The Palatine Hill is probably my favorite archeological site in Rome – other than the Colosseum, that is. Significantly less crowded than the Colosseum and even the Roman Forum, this is actually an incredibly pleasant place to explore in the Eternal City and a beautifully preserved site. And the fact that you can get in with your Colosseum ticket certainly gives you one more reason to visit.
Overlooking the Roman Forum and offering stunning views of Italian Capital, the Palatine Hill is one of Rome’s famous hills. Curious to find out more about it? Continue reading: I will tell you everything there is to know about it, and share some useful tips that will help you plan your visit and make the most of it.
The History Of The Palatine Hill, Rome
Located to the south of the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill is one of the most important sites in the city. It is here that was founded, either by its legendary founder Romulus in 753 BC, or as more recent finds suggest, much earlier.
Archaeological discoveries at this central location among Rome’s seven hills date the earliest settlement here to around the 10th century BC, with huts among other items being unearthed, but the Palatine is more famed for its legendary founding.
It was here that Romulus and Remus were abandoned and nursed by a she-wolf in a local cave, called the Lupercal by ancient Romans. Though previously thought lost, a cave was discovered in 2007 by archaeologists who identified a sanctuary 52 feet inside the hill – believed to be where ancient Romans revered the Lupercal.
Specifically, the Lupercal was discovered beneath the Domus Livia while restoration work was taking place on the ancient palace. They found a cavity, basically a grotto, richly decorated with mosaics and seashells. At its center was a white eagle: the symbol of the Roman Empire. Not everyone agrees. Some believe it is a Nymphaeum (shrine to water deities), as it is not thought to be in the correct place to be the Lupercal.
The hill has undergone many changes throughout time. It was originally made up of three summits, the highest of which was the Palatium (later giving its name to the entire hill). In the Roman Republic period (509-27 BC) affluent Romans lived on this hillside and built many temples alongside their own elaborate dwellings.
With the dawn of the Roman Empire, the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, established his Imperial Palace on the hill. The Palatine then grew to be an even more exclusive part of the city, the domain only of emperors and their families.
During the reign of Augustus, the Palatine Hill was already a historic location. In fact, the emperor ordered excavations of the area that uncovered Bronze Age artifacts. The emperor declared the hill as the original town of Rome.
At this point the topography of the area was transformed, being flattened into more of a plateau than three separate peaks. The palaces of emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian can still be seen to this day. Emperor Nero also had his palace here, but it was destroyed by fire in 64 AD and Nero relocated to the Domus Aurea (or “Gold House”) in 69 AD; the site was eventually built over with Domitian’s palace.
The architecture of Palatine Hill fell into disrepair along with the fall of the empire around the 6th century AD. The Middle Ages saw the area repurposed as a stronghold, but that too was later abandoned.
During the 16th-century Renaissance, the wealthy Farnese family owned the land of the Palatine Hill. The Farnese Gardens – sculpted on the ruins of the Palace of Tiberius – can still be visited to this day, and were one of the first of their kind in Europe.
Much later, the Palatine Museum was founded in the mid-to-late 19th century to house archaeological discoveries and finds from the area.
Main Attractions At The Palatine Hill, Rome
The Palatine Hill is so rich in history that there is a lot to see. There are hundreds of ruins to discover, but some buildings in particular should not be missed. Here are some of the must-see monuments and highlights to admire at the Roman Palatine.
The Palace of Domitian
Built on the site of Nero’s palace between 81 to 92 AD, the Palace of Emperor Domitian is an enormous building that still to this day dominates the Palatine Hill. In fact, the word “palace” itself comes from Palatium – the name of the hill in Latin.
The palace was not used only by Domitian, but was used by subsequent emperors, too. It is currently made up of three separate areas, but not all of it has been excavated, with parts still hidden under modern buildings.
The palace was one of Domitian’s many architectural projects across Rome, including the Circus Maximus, the Pantheon and the Temple of Vespasian and Titus.
