Palatine Hill

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The Palatine Hill (Collis Palatium or Mons Palatinus), or simply Palatino in Latin, relative to the seven hills of Rome located at the most centre, is one of the most ancient parts of the city and has been called "the first nucleus of the Roman Empire". The site is now mainly a large open-air museum while the Palatine Museum houses many finds from the excavations here and from other ancient Italian sites.

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Imperial palaces were built there, starting with Augustus. Before imperial times the hill was mostly occupied by the houses of the rich.

The hill originally had two summits separated by a depression; the highest part was called Palatium and the other Germalus (or Cermalus). Using the Forma Urbis its perimeter enclosed 63 acres (25 hector); while the Regionary Catalogues of the 4th century CE enclose 131 acres (53 hectors).

Brief History

circa 750 BCE-

The history of the Palatine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, spans a long period dating back to archaic period (circa 800 BCE) of Italian peninsula. According to the legend of ancient Tome the hill is believed to be the site of the mythical founding of Rome by Romulus in 753 BCE. In reality, archaeological evidence suggests that the area was inhabited as early as the tenth century BCE, making it one of Rome's oldest settled areas.

Republican Period
During the Roman Republic (circa 509 BCE to 27 BCE), the Palatine Hill became a prestigious and most sought after residential district, favored by the city's elite for its commanding views and strategic location. It also housed important religious and political institutions, including the residence of the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of Rome.

Roman Empire
The significance of the Palatine Hill reached its zenith during the period of Roman Empire (circa 27 BCE to 476 CE). Emperors Augustus, Tiberius, and Domitian, among others, constructed magnificent imperial palaces on the hill. These grand palaces served as the administrative, ceremonial, and residential centers of imperial power, solidifying the Palatine's status as the heart of Rome's political and social life.


circa 1800 CE-

The Archaeological activities on the Palatine Hill have been ongoing for at least two centuries, revealing a wealth of information about ancient Rome and its development. These activities encompass a range of techniques and approaches aimed at uncovering, documenting, and interpreting the rich archaeological heritage of the hill. Archaeologists conduct systematic excavations to uncover the remains of ancient structures, artifacts, and other cultural deposits buried beneath the surface of the Palatine Hill. These excavations involve careful digging, stratigraphic analysis, and documentation of findings.

Archaeologists use surveying and mapping techniques to record the layout, dimensions, and spatial relationships of archaeological features on the hill. This includes the use of geophysical survey methods such as ground-penetrating radar and magnetometry to identify subsurface anomalies indicative of buried structures. Comprehensive documentation and recording of archaeological finds are essential for cataloging and analyzing the material culture of the Palatine Hill. This includes photography, drawing, and detailed descriptions of artifacts, architectural features, and stratigraphic layers.

Archaeologists work to conserve and preserve the archaeological remains on the Palatine Hill to protect them from degradation and ensure their long-term survival. This may involve stabilization of structures, preventive measures against environmental damage, and development of conservation strategies. Archaeological activities on the Palatine Hill also involve interpretation and analysis of findings to reconstruct the history, social organization, and cultural practices of ancient Rome. This includes studying architectural styles, artifact typologies, and historical contexts to gain insights into the lives of the people who inhabited the hill.

Many archaeological projects on the Palatine Hill involve public engagement and education initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of cultural heritage and promote understanding of the past. This may include guided tours, educational programs, and outreach activities aimed at diverse audiences.

Notable Structures

circa 750 BCE

Archaic Hut Village
On the summit of the Palatine facing the Tiber, excavations have brought to light a small hut village, usually linked to the "founding of Rome". The remains and excavations of the trenches and holes dug in to the soil, indicate the presence of two huts with beaten earth wall, supported by a framework of wooden poles and with a roof of interwoven branches. The position of the huts, coinciding with that described by the ancient literary sources, has suggested that this was the place where the founder Romulus traditionally lived.

circa 550 BCE

Archaic Cisterns
Two circular cisterns dating to the sixth century BCE can be seen in the area of the sanctuary of Victoria and Magna Mater, cut in to the tufa and made of blocks of the same material with an internal coating of plaster. One had an ogival roof while the other was uncoverd and accessible via a staircase. Built to store water, these cisterns soon became dumps for votive materials. The numerous pottery fragments collected inside indicate the existence of a cult dedicated to a goddess practiced here even before the construction of the two temples of Victoria and Magna Mater (circa third century BCE).

