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Palatine Hill

Country Italy
City Roma

Palatine Hill Photo Gallery

Palatine Hill
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Palatine Hill Description

The origins of Italy’s capital Rome are shrouded in myth. Historians don’t pretend to know, but the ancients believed in the legend that Rome was founded on April 21, 753 BC, on Palatine Hill. Tradition has it that the city’s founder Romulus and his brother Remus had been suckled by a she-wolf on this very spot east of Tiber River. But even before that, a small village called Alba Longa already existed on the hill, built by refugees from the defeated Troy, of which Homer sang. As for science, findings from archaeological digs have helped trace the first settlements on Palatine to approximately 1000 B.C. During its long existence, Rome has risen to heights of glory, claiming dominion over the entire known world, and sunken to obscurity - a town of local importance, often threatened with destruction. But the great city has proven truly Eternal and preserved many stone-chiseled memories that still excite travelers and delight modern Romans. A place where art meets history, Rome is a tourist Mecca both for its legacy and its architecture. A traveler walking along its cobblestones follows the winding path of time - just behind the clomping, standard-bearing shadows of Julius Caesar and the cohorts of Titus Flavius. Every little wall floating by may be the remains of an arena where gladiators, swords at their belts, looked up and said: “Ave, Cæsar, morituri te salutant!”

Palatine Hill is the lowest of the seven hills of Rome - forty meters above sea level. Historians believe it is named after Pales, an ancient deity of flocks and hunting revered in the area. Apparently, the hill once served as a pasture with some religious significance to the shepherds, who sacrificed to the goddess at the top. Ancient sources say the she-wolf that nurtured Romulus and Remus had her sacred cave here. The basket with the twins was found on Palatine. The shrine retains well-preserved frescoes on the walls and dome, and a mosaic. The house of Romulus once stood on the hill as did the hut of shepherd Faustulus, who had reared the twins to manhood. In the 4th century AD, some traces of the hut were still visible. There was also an altar to the Great Pan and a temple of Jupiter Stator. It was here that Hercules captured the vicious brigand Cacus, and Romulus threw his spear - inextricably deep into the earth. Later, Romulus’ augur rod and the twelve shields of Mars, the god of war, were kept in the Curia Saliorum. Every year on February 15, the Lupercalia festival was celebrated on the hill. Naked Luperci (priestesses) ran about the rim, making young men blush.

After the city was founded, the hill was surrounded by a sturdy wall with two gates - Porta Migonia to the north and Porta Romanula to the west. The hill soon came to be inhabited by the most distinguished patrician families. In the first century BC, a majestic temple to Apollo loomed over the modest marble palace of the family of Octavian Augustus, the future emperor. The palace, damaged in a fire during 3 AD, was later restored and expanded. Apollo’s claim to worshipers was contested by a temple to Vesta, a popular goddess of the hearth. During the Imperial period, the resplendent palaces of Tiberius, emperors from the Flavian dynasty, Septimius Severus and a temple to Cibele all stood on the hill - and are all gone except for some remaining ruins. There are also remains from the mansion of Livia, Octavian’s third wife. Here she plotted for power, interfered in state politics, handed out bribes and wrote letters to Salome in Judea - the one whose dance cost John the Baptist his head. Gaius Caligula, the great-grandson of Livia, called her the Ulysses of women for her cleverness.

Something still survives of Circus Maximus - Rome’s largest arena between the Palatine and the Aventine. On this great race course, 12 chariots could compete side by side. It was on Palatine hill that the famous Roman rape of Sabine women took place - an inspiration for numerous painters and sculptors. Incidentally, this is the origin of our custom to carry the bride over the threshold. The circus, built during the ancient reign of king Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (sometime around 600 BC), hosted audiences of up to 500 000.

But as you stroll along the hill, you can see more of Rome than the ruins. The top of Palatine provides an excellent panoramic view of the center of the old town, on Via dei Fori Imperiali. Every year on June 2, soldiers parade down this street to celebrate the founding of the modern Italian republic. You can also see Europe’s first botanical garden - Farnese Gardens, with thousands of roses, jonquils, petunias, quince trees and other flora. Between the ruins of the Flavian palace built by Domitian 80-92 AD, and the palace of Augustus Caesar, stands the Palatine Hill Museum. It exhibits some precious archaeological finds, mostly headless statues, busts of ancient nobles and deities, dating from the 10th century BC to the 4th century AD. The museum, which opened during the 1930s, is located within a former monastery. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and tickets are also valid for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. You can reach Palatine Hill on the B metro line, buses number 60, 75, 85, 117, and C3, or by tram number 3.

Palatine Hill video guide

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