The Domus Flavia
One part of Domitian’s palace was the Domus Flavia, the public part of the palace. Official business, entertainment and religious ceremonies took place here. It’s remained surprisingly intact, meaning you can actually walk around the palace today.
The Domus Augustana
The central, residential part of Domitian’s palace was historically the name applied to the whole building. Built to be the private residence of the emperor, the palace is set across two floors and still contains many of the colorful frescoes that adorned its walls. Still visible are mosaic floors, the layout of the building, the hypocaust (heating system) under the floors, among other incredible elements.
Also known as the Hippodrome, due to its shape though it’s much smaller, the garden at the Palace of Domitian is a large sunken garden that was very elaborate in its heyday. Many pieces that have been discovered here can now be seen in the Palatine Museum.
House of Livia
The residence of Emperor Augustus’ wife, Livia, can also be seen on Palatine Hill. Here you can find frescoes that are beautifully intact, and tour the ornately decorated rooms almost as they would have been about 2,000 years ago.
Palace of Augustus
The residence of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, can still be visited to this day. There are some amazingly preserved frescoes here and ornate mosaic floors that should not be missed. It was Augustus’ palace that changed the shape of Palatine Hill forever, after he relocated from his original home in the Roman Forum.
Sadly, the palace was destroyed in a fire in 3 AD, but was rebuilt in the following years.
Called Orti Farnesiani sul Palatino in Italian, the Farnese Gardens were created in 1550 on the northern part of the hill. The gardens were the first botanical gardens in Europe, and still remain very walkable to this day.
The perfectly manicured gardens also host the remnants of the Domus Tiberiana, or the Palace of Tiberius. This was the original house built by Emperor Tiberius, and is situated on the northwest corner of the Palatine Hill.
Among the mix of Renaissance gardens and ancient architecture, you can explore underground passages and spot classical sculptures. It was made even more popular by wealthy Europeans during the 18th and 19th centuries on the “Grand Tour” of historic sites.
As if the Palatine Hill itself, with all the old buildings still intact, mosaics and frescoes to see, wasn’t impressive enough, you can see yet more amazing ancient finds at the Palatine Museum. This museum plays host to finds not just from Palatine Hill but also other archaeological sites throughout Italy.
It was established towards the end of the 19th century inside a mansion built by the Farnese family. Spread over two floors, the museum’s ground floor is dedicated to Palatine Hill’s origins all the way to the era of the Roman Republic. It includes stone objects from the paleolithic era, too. The second-floor features art and artifacts from the Imperial era, including decorations from palaces, fragments of frescoes, and statues among other objects.
Practical Information For Visiting The Palatine Hill, Rome
The Palatine Hill should definitely be on your itinerary if you are thinking about a trip to Rome, but this is an enormous area, so it can feel quite overwhelming. As well as knowing about all the sights to see while you’re there, having the practical information is a must if you want your trip to go without any hiccups at all. So here’s what you should know.
Do you need a guide to visit Palatine Hill?
It is not necessary to get a guide when you’re visiting the Palatine Hill, Rome. However, booking a guided tour will certainly offer a much more in-depth insight into the history involved in the Palatine Hill. An experienced guide will be able to tell you much more than a guidebook, and you’ll be able to ask questions, discover hidden history that you may not have the chance to learn about otherwise.
If you do decide to go it alone, without a guide, you will be able to glean information and knowledge from the many sign boards around the site (in English and Italian). These are brief but give a good understanding of what it is you’re looking at.
Audioguides used to be available – they featured visual aids on a tablet, which could help bring Palatine Hill to life. Unfortunately, given the circumstances the service has been suspended.
I wholeheartedly recommend Touriks guided tour of the Colosseum Underground, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. It’s the one I took last time I visited and was honestly impressed with the wealth of knowledge the guide offered. It’s not cheap, but totally worth the price. You can book it here.
