LA Study Tour with Jack
Palatine Hill
by Colin F. Hand

History

Model of Palatine Hill in Ancient Times : courtesy Ancient Rome

Palatine Hill is the most central of the famous seven hills of Rome. It is sandwiched between the Coliseum, Circus Maximus, and the Roman Forum. Palatine Hill has a rich and ancient past that pre-dates the city of Rome itself. Archaeological digs have revealed remains of Iron Age timber huts and evidence that humans inhabited the Palatine hill from the 10th century B.C.. The legacy of the Roman Empire began on the slopes of the Palatine. It was in the Lupercal Cave that a sheppard found the suckling twins, Romulus and Remus. The former being Rome's name sake and a resident of the Palatine Hill. According to Virgil, Aeneas, one of the survivors of Troy and prime patriarchs of the Roman Empire, spent his first night in Rome in the House of Romulus. Through legends like these the citizens of Rome were able to see in themselves as a strong proud race. The importance of Palatine Hill continued into the Republican Era. During this time in Rome's history the Palatine became the fashionable residential district with elites such as Cicero, Augustus, and Marc Antony building their homes upon its slopes. The views over the city and the cleaner air made it a prefered address for the ruling class. Republican Rome failed and power became the unified under the Emperor. Palatine Hill remained the desirable place of residence, with several Emperors building their palaces on its rise. At one point the entire hill was covered in imperial palaces. Around 500 AD Rome was sacked by a succession of barbarian tribes and the Western Empire fell into disorder.

View from the Farnese Gardens

The Palatine began a new chapter during the ensuing turmoil, but remained the elite neighborhood in Rome for Gothic Kings as well as popes. During the Middle Ages, when the European continent became insular and focused on the arcane, churches and convents were constructed. Finally the majority of the hill came under singular ownership of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and the structures of the Villa Farnese and the Orti Farnesiani were built under the renown Renaissance architect Giancomo da Vignola. A point of significance is that The Orti Farnesiani was the first real botanical garden. During the 18th century archaeological excavation started on the hill and continues to this day.

 

 

Map of Palatine Ruins: Courtesy of Ancient Rome
Bird's Eye View of Domus Augustana Ruins

 

Description of the Palatine

Entering Farnese Gardens

Visiting the Palatine Hill is a journey into the ancient past. When coming from the Capitoline Hill, one must walk through the streets of the Roman Forum which are straddled by the brick and marble ruins of the imperial city of Rome. The relic columns and arches hint at what an architectural marvel the space once was during the peak of the Roman Empire. Walking through the Forum you come upon the Arch of Titus which marks its entrance. By taking a right one begins an ascent up the Clivus Palatinus, which still maintains some original paving. Ascending on this path brings the visitor to the entrance of Palatine Hill. The walk is an immersion into the simple pleasure of the Italian landscape. At one moment you are in the warm, yellow glow of the Mediterranean sun, the next you are in the cool shadows of an Italian Cypress. At times looking back over your shoulder you gain impressive vantages back into the old Forum.

After purchasing a ticket you begin climbing the marble stairs of the Villa Farnese. Statues and cool grottos are arranged to catch your glances along the ascent. At the top of the stairway one enters the Farnese Gardens which is maintained closely to its original design. The gardens are a mixture of statues, hedged parterres, gravel walkways, shade and orange trees, and lawn. Perhaps the best part is the terrace that overlooks the Forum. It is important to note how the layers of history converge at this spot. The combination of the Farnese Gardens, Palatine ruins, and views to the Roman Forum is one of the few opportunities to experience the famed Classical Landscape that has so significantly shaped the profession of landscape architecture and our modern world. It is not a giant leap to picture Claude Lorrrain seated under a tree painting something similar to what you may find yourself are photographing or sketching.

Farnese Gardens

Once you wander through the Farnese Gardens you find yourself walking through the yards and courts of the Imperial Palaces. The palatial ruins are comprised of four main complexes: the Domus Augustana (the largest), Domus Tiberiana, Domus Flavia, and the Domus Severiana (the smallest). In some places archeological activity can be seen under protective awnings. It is interesting to see the massive amount of brick that was used in the construction of these palaces. In certain places stucco can still be seen and it is an easy to imagine the colorful frescos that at one time may have adorned them. Foundations of a great octagonal fountain can be seen in the Domus Flavia area. Also of interest is the stadium that Domitian constructed with his palace in the Domus Augustana area. The ruins for the most part are in disarray and it is difficult to fully picture what grandeur must have once existed on this site. However, the current state is very picturesque with white and gold wildflowers growing over undulating lawn rolls along to meet with ragged brick structures. Palatine Hill is an amazing place, the cradle of Roman civilization. Western civilization has taken much from the events that transpired here and the buildings and gardens that were constructed on this mount; and it is sure to inspire many more future generations.

 

 

Ruin and Field in Domus Augustana
Stadium of Domus Augustana

Contacts:

  • Hours: April-September daily 9am-8pm; October-March daily 9am-3:30pm. - Last admission 1 hour before closing
  • Palatine Hill is closed holidays
  • Location: Via dei fori Imperiali
  • Transportation: Metro: Colosseo
  • Bus numbers: 27,81,85, 87, 186
  • Phone: 06-699-0110
  • Price: 10 euro (includes Colliseum)

 

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