Rising above the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill is supposedly where the city of Rome was founded, and is home to some of its most ancient remains. In a way it’s a greener, more pleasant site to tour than the Forum. In the days of the Republic, the Palatine was the most desirable address in Rome (the word “palace” is derived from Palatine), and big names continued to colonize it during the imperial era, trying to outdo each other with ever larger and more magnificent dwellings.
Along the main path up from the Forum, the Domus Flavia was once one of the most splendid residences, and, to the left, the top level of the gargantuan Domus Augustana spreads to the far brink of the hill. You can look down from here on its vast central courtyard with fountain and wander to the brink of the deep trench of the Stadium. On the far side of the Stadium, the ruins of the Domus and Baths of Septimius Severus cling to the side of the hill, while the large grey building nearby houses the Museo Palatino, which contains an assortment of statuary, pottery and architectural fragments that have been excavated on the Palatine during the last 150 years. In the opposite direction from the Domus Flavia is the Cryptoporticus, a long passage built by Nero to link the vestibule of his Domus Aurea with the Palatine palaces, and decorated with well-preserved Roman stuccowork at the far end, towards the House of Livia – originally believed to have been the residence of Livia, the wife of Augustus, though now identified as simply part of the House of Augustus – the set of ruins beyond, open only at certain times. Climb up the steps by the entrance to the Cryptoporticus and you’re in the bottom corner of the Farnese Gardens, among the first botanical gardens in Europe, laid out by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in the mid-sixteenth century and now a tidily planted retreat from the exposed heat of the ruins. At the far end of the gardens are the traces of an Iron Age village that perhaps marks the real centre of Rome’s ancient beginnings.