circa 200-100 BCE

House of the Griffins
A steep staircase, part of which is ancient, leads from the back of the so-called lararium to the underground floor of a house dating to the second to first century BCE. Though partly destroyed by the foundations of the palace above, it gives some idea of the type of aristocratic residence which stood on the Palatine during the Republican period. The house had two storeys; on the ground floor a few remains of the atrium with its pool in peperino and coloured mosaics survive; the underground level is preserved almost intact and its rooms are adorned with frescoes, mosaics and stucco decorations. One of there, depicting two griffins (inspect), gives the building its name "House of the Griffins" (Casa dei Grifi).

circa 191 BCE

Temple of Magna Mater
In 204 BCE, faced with the threat of Hannibal's advance, the senate of Rome vowed the construction of a temple next to that of Victoria, dedicated to Magna Mater, a deity from Asia Minor represented by a mysterious black stone. According to tradition the goddess protected Aeneas when he fled from Troy, and would therefore protect the Romans who considered this hero their noble ancestor. The temple was dedicated in 191 BCE, but the high podium which survives today dates to reconstruction work after the fire of 111 BCE, followed by restoration under Augustus. The square in front of the temple hosted the Ludi Megalenses, an annual festival in honour of the goddess with bloody rituals and theatrical performances.

circa 75 BCE - 25 CE

Via Nova
The name Via Nova (meaning the "new road") is generally applied to the stretch of road that runs in a straight line along the north-west slope of the Palatine Hill, almost parallel to the Via Sacra ("sacred path"). All the literary sources that mention the Via Nova date it to the Republican and Augustan periods, but the paved road that can be seen today relates to urban developments in the early imperial period, probably in the reign of Nero. Recent excavations have confirmed that the paved road was laid over earlier remains, specifically a late Republican domus (house).

circa 60 BCE - 30 CE

House of Livia
One of the best-preserved late Republican houses on the Palatine is known as the "House of Livia" due to the discovery in its cellars of a water conduit with the name of Augustus' wife Livia stamped on it; she must therefore have lived here. Among the surviving rooms, on the basement level, is a sort of atrium supported by travertine pillars with four large rooms opening on to it adorned with mosaic floors and refined II style wall paintings. On the walls are scenes drawn from myth and genre paintings. In the central room (the tablinum) are Mercury freeing Io, loved by Jupiter, from imprisonment by Argus, and the nymph Galatea fleeing the enamoured Polyphemus. In the left-hand room are winged griffins and other fantastic creatures whilst the right-hand room has a painted portico decorated with a yellow frieze with fantasy landscapes from which hang festoons (inspect) of leaves, flowers and fruit.

circa 50 BCE

Small Temple
Between the temples of Victoria and Magna Mater are the remains of a third smaller temple dating back to the first century BCE, reconstructed with a brick podium in the second century CE. Some scholars have identified this as the Auguratorium, the place where augurs observed the flight of birds to draw omens from them. Others believe that this was the shrine of Victoria Virgo, which is known to have been built in 193 BCE next to the temple of Victoria.

circa 30 BCE

Temple of Apollo and Portico of the Danaids
The temple of Apollo Palatinus was vowed by Octavian in 36 BCE and dedicated in 28 BCE. The high concrete podium and various parts of the decorations found scattered in the area survive; Corinthian capital in white marble, part of the doorpost depicting a Delphic tripod and fragments of a colossal statue of the god which stood in the cella or near the altar. In front of the temple was a forecourt enclosed by a portico with yellow marble columns,between which were fifty red and black statues of Danaids, three of which were found intact during excavations (now displayed in the Museo Palatino). On one side of the porticos was a library with books in Latin and Greek which sometimes hosted senate meetings as well.

circa 30 BCE

Isis Hall
The small richly decorated apsidal chamber was discovered by Giacomo Boni in 1912 CE. The strong stylistic affinities and the contents of the wall decorations suggest that this chamber must have been part of the vast Augustan residence of the Palatine Hill.

