Rome Stories and Tips

Suckled by a She-wolf : the Capitoline and Palatine hills

The ruins of Domitians palace Photo, Rome, Italy

Can you think of a more memorable emblem of a city then the capitoline wolf? The statue in the Capitoline museum has two babies, Romulus and Remus, hanging from her teets and looks less of a wolf and more of a dingo. But all great cities have legends associated with their creation. And the hill where Romulus was suckled by a wolf is the true heart of Rome and overlooks the Forum and Colosseum. Matched with the Palatine hill a little further south, which was the Beverley Hills of Imperial Rome, - a visit to both these hills take's you back to the creation of this great city. Ruined palaces, exquisite gardens, magnificent buildings and a piazza designed by Michelangelo await you on these hills. As well as views of the Forum, Centro Storico and Tiber that will bowl you over.

The Palatine Hill

This is one of my favourite places in Rome. Much more spacious and greener then the Forum it commands spectacular views across Rome. This was the Beverley Hills/Knightsbridge/Upper East Side of Ancient Rome. Only the most exclusive patrician families had villas and palaces on this hill. And eventually the entire flat summit was covered by the great Imperial palace of Domitian. "Palatine" gave the English language the word "Palace" and it was from here that the Emperor's governed. The walls of the great palace still stand and are so complete that you can pick out corridors, courtyards and fountains. After the Forum you could do alot worse then head uphill to the Palatine.

Nowadays there are only two entrances to the Palatine. From Via San Gregorio near the Colosseum or directly from the Forum. The entrance from the Forum is the one most people use and is reached up the path from the Arch of Titus. There is an entrance fee of 13,000 lira and take a good map, just like the Forum the Palatine is very badly labelled. The advantage of this way is that you will be travelling the main route used by the Imperial household down to the Forum. Imagine two thousand years ago centurions standing at a guardpost at the entrance to the Palatine. The Palace was just perfectly positioned away from the hoi polloi and just close enough to the Senate and Forum.

First impressions are misleading. The Palatine can look like a vast open-air park broken only by russet-red walls and ruins (see photo). But as you look around you can discern corridors, room outlines and courtyards. Alot of the ruins