Palatine Hill: Everything You Need to Know
In the ancient world, Rome was the centre of the known world. And in Rome, Palatine Hill was located at the centre of the metropolis.
Rising above the city, Palatine Hill is one of the seven legendary hills of Rome. For centuries, it was the domain of Roman emperors and kings.
Today, it’s one of the most fascinating places to visit in modern Rome, a destination that’s surrounded by Roman ruins, where you’ll be instantly transported back a thousands years in time.
To inspire your visit, here’s everything you need to know about Palatine Hill.
What Is Palatine Hill?
Palatine Hill is the most central of the seven hills around which the city of Rome was founded.
The hill only rises around 40 metres above the rest of the city, but it’s enough to make it a prominent and enduring feature of the landscape and of Rome’s skyline.
In Roman legends, the hill was where the city itself was born and where the Roman Empire would eventually expand across the known world from. It’s here that Romulus and Remus, the legendary Roman founders, were raised by a she-wolf.
So it’s a dramatic place, steeped in legend and ancient mythology. It’s even said that the great Hercules once fought and defeated a monster on the summit of Palatine Hill.
The hill is today a major tourist site within Rome, the capital of modern Italy. Over the centuries it’s hardly lost any of its legendary charm. Compared to neighbouring attractions such as the Roman Forum or the Roman Colosseum, Palatine Hill also only sees a fraction of the visitors, despite being just as historically important. The entire hill is an incredibly layered series of archaeological excavations and a working archaeological site that delves back thousands of years.
There are ruins to explore, sweeping views of the city that encompass the Forum and Colosseum below, and stories and history waiting to be uncovered atop Palatine Hill.
Myths and legends form an important part of the Palatine Hill story, but the actual factual history of this Roman landmark is just as intriguing.
While the legend of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, has little basis in fact – it is very unlikely that two babies were raised by a she-wolf in a cave, after all! – it does have some measure of truth in history. While the legend is just that – a legend – Palatine Hill was the site of some of the first human habitations in the area, and much evidence has been excavated that places the founding of Rome back to 9th century BC, the same timeframe in which the stories of Romulus and Remus were said to begin.
That makes Palatine Hill one of the first Roman settlements in what would eventually become the Roman Empire, an empire that stretched from Italy across to Britain and as far east as modern-day Syria and Egypt.
The legends that surrounded Palatine Hill and its prominent position in the centre of Rome’s iconic seven hills made it a very desirable location for the Roman upper classes to live when the empire was at the height of its glory.
During the Roman Republic, from 500 BC until around 50 BC, the wealthiest Romans would buy or build their homes on the slopes of Palatine Hill. When the republic was replaced with the empire, which would be ruled by the Caesars for several hundred more years, Palatine Hill was where they chose to live.
That meant that emperor after emperor would build their lavish palaces here, not just on the slopes but well below ground too. There are tunnels and hidden passageways crossing under the hill and connecting the palatial rooms to a labyrinth of chambers across Rome.
Palatine Hill became the scene of many momentous and historic events throughout the Roman-era, and many an emperor would find their demise at the hands of assassins or usurpers in their own palaces.
After the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the once-mighty capital became a shadow of its former self. For many centuries, through the dark ages, the city was mostly abandoned. Palatine Hill was no exception and the palaces of the emperors decayed into ruin from neglect.
In more recent years, from the 1800s onwards, the hill became the focus of archaeological digs seeking to unearth the history behind the legends. There have been multiple excavations in the last two centuries, and many archaeological works continue to be carried out on this important Roman site.
- Palatine Hill rises to 51 metres above sea level at its highest extent. In relation to the surrounding city, it’s at least 40 metres above the nearest major landmarks such as the Roman Forum.
- Palatine Hill is the tallest of Rome’s legendary seven hills. These are the hills that the ancient city was founded upon and around, and ancient city walls would encompass all of these hills.
- In a much larger modern Rome that has spread far beyond the ancient city walls, the tallest hill is not now Palatine, but Gianicolo, which is found across the river and which rises to 82 metres in height.
- Because Palatine Hill was where the Roman emperors built their homes and residences, the English word palace is thought to be derived from the Latin name for the hill. Palatine would grow in the English language to become palace.
How to Get to Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill is very centrally located and it’s close to many other major Roman ruins, which can all be visited on the same day.
You can reach Palatine Hill by metro if you get off at the Colosseo stop – by the Colosseum – which is on Metro Line B. From here, you need to walk to the main entrance to the hill, which is located on the Via Di San Gregorio. You can also access the hill by walking through the Roman Forum.
Once you’re in, you’ll need to walk around to get to all the ruins and the museums.
