedicated to Apollo, following the Temple of Apollo Sosianus.

Previously, the remains of the Temple of Apollo Palatinus were mistakenly believed to belong to the Temple of Jupiter Victor until excavations in 1956 clarified their true identity. The construction of the temple was initiated by Octavian, later known as Augustus, in fulfillment of a vow made after his victories. The temple was built on the spot where a lightning bolt had struck the interior of Augustus' property on the Palatine Hill. Its dedication took place on October 9, 28 BC. Notably, Augustus' private residence was directly connected to the sanctuary of the temple.

The temple's precinct, known as the area Apollinis, featured an artificial terrace measuring 70 by 30 meters, supported by opus quadratum sub-structures. Within this precinct, an altar with the sculptural group known as "Myron's Herd" was situated on an elaborate base. The northern part of the terrace elevated the temple on a high podium constructed with tufa and travertine blocks in load-bearing sections and cement elsewhere. The temple itself was built with Carrara marble blocks, featuring a pronaos (entrance porch) and a facade adorned with full columns on the front, with a continuation of the same column order in half-columns against the exterior walls of the cella (inner chamber).

During the excavation, various polychromatic terracotta slabs with relief depictions of mythological subjects, known as the "lastre Campana" type, were recovered. Adjacent to the temple, the Bibliotheca Apollinis Palatini (Library of Apollo Palatinus) comprised two apsidal halls adorned with a row of columns along the walls. Ancient sources indicate that the temple possessed ivory doors and housed numerous sculptures. The pediment of the temple included two bas-reliefs depicting the hunting of the Galatians from Delphi and Chian artwork from the 6th century BC, featuring sculptures of the Niobids by Bupalus and Athenis.

Surrounding the temple was a portico known as the portico of the Danaids, featuring columns made of yellow giallo antico marble. The spaces between the column shafts were adorned with black marble statues of the fifty Danaids, and the portico also contained a sculpture of Danaos holding an unsheathed sword, as well as equestrian statues depicting the sons of Egypt.
Domus Augusti (House of Augustus)

4) Domus Augusti (House of Augustus)

The House of Augustus, also known as the Domus Augusti (not to be confused with the Domus Augustana), is located on the Palatine Hill. This residence is widely recognized as the primary home of Emperor Augustus (27 BC - AD 14).

Situated near the Hut of Romulus and other sites associated with the foundation of Rome, the House of Augustus is mentioned in various ancient literary sources. According to Suetonius, Augustus moved into the House of Quintus Hortensius on the Palatine Hill, departing from his original residence in the Roman Forum. Velleius reports that Augustus acquired the land and house of Hortensius between 41 and 40 BC. Shortly thereafter, the house was struck by lightning, leading Augustus to declare it as public property and dedicate a temple to Apollo Palatinus.

The original house suffered destruction in a fire in 3 AD but was subsequently rebuilt and designated as state property. The layout of the site revolves around two peristyles bordered by rooms. Between the two peristyles stands the Temple of Apollo Palatinus. Most of the preserved remains are located around Peristyle A (P2), as a significant portion of Peristyle B (P1) was destroyed by the later construction of the Palace of Domitian. The entire site covers an area of approximately 8,600 square meters.

The house was constructed on two terraces, utilizing the natural topography of the Palatine Hill. It served as the primary residence of Emperor Augustus, reflecting his status as Rome's first emperor and his significant contributions to the city's development and prosperity. The House of Augustus stands as a testament to the architectural grandeur and historical significance associated with the reign of Augustus and the early Roman Empire.
Villa di Livia

5) Villa di Livia

The Villa of Livia, also known as Ad Gallinas Albas in Latin, is an ancient Roman villa located at Prima Porta, approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) north of Rome along the Via Flaminia. It is believed to have been either part of Livia Drusilla's dowry when she married Octavian (later known as Emperor Augustus), her second husband, in 39 BC, or a gift presented to her by Octavian upon their engagement. According to historical sources like Suetonius, Livia returned to this villa after her marriage, using it as a luxurious country residence that complemented her house on the Palatine Hill in Rome.

