Sometimes I get what I call “movie set syndrome”, a surge of awe, fatigue, and disbelief that my surroundings are indeed REAL and not an elaborate production set. It’s hard to comprehend the age of something when you’re face to face with an image you’ve seen dozens of times over, and even more difficult to grasp what it once represented when there is only rubble left.
Rome’s iconic ancient ruins dominate travel guides for Italy and with so many sprinkled all over the place, you may feel that “movie set syndrome” fatigue really quickly. If you find yourself hankering for a chilled out experience to combat that feeling, then Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum are just right for a history fix in the city’s best open air museum.
The legend goes that the origins of the Roman Empire began in cave on Palatine Hill where, condemned to die, twin brothers Romulus and Remus were saved by a wolf before being adopted by a Shepard. In a series of events that led to the brothers starting their own city, Romulus killed Remus, and then went on to establish Rome atop Palatine Hill in 753 BCE. It later became the place to live for the city’s richest and most powerful.
It is here, dotted along the hill’s gentle slopes, where you will find the remains of some of these lavish homes. Many are only identifiable by their massive footprint in the earth, or a lone grand wall. Vegetation fills spaces where people once lived, creating an enchanting image framed by the epic panorama of the city below. Surviving frescos or marble details spring up from time to time and if you’re lucky enough you may venture into the well-preserved private homes of Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus, or of his wife, Livia.
As you walk down the hill, you pass through the “modern” Farnese Gardens (1550) and into to the towering remains of the Roman Forum, the epicenter of daily life in ancient times. It’s a sprawling hub of marble government buildings and monuments celebrating the city’s greatest leaders and achievements. Here, on this former marshland, Rome went about the daily business of ruling the entirety of the known world, that is until its fall in 476 AD.
Upon seeing the Forum you are immediately struck with how grand and imposing it is, especially after touring the lives of leisure at the top of the hill. The dense concentration of marble remains show clear signs of destruction and age; Rome’s decline meant the former glory of the center fell into disrepair and the place was mostly used as a dump. Marble was taken away to be repurposed into other buildings, while other wealthy citizens used the land on Palatine Hill for gardening. Excavation began in the early 20th century and today it’s still a working archaeological site.
One ticket gives you 2-Day access to the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and Colosseum, although not many seemed aware of it. The Colosseum’s ticket office had a MUCH longer line to enter than the other two spots, which makes me wonder how many skip the amphitheater’s neighbors because it’s not as recognizable or is too large (Bonus: More space=spread out tourists). I suggest entering through Palatine Hill’s entrance and taking a leisurely walk until you reach the Roman Forum where you may exit.
Limiting yourself to just these two places is an ideal way to spend a day in Rome without the exhaustion which usually accompanies a hard day of sightseeing, although it is quite a bit of walking. I visited in the Fall which meant great temperatures, but I imagine the summer would be a lot more difficult and take a lot more hydration. There’s plenty of places to rest at the top of the hill as well as an indoor museum with facilities, but the real draw of the place is that it inspires some relaxation in a beautiful place. It’ll stimulate your greatest imagination if you allow yourself to get caught in its magic and really appreciate your traveling experience.