Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient sites in Rome, it is steeped in history and folklore and according legend was founded by Romulus in 753BC. Palatine Hill is the centremost of the Seven Hills of Rome and stands 40 metres above the Roman Forum on one side, and the Circus Maximus on the other. According to Roman mythology Palatine Hill was the location of a cave named ‘Lupercal’ where Romulus and Remus were found by the she-wolf Lupa. Lupa kept them alive and the twins were later raised by a shepherd named Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentia who discovered them subsequently. Once the two boys grew older they killed their great-uncle who had seized the throne from their grandfather and decided to erect a new city of their own on the banks of the River Tiber. However during a violent argument Romulus killed his twin brother Remus, and became ruler, naming the new city in his name.
Another legend related to Palatine is that it was the site of Hercules’ battle with Cacus, a monster who had stolen cattle. Hercules struck Cacus so hard with his club that it formed a crack on the southeast corner of the hill.
Legends aside, archaeological evidence does date human habitation at the site to around 1000 BC. Due to its position at the centre of the new Rome, overlooking the Roman Forum and the Circus Maximus, Palatine Hill was the most exclusive neighbourhood in the ancient city, and home to Rome’s emperors for hundreds of years. Most of the Palatine Hill’s ruins that can be seen today were built during Emperor Domitian’s rule. These include his vast complex which served as the imperial palace for 300 years, and a stadia built in the 1st century AD. The emperor Augustus lived here all his life and succeeding emperors built increasingly lavish palaces.
After the decline of the great Roman Empire Palatine Hill fell into disrepair and in the Middle Ages churches and castles were built over the ruins, during the Renaissance it became fashionable for members of the aristocracy to create private landscaped gardens on the hill.
Palatine Hill has been excavated throughout its lifetime, even in the early days of the Emperor Augustus he excavated parts of the site and made Bronze Age discoveries! The use of Palatine Hill for the festival Lupercalia, a very ancient and possibly pre Roman festival that was observed between February 13th-15th is perhaps another part of the reason for these ongoing discoveries. Lupercalia was celebrated as a cleansing ritual to avert evil spirits and strengthen health and fertility, altars to other unknown deities have been discovered in one of the caves beneath the site.
In July 2006 archaeologists announced the discovery of the Palatine House, which they believe to be the birthplace of Augustus. In 2007 another archaeologist announced what she believes to be the legendary Lupercal cave beneath the Domus Livia on the Palatine, though most of the cave is collapsed a few photos show it decorated with mosaics and seashells.
Though the truth behind the legend of the she-wolf Lupa or the Lupercal cave can never be known, it does not detract one iota from the mystery and magic of Palatine Hill. Palatine Hill is extremely captivating and its position on one of the highest Hills of Rome gives it an almost otherworldly effect, as if the city below did not even exist.
GPS: 41.8894, 12.48746