The paintings, dating back to the 30 BCE, present numerous allusions to the ancient Egyptian mythology, such as depictions of Egyptian goddess Isis, her priestesses and of ritual objects linked to the cult of the goddess, thus explaining its modern name "Hall of Isis". The walls are bounded at the top by a continuous frieze with uraei (snakes) and lotus flowers and by a stucco cornice, and present a decoration of illusionistic architecture arranged on several registers with central shrines containing painted landscapes with mythological scenes, most of which have unfortunately been lost. Other panels (also barely legible) were positioned next to the shrines; the myth of the birth of Helen may have been depicted on the long wall, on the right, with the disembarkation of Helen and Paris on the short back wall. The wall of the apse presented a sacred landscape with ducks around a spring.

The rich decorations of the vaulted chamber, which preserve traces of gilding, is an original one; it has a yellow ribbon on a broad undulating dark blue band, enclosing candelabra and plant motifs of unusually fine workmanship, almost as if imitating a textile or fabric.

circa 28 BCE

Augustan Sanctuary and Residential Complex
On the summit of the Palatine facing the valley of the Circus Maximus and near the mementos of the founder Romulus kept in the sanctuary of Victoria andMagnaMater, excavations have brought to light the remains of the house of Augustus and the large sanctuary he dedicated to Apollo in 28 BCE. The area previously hosted a late Republican residential district (second to first century BCE). This was an area of aristocratic houses, with luxurious wall and floor decorations, of which significant remains survive providing an idea of how the Palatine looked when it was home to Rome's most powerful men.

According to ancient authors, Octavian family initially lived in one of these houses, chosen for its vicinity to the original home of the founder Romulus with whom the prince wished to identify himself. Later on, starting from this house, Augustus began the construction of a sanctuary dominated by the temple of Apollo, his tutelary deity, which also incorporated his new private residence alongside the state residence to which he was entitled as High Priest. Also belonging to the sanctuary were a shrine of Vesta, a broad portico in front of the temple of Apollo decorated with statues, and a library opening on to the portico used occasionally for senate meetings. The large complex commissioned by Augustus completely changed the area's appearance, transforming it in to a series of sacred buildings linked to the memory of Rome's first emperor.

circa 25 CE

Neronian Cryptoporticus
The Cryptoporticus of Nero is one of the most distinctive monuments of the Palatine. It is an underground corridor, 130 meters in length, illuminated by basement windows. It connects the south side of the Domus Tiberiana to the so-called House of Livia. This covered passageway served to link the different parts of the imperial palace in the Julio-Claudian period. Originally the vault was covered with fine white stucco,depicting cupids within decorative frames. Only a few fragments remain. While this stucco decoration has generally been dated to the age of Nero, it probably relates to an period, the first half of the first century CE.

circa 64-96 CE

Barberini Vineyard
The large rectangular area known as the Barberini Vineyard after the family who owned it until 1910 CE is an artificial terrace created in this corner of the Palatine Hill in the Neronian-Flavian period (circa 64-96 CE). Before this intervention the areawasoccupied by aristocratic residences, one of which, with a peristyle and refined decorations, has been brought to light by excavations. After thefireof64 CE, Nero incorporated the whole area in to the imperial estate and probably used it as a garden with luxurious pavilions, like the massive circular tower uncovered by excavations, which may havebeen a panoramic dining room (cenatio rotunda).

The Flavian emperors (circa 69-96 CE) rebuilt the garden and surrounded it with a portico. According to some scholars this was the site of the Adonaea or the "garden of Adonis" described by ancient authors as being inside the imperial palace. The portico was rebuilt after the fire of 191 CE and again during the reign of Elagabalus (circa 218-222 CE). At this time a large temple dedicated by Elagabalus to a sun god of the same name was built at the centre of this area. It was probably rededicated by his successor Alexander Severus (circa 222-235 CE) to Jupiter the Avenger (Juppiter Ultor). On part of the podium (inspect) stands the church of San Sebastiano; according to tradition saint Sebastian was martyred on the steps of the temple.

circa 80-92 CE

Flavian Palace
The Flavian Palace, commonly referred to as the Domus Flavia, constitutes a component of the expansive Palace of Domitian situated on Rome's Palatine Hill. Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus oversaw its construction, and it was finalized in the year 92 CE. The design is credited to Rabirius, the master architect of the time.

