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10 things about the Palatine Hill

21st Oct 2016

The Palatine is the most famous of Rome’s seven hills, and has played an important role in the city’s history, starting from the days of its foundation. It was the legendary first home of Romulus and Remus, and was later chosen by emperors and aristocrats for their luxurious villas. Towering over the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus, the Palatine offers spectacular views of Rome, and a chance to learn about the fascinating myths and history of Ancient Rome.

Despite the hill’s fame and its central location, many visitors to Rome are unaware of why it’s so important. The Tours of Ancient Rome often neglect the main site of its history. Here are some things that you (probably) didn’t know about the Palatine:

1. “Palatine” is the origin of the word “palace”. As well as “palace” in English, “palazzo” in Italian and “palais” in French also derive from “Palatine”.

2. Legend has it that the Palatine was once home to a fire-breathing giant called Cacus. Not far from the Hut of Romulus is an area known as “the steps of Cacus”. Cacus was a fire-breathing cannibal who lived in a cave on the Palatine, and who regularly terrorized the residents of the neighbouring Aventine Hill until he was defeated by Hercules.

3. Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, lived in a cave on the Palatine. They were believed to have lived in a cave known as the Lupercal, where they were protected by the she-wolf who later became a symbol Rome. In 2007 an archaeologist claimed she’d found the actual Lupercal on the Palatine, beneath the remains of the House of Livia. However, this was disputed by other archaeologists, who thought it was more likely that the cave was a nymphaeum or triclinium from the age of Nero.

4. Romulus is also believed to have lived in an iron-age hut on the Palatine. The Casa Romuli (Hut of Romulus) was a simple, one-room hut dating back to the 8th century BC, located on the south-western corner of the hill, and although it was repeatedly damaged by fires, it was always venerated by the Romans and carefully restored. The foundations of the hut are still visible today, and can be seen on a tour of the Palatine.

5. The emperor Augustus was born on the Palatine. Gaius Octavius - later Augustus - was born in a house on the Palatine in 63 BC. By this period the Palatine was inhabited by various wealthy families, including the rich equestrian family of the future emperor.

6. The frescoes in the House of Augustus and the House of Livia are some of the most beautiful (and best-preserved) ancient art in Rome. Augustus returned to the Palatine as an adult, and lived in a luxurious villa with his wife Livia. On the House of Augustus you’ll get to see the beautifully decorated rooms of the villas (including the emperor’s bedroom and study), which contain some exquisite, brightly coloured frescoes.

7. There was once an enormous temple dedicated to the god Apollo. During the construction of the House of Augustus, a lightning bolt struck the interior of the villa. Viewing this as an omen, Augustus decided to build the Temple of Apollo Palatinus. This grand temple, which was directly connected to the House of Augustus, had a gleaming facade and a rooftop lined with statues. Unfortunately, unlike the well-preserved villa, virtually nothing is left of the temple.

8. Caligula was assassinated on the Palatine. The Praetorian Guards and senators conspired to have the emperor assassinated. Caligula was only 28 when he was attacked in the Cryptoporticus beneath the imperial palaces on the Palatine. One source claims that he was stabbed 30 times, and that his loyal Germanic guard responded by going on a murderous rampage, launching an indiscriminate attack on the assassins and innocent bystanders. Caligula’s uncle Claudius was found hiding behind a curtain in the palace, and became emperor shortly afterward.

9. The first private botanical gardens in Europe were built on the Palatine. The wealthy cardinal Alessandro Farnese bought a section of the Palatine in 1550, and as well as converting part of the ruins of a Roman palace into a summer home, he also constructed some beautiful botanical gardens, containing a nymphaeum, frescoes, sculptures and an aviary. The gardens eventually fell into disuse, but some parts still remain, and can be visited on a Palatine tour.

10. The Palatine offers the best views of Rome. In fact, it’s the only place in the centre of Rome where you have breathtaking views of the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum in its entirety. As you admire the view from the terrace and gaze at the magnificent ruins of the Forum below, you’ll understand why the Palatine was once the most desirable place to live in Rome. With spectacular views of the city, cleaner air and cool breezes, the Palatine was the perfect retreat for aristocrats and emperors.

~by Alexandra Turney~