The villa once boasted remarkable frescoes depicting garden views, which have since been relocated to the Palazzo Massimo museum in Rome. Positioned on a hill, it commanded a magnificent view overlooking the Tiber Valley and Rome. Some remnants of the retaining walls that supported the villa's terraces can still be observed today.

The strategic importance of the villa's location was derived from several factors: the presence of iron-rich cliffs of red tuff near the Tiber River, the convergence of multiple roads, and its position as the northern entrance to Rome. The name Prima Porta, meaning "First Door," originated from an aqueduct arch that crossed the Via Flaminia. This aqueduct supplied water to the villa and served as the first landmark indicating one's arrival in Rome to travelers. The Villa of Livia underwent construction and modifications in four distinct stages, with the earliest phase dating back to the Republican era and the most recent modifications occurring during the reign of Constantine the Great.

The villa's Latin name, Villa Ad Gallinas Albas, referred to a specific breed of white chickens associated with the site. Suetonius mentioned these chickens and attributed them with auspicious origins, implying they brought favorable omens.
Domus Tiberiana (House of Tiberius)

6) Domus Tiberiana (House of Tiberius)

The Domus Tiberiana, an Imperial Roman palace, once stood on the northwest corner of the Palatine Hill in ancient Rome. Its name is derived from Emperor Tiberius, who resided on the Palatine, although historical sources do not explicitly mention his construction of a palace. The Domus Tiberiana was expanded by Tiberius's successors and served as the primary residence for Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero during the early years of their reigns.

Due to the Farnese Gardens occupying the site since the 16th century, archaeological knowledge about the structure is limited, and excavation has been challenging. The remains of the Domus Tiberiana are located on the northwest corner of the Palatine Hill, facing the Velabrum and the Roman Forum below, with the Capitoline Hill visible beyond. The site covers an area of approximately 150 meters by 120 meters (492 x 394 feet) and is occupied by the Farnese Gardens platform, established in 1550 by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The visible remnants consist of the impressive arcaded support structures on the northern slope of the hill, constructed during the reigns of Domitian, Trajan, and Hadrian.

At the Forum level, behind the Temple of Castor and Pollux, lie the ruins of a vestibule complex initiated by Domitian and completed by Hadrian. From this point, an access ramp led up the hill to the Domus Tiberiana on the summit.

The central feature of the Tiberiana was a large peristyle with arcades encircling it on all four sides. To the south of this peristyle, a double block of rooms separated by a spacious corridor was constructed, while another block of rooms stood to the north. Along the eastern side of the Tiberiana, there is a 130-meter (427-foot) long cryptoporticus from the time of Nero, displaying mosaic floors and poorly preserved frescoes. This cryptoporticus was connected to the Flavian Palace during its construction. In the southeast corner of the palace, near the Domus Livia, the remains of an elliptical basin, possibly used as a fish pond, can be found. On the southwest front, there is a portico that leads to a series of rooms believed to have housed the Praetorian Guard, as suggested by the graffiti discovered within them.

While our knowledge of the Domus Tiberiana is limited, the remaining structures provide insights into the grandeur and architectural splendor of the imperial palaces that once graced the Palatine Hill in ancient Rome.
Orti Farnesiani (Farnese Gardens)

7) Orti Farnesiani (Farnese Gardens)

The Farnese Gardens, or Orti Farnesiani, hold a special place in the rich cultural and historical landscape of Rome. Established in the 16th century, these were among the first private botanical gardens in Europe, and they remain a symbol of the Renaissance's influence on art, science, and nature.

Located on the Palatine Hill, the Farnese Gardens were commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1550. The Cardinal, who came from one of Italy's most influential noble families, aimed to create a space that reflected the grandeur and intellect of the period, combining elements of art, nature, and antiquities in one place.

Designed by architect Giacomo Vignola, the gardens were laid out in terraces, offering panoramic views over the Roman Forum. They featured an impressive array of plants, fountains, aviaries, and ancient sculptures, as well as an intricate network of grottoes and pathways. These features were designed to imitate the ancient Roman gardens and reflected the Renaissance fascination with ancient Rome.