The term "Domus Flavia" is a contemporary designation for the northwestern part of the Palace, which houses the majority of the expansive "public" spaces intended for official affairs, social gatherings, and ceremonial functions. While Domitian marked the final ruler of the Flavian dynasty, the palace remained in use by subsequent emperors with minor adjustments until the empire's eventual decline.

circa 80-92 CE

Domus Augustana
Adjacent to and connected with the large public areas of the so-called Domus Flavia was the private sector of Domitian's palace, traditionally knownas the Domus Augustana and arranged on two levels; one at the same level as the Domus Flavia and a basement storey with different architectural and functional characteristics. On the upper floor, the entrance sector, a vast uncoverd area, is poorly preserved; it led in to a porticoed courtyard (peristyle) with a pool at the center and a series of residential apartments at the sides. About ten meters below was the lower storey of the palace, intimate and secluded, with a courtyard with an original fountain and luxuriously decorated rooms, as well as some small rooms where the emperor lived his private life. The sequence of spaces in this "private" sector ended in a monumental curved facade overlooking the Circus Maximus.

circa 80-92 CE

Upper Peristyle of Domus Augustana
The private section on the ground level of the Augustan palace was arranged around a peristyle or porticoed courtyard with coloured marble columns, identical to that in the public section at the center was a large pool within which a small temple was built at a late period. Accessed from a small bridge on arches. Various living and banqueting chambers and halls were constructed at the sides of the peristyle. Some of these chambers still retain the metal braces used to mount the fine coloured morble floors. On the walls of one of these rooms the remains of frescoes on Christian themes, now severly damaged were discovered, belonging to a late oratory.

circa 81-96 CE

Imperial Palace Complex
The imperial palace stands on the sumit of the Palatine and extends to its slopes, occupying much of the hill. It was built buy the architect Rabirius on the orders of Domitian (circa 81-96 CE) and inaugurated in 92 CE; it was the official residence of all later emperors. The palace was divided in to three sectors; an official or "public" area (the so-called Domus Flavia), a sector hosting private apartments (the so-called Domus Augustana) anda large garden in the form of a stadium with its annexes (today known as the "Palatine Stadium").

The palace was construced out of brick and its foundations were super-imposed on earlier buildings, some of which (such as the "House of the Griffins" and Domus Transitoria) can be visited underneath the Domitianic structures. Conserved to almost its original extent, the palace represented a turning point in the history of Roman architecture, codifying the typology of the dynastic palace in Rome. Its importance is evident from the fact that the word "palace" (palazzo, palais, and palacio etc.) comes from the Latin Palatium, of Palatine, because this is where the first imperial residence was built, a model for all later palaces.

The construction of the "imperial palace" made a deep impression on Domitian's contemporaries. Statius and Martial, his court poets, composed admiring descriptions of it, praising its extra-ordinary size, the beauty of its decorations and the luxury of its furnishings. "The palacewas so vast", wrote Martial, "theat one's eyes became tired looking at it, and so tall that in comparison the Pyramids of Egypt seemed laughable".

circa 92 CE

The so-called "stadium", located between the Domus Augustana and the Baths of the Severan palace, was completed circa 92 CE and was the last section of the palace to be built. It was an important sector of the Flavian Palace, which is never given this name in the historic sources. In fact it was a garden, more specifically a hippodromus, the word with which it was described by the late authors. In Rome hippodromes, areas where originally horses were excersised, trained and raced, came to be elongated rectangular spaces with paths and flower-beds. Deriving from the Greek gymnasiums, these were luxurious garden areas present in important villas. The Palatine stadium, although, located at a lower level, was intended for the emperor's strolls.

The Palatine "Stadium", measuring 160x48 meters, had a rounded south end (inspect) and was surrounded by a portico supported by marble-clad engaged columns. The central part consisted of a broad curved avenue for strolling on foot, on a litter or even in a carriage, a custom described by Martial and Juvenal, authors of the Domitianic period (circa 81-96 CE). On the eastern side is a large exedra (inspect) from which to enjoy views over the garden below, luxuriously decorated with sculptures and two semi-circular fountains at either end. Originally, it was decorated with two semi-circular fountains. Later additions included the portico, the large exedra on the eastern side and a nymphaeum decorated with fountains to the north. The brick-work in in the ruins of the stadium was originally faced with beautiful monochromatic marble.

circa 1520 CE

Loggia Mattei
The Loggia Mattei (Lodgings of Mattei) were part of a much larger medieval period "Villa Mattei at Palatine Hill", today known as the Villa Mills. The residential complex was built over the Domus Augustana and the Domus Flavia. This small loggia decorated with frescoes by Baldassarre Peruzzi was built by the Stati family as part of the small country house. The colourful frescoes depicted zodiac, muses, and other classical themes – and some were done by other painters from Raphael's workshop. In 1818 CE, the property was bought by Charles Andrew Mills and the English archaeologist William Gell.

