Project Description

The Palatine Hill Tour: Discover How Rome Went From Mud Huts to Mansions

Daniella begins the tour by specifying that the Palatine Hill exemplifies town planning in Rome. That is, its incredibly long history shows us how housing, infrastructure, and construction techniques changed over the centuries. For example, Romulus allegedly founded his little village on the Palatine in the mid-8th century B.C. When Romulus and his shepherd friends weren’t busy abducting Sabine women, they were intent on building mud huts. After circa one hundred years, the mud huts of the tiny village gave way to masonry homes. Those masonry homes became more well-appointed. And as Rome’s population polarized into haves and have-nots, the Palatine Hill became the chic residential area that all aristocrats aspired to live on. Self-made advocate Cicero trod its paved roads with self-righteous pleasure as he returned home. And he always made sure to wave to his neighbor, blue-blooded billionaire Crassus.

The Real Real-Estate Revolution

In a certain sense, the above developments were inevitable. After all, building materials will change and real-estate laws usually don’t. So, for example, property on hills is still at a premium–just like property that boasts location. “The Palatine Hill was ‘the place to be’?” you ask. Absolutely! For two reasons in ancient Romans’ minds. First, it was the old village center where founding father Romulus had lived. Second, it overlooked the Roman Forum, which had become Rome’s bustling downtown. How much more status and location could you ask for?

At least, trust Octavian! He knew status and location when he saw them. And he too bought property on the Palatine Hill. Soon afterwards, he consolidated his position as sole ruler of Rome, became emperor, and rebuilt the home he bought. When he died, his successor Tiberius inherited that home. But Tiberius wasn’t fond of his step-father. And he certainly didn’t feel like living in his home. So, he bought property on the prestigious Palatine to build a home of his own. Although his successor Caligula inherited two homes from his emperor relatives, he continued the trend. That is, he bought more property and built a new residence. And so on! Until the first century A.D., when the Palatine Hill was wall-to-wall imperial mansions. In fact, you can see the sprawl of those ruined mansions from the Aventine Hill (in the picture).

palatine hill rome tour overview

But Emperor Domitian Takes His Home on the Palatine Hill to New Extremes

Who’s Domitian? That’s a legitimate question. (But don’t let him hear you asking!) He was the son of Vespasian Flavius, the emperor who sponsored the Colosseum. Domitian eventually became emperor too (from 81 to 96 A.D.). And he apparently inherited his love of big architecture from his father. In fact, as we tour the enormous brick and concrete carcass of his palace on the Palatine, you will redefine your idea of large! In the picture, you’ll see one of its rooms. Yes, you’re right! It does look like a mini Circus Maximus.

We’ll actually focus on Emperor Domitian’s palace, because it is one of the best excavated areas on the Palatine Hill. Built in a handful of years, it proves what imperial Roman work-forces could do… if funded by an imperial budget! Whoever tours Domitian’s Palace with Daniella will find Versailles shabby by comparison. Even if the palace is just bare bones today, Daniella will dress it up with marble paneling, reflecting pools, and potted plants. Not to mention curtains, silver platters with chalices of wine, and delicate fruit bowls. You’ll be stunned by the levels of comfort and luxury, especially because we do not usually associate them with ancient life.

palatine hill rome tour with daniella

Planning Your Tour of the Palatine Hill and Other Sites in Rome

The Palatine Hill is currently included in the Colosseum/Forum ticket. Coop Culture is the official agency that sells these tickets. And there are a staggering variety of them on sale. So, study your options attentively and patiently, because Coop Culture’s website (where tickets are described and sold) is somewhat cryptic.

Many travelers enjoy touring the Forum and Palatine with Daniella. This is generally a four-hour visit. Other travelers ask for the classic Forum/Colosseum combo, which also lasts about four hours. History buffs ask for a Forum, Palatine, Colosseum marathon, which generally lasts about 7 hours. Daniella suggests breaking after the Forum and Palatine for a bite or a coffee. It gives visitors time to digest what they’ve seen and learned before moving on to the Colosseum.

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