The gardens also served as a museum of sorts, housing an extensive collection of statues, frescoes, and inscriptions. Many of these were unearthed from the ruins of the Palatine Hill itself, underscoring the garden's connection to the ancient past.

While the original splendor of the Farnese Gardens has faded over time, the remains have been partially restored and can be visited as part of the Palatine Hill archaeological site. Today, visitors can walk through the terraces and enjoy the stunning views, imagining the grandeur that once was.
Neronian Cryptoporticus

8) Neronian Cryptoporticus

A cryptoporticus, derived from the Latin words "crypta" (meaning crypt) and "porticus" (meaning portico), was a covered corridor or passageway in ancient Roman architecture. In English, it is commonly referred to as a "cryptoportico." This architectural feature served as a semi-subterranean gallery with vaulted ceilings, supporting portico structures aboveground, and allowing light to enter through openings at the tops of its arches.

On sloping sites, the open side of a cryptoporticus was often partially at ground level, providing support for structures such as forums or Roman villas. In this capacity, it served as the basis villae. Typically, the cryptoporticus was vaulted and illuminated by openings in the vaulted ceiling. In the letters of Pliny the Younger, the term "cryptoporticus" is used interchangeably with "crypt," indicating an underground space.

One notable example of a cryptoporticus is part of the Domus Tiberiana complex, which was the first imperial palace built on the Palatine Hill in Rome. This cryptoporticus, dating from the Neronian period between 54 and 68 AD, spans 130 meters in length. Emperor Tiberius and subsequent emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, including Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, transformed the separate imperial residences into a unified palace complex. The cryptoporticus was an integral part of this expansion and unification.

Situated beneath the area that was later covered by the Horti Farnesiani in the sixteenth century, this underground corridor aligns with one side of the Domus Tiberiana. It is illuminated by small windows and features mosaic floors. Additionally, a replica of the stucco decoration from the coffered ceiling, adorned with depictions of plants and cupids, can be observed on the vaulted ceiling. The original stucco decoration is now housed in the Palatine Museum, allowing visitors to appreciate the intricate and artistic craftsmanship of the era.
Stadio Palatino (Palatine Stadium)

9) Stadio Palatino (Palatine Stadium)

The Palatine Stadium was an integral part of Domitian's palace complex situated on the Palatine Hill. It was the last structure to be constructed, following the completion of the Domus Flavia and the Domus Augustana, which respectively served as the public and private areas of the palace. Built during the late 1st century AD, the expansive complex replaced earlier buildings that dated back to the Republican period and Nero's reign. The architect Rabirius oversaw the construction of the stadium, beginning shortly after Domitian's rise to power in 81 AD and concluding in 92 AD. However, the building suffered extensive looting after its discovery and excavation in the 18th century, resulting in irreparable damage.

Constructed primarily using bricks, the Palatine Stadium featured brick stamps that corresponded to the end of Domitian's principality, with some renovations carried out during the Hadrianic and Severian periods. The remaining small oval enclosure in the southern part of the arena likely dates to the time of Theodoric and may have been used as an amphitheater, rather than a training ground for gladiators, as such spectacles had been abolished since the reign of Honorius.

The stadium primarily served as a garden and private riding school, known as a Viridarium, similar to those found in contemporary private villas, according to accounts from Pliny the Younger. The stadium resembled a circus in shape, with an elongated rectangular layout and one of the shorter curved sides measuring approximately 160 by 48 meters. It occupied the entire eastern side of the Domus Augustana, covering a total length of around 88 meters.

The perimeter of the stadium featured a two-story portico adorned with brick pillars covered in marble on the lower level (only the bases remain), while the upper level showcased marble columns, as partially reconstructed in the northern corner. In the center of the eastern side stood a hemicycle-shaped tribune, situated slightly protruding at the upper level of the portico. Below the tribune, three open spaces supported its structure. The central area of the stadium contained the arena itself, which was divided by the "spina." Only the semicircular terminal elements of the spina remain visible today.

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