The only surviving structure of the Renaissance period residential complex is a small lodge, called "Loggetta Mattei" or "Casina Farnese", that had housed the frescoes of Baldassarre Peruzzi, and a 19th-century structure built by the sisters of the Visitation that has become the seat of the Palatine Museum.

circa 1520 CE

Frescoes of the Loggia Mattei
The frescos of the Mattei Loggie include a yellow frieze with masks frames the ceiling, decorated with grotesques against a white background. Inside are the coat of arms of the Mattei family (at the center), which in 1595 CE replaced that of the Stati family, and two little panels with mythological subjects against a dark background; the Marriage of Hercules and Hebe and Venus between Cupid and the Muses. Triangular compartments are decorated with roundels containing the twelve signs of the zodiac against a dark background, whilst on the corbels are little painted shrines holding six muses on the long sides and Athena and Apollo on the short sides. The wall frescoes, depicting episodes from the myth of Venus, were detached in 1846 CE and moved to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, where they can still be seen today. A few years later, the mythological scenes and the roundels with signs of the zodiac were detached and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; but recently they have been re-placed in their original positions.

circa 1550 CE

Farnese Lodge
This small two-storey building known as the Casino del Belvedere stands on the remains of one of the nymphaeums at the side of the large triclinium belonging to the imperial palace of the Domitianic period (circa 81-96 CE). Dating to the sixteenth century CE, it was rebuilt by the Farnese family who added a two-order loggia covered with frescoes and a travertine balustrade. The painting, whcih still survive, depict bucolic landscapes on the walls and grotesques on the vaults, adorned with ovals dedicated to deities sush as Venus or muthical figures like Hercules, Cacus or the Argonauts.

circa 1550 CE

Nymphaeum of the Mirrors
The Nymphaeum of Mirrors (Ninfeo degli Specchi), also called the Farnese Nymphaeum, was part of the Farnesian secret gardens belonging to the powerful Farnese family. The structure was originally covered with a domed roof, was decorated with stalactites, mosaics and mirror-holding satyrs. The water jets, designed to surprise visitors, bounced off the dome's ceiling, providing the effect of rain.

circa 1689 CE

Church of San Bonaventura on the Palatine
The Church of saint Bonaventura and its attached Franciscan monastery is associated with the memory of Saint Leonard, who died and was buried here. The church was initially built in 1625 CE by Cardinal Francesco Barberini. It is built over Roman structures, in particular a large cistern of the Claudian aqueduct which brought water to the Palatine Hill. The Roman brick wall that separated the vineyard from the Via di San Bonaventura is decorated on its exterior with the Stations of the Cross, made of painted terracotta by A. bicchierai, and eighteenth century CE artist.

circa 1930 CE

Palatine Museum
The Palatine Museum (Museo Palatino) displays precious finds from excavations on the hill from the nineteenth century CE until the present. It was opened in arounce 1930 CE, re-adapting the nineteenth century CE Convent of the Sisters of the Visitation, in turn built on part of the imperial palace. On the underground storey of the museum the various phases of the palace foundations can be seen, whilst the upper floor hosts an exhibition of finds belonging to the sculptural decorations of the palaces,whose topography and history are also illustrated.

Notable Architectural Elements

circa 60 CE

Inlaid Marble
The magnificient inlaid marble floor with its elegant geometrical and floral design was excavated in the early twentieth century CE together with the rooms beneath attributed to Nero's Domus Transitoria, to which it is usually though to belong. In fact the floor has a different orientation from Nero's buildings but similar to that of the nearby Augustan complex, making its attribution uncertain. The floor belonged toa hall with internal porticoes supported by columns, of which the foundations in travertine blocks survive. It is located directly adjacent (north-west) to the "eliptical nymphaeum".

circa 250 CE

Proconnesian Marble Griffons Relief
The Griffons relief is carved out of while Proconnesian marble. The style of the carving suggests that it dates back to the third century CE. It depicts two Griffons, facing each other, in heraldic posture between candelabras with triangular base. Originally the relief was part of the "Palatine Stadium" decorations.

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