Finally, one of the best tours around is Walks of Italy Skip the Line: Premium Colosseum Tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill – you can book it here.
How much are Palatine Hill tickets?
The standard Palatine Hill tickets are €16. For EU citizens between the ages of 18 and 25, it’s just €2 to enter. Children aged 17 years and under, as well as those aged 65 and above, may enter free. Those who are disabled and one accompanying person may also enter free of charge.
In order to access the Palatine Hill, you will have to book your tickets in advance online (for an allotted time).
The ticket is good for 24 hours, and not only can you re-enter the Palatine Hill site, but also gain access to the Roman Forum and the Colosseum with the same ticket.
You can get your Palatine Hill tickets on the official website here – keep in mind that tickets bought on the official site are not refundable and modifications are not allowed.
For more flexibility, consider getting tickets on a third-party booking site such as GetYourGuide or Tiqets – though they are more expensive, they can be cancelled 24 hours prior to your visit. Get your fully-refundable Palatine Hill tickets here.
What is a S.U.P.E.R ticket and should I get one?
S.U.P.E.R stands for “Seven Unique Places to Experience in Rome” and is a ticket that gives you access to multiple sites throughout the city. Launched in 2018, the ticket allows special access to some additional areas located within the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill sites, as well as the Palatine Museum. These include:
- Neronian cryptoporticus
- Domus Transitoria
- House of Livia
- Aulea Isiaca
- Loggia Mattei
- Palatine Museum
- Temple of Romulus
- Santa Maria Antiqua, with the Oratory of the Forty Martyrs
If you want access to everything that the Palatine Hill has to offer, as well as more historic sites besides, then you may want to consider purchasing a S.U.P.E.R ticket. If not, it is possible to get a good insight into Palatine Hill without one.
The S.U.P.E.R ticket is sold on the official site for €16 – giving you access to the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, S.U.P.E.R sites and the Imperial Forum but not the Colosseum. If you also want access to the Colosseum, including the Arena and Underground level, the ticket costs €22. For more information, click here.
Make sure to also check the opening hours of the S.U.P.E.R sites as they may not coincide with those of your visit!
Palatine Hill opening hours
The Palatine Hill is open from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm between October and February. In March, it is open until 5:30 pm. During the spring and summer, it is open until 7:15 pm instead. Last admission is an hour before closing.
Where is the Palatine Hill?
The Palatine Hill is situated between the Colosseum to the west, the Roman Forum to the north, the Capitoline Hill to the northeast, and the River Tiber to the east. It is within walking distance of the Circus Maximus and the Piazza Venezia, too.
How to get to the Palatine Hill
The Roman Palatine and the surrounding area is well served by public transport. The nearest metro stations are Colosseo (on Line B) and Circo Massimo (also Line B), both of which are just a few minutes’ walk from the entrance to the Palatine.
There are a multitude of bus routes that stop nearby, including 60, 75, 84, 85, 87, 117, 175, 186, 271, 571, 810 and 850. In addition, it is served by Tram Line 3.
The main entrance to Palatine Hill is the Via Sacra. This is also the main access point to the Roman Forum.
When to visit the Palatine Hill, Rome
Summer is the peak season for visiting Rome, and the Palatine Hill is no different. It will almost certainly be very crowded during July and August, as well as swelteringly hot – if you’re visiting, be patient, wear a hat and bring drinking water!
If you want to avoid the heat as well as the crowds, you can visit in the more pleasant shoulder season (May or October), when the weather is cooler and there are fewer tourists to share the site with.
It is also best to visit earlier in the day and allow at least three hours to explore the rich history on display here.
For more things to do in Rome, and tips to plan your trip, check out these posts:
- The Most Impressive Landmarks In Rome
- The Best Tips For Visiting Rome
- The Best 3-Day Itinerary For Rome
- The Most Interesting Ancient Sites In Rome
- A Guide To The Esquilino, Rome’s Esquiline Hill