Because this is an important archaeological site, Palatine Hill charges an entrance fee for visitors to explore. There are several ways to purchase tickets for Palatine Hill, with the cheapest tickets costing 12 euros for an adult. It’s really not too hefty a price to pay for all the history that awaits you.
You can purchase your tickets in advance, online, before you even arrive in Rome. This will save you from having to queue up when you get to the city. Most tourists will also visit the Roman Colosseum during their visit, as it’s just below the hill. The ticket price includes entrance to this famed Roman attraction, making the price even more of a steal.
If you haven’t booked in advance, then you can queue up at the entrance to Palatine Hill to purchase your ticket or you could buy it at the Colosseum. The Colosseum is often much, much more crowded and busier than Palatine Hill, so you can be waiting in line for much longer if you go here first. Buy your ticket at Palatine Hill, explore the hill, then go down and check out the Colosseum to maximise your time in Rome.
While you can visit Palatine Hill on your own accord and self guide your way through the historic sights and archaeological attractions that are found here, if you want to learn more about the legends and history of Rome’s most important hill, you might want to consider joining a tour.
For history buffs, a historical walking tour of Rome is a must, to really understand the importance of Palatine Hill, to get to the bottom of the myths that surround it, and to separate fiction from fact. You can join group tours or, depending on your budget, you could even hire a private guide for a few hours to show you around. You’ll often be taken to the more secluded and unknown parts of the hill, and perhaps even underground.
What to See
One of the best places to visit in Palatine Hill is the Palatine Museum.
This archaeological museum is excellent. You’ll learn all about the history of the hill and the emperors that lived here. The museum is found within an old convent that was, before that, the Palace of Emperor Domitian.
It’s not the largest museum in Rome, but it does offer a fascinating insight into one of the city’s most important locations.
Stadium of Domitian
Emperor Domitian left an indelible mark upon Palatine Hill during his rule in the 1st century AD. As well as the palace, the Emperor also ordered the construction of a stadium.
Opened around 80 AD, the stadium was small by Roman standards, holding just 15,000 spectators. It was designed as an athletics stadium, so it was built on a much more modest scale than the nearby Colosseum or Circus Maximus, which could hold many thousands more in the stands.
Also built by the Emperor Domitian, the Flavian Palace was constructed towards the end of the ruler’s life, when he was unceremoniously assassinated.
Part of the wider Palace of Domitian, the Flavian Palace was where guests were entertained when the emperor threw lavish parties. Today, it’s a great example of Roman architecture, as much of the structure survived the fall of the empire and later years of neglect.
House of Augustus
The House of Augustus is usually the first thing that visitors see when they pass through the entrance to Palatine Hill.
This was the home that was built for Emperor Augustus, who ruled Rome as the first emperor from 27 BC until 14 AD. Much of the residence has been excavated, offering a unique insight into the palatial world of Roman rulers.
House of Livia
The House of Livia is another important Roman residence that has been extensively excavated to offer a deeper look into the world of antiquity and those who called Palatine Hill their home.
Excavations have shown that it’s likely that the house belonged to Livia, who was said to have been the wife of Emperor Augustus.
Baths of Septimius Severus
Emperor Septimius Severus ruled around the 2nd century AD and made extensive additions to the palaces on Palatine Hill.
One of the biggest additions was the construction of a huge bathing complex, which would be in use for hundreds more years after his death. The ruins of the Baths of Septimius Severus are some of the best preserved on Palatine Hill, and one of the best places to visit.
- Purchase a multi ticket to gain entrance to multiple attractions on the same day, including Palatine Hill and the Colosseum.
- Get here early and avoid the weekends in order to escape the crowds. While it’s never as busy as other more famous attractions (especially ones that don’t involve climbing a hill!) most of the year it’s still going to be busy.
- In winter, bring a raincoat or umbrella because you never know when the clouds might burst. In summer, bring plenty of water and wear a hat, because it can be hard to find shade when you’re on the hilltop.
When’s the best time of year to visit Palatine Hill?
Most of Palatine Hill is outside of course, which means that you’ll want to visit during the warmer, drier months. Try to avoid the worst of the peak season months though, from June to August, when the crowds are at their worst. The shoulder seasons see fewer crowds and temperatures are much better for exploring.
How much does it cost to visit Palatine Hill?
Check out the ticket section above for more details, but a standard adult ticket is just 12 euros per person.
How high is Palatine Hill?
Palatine Hill is only 40 metres high rising to 51 metres above sea level. But compared to the totally flat landscapes that surround it, it’s relatively tall, so be prepared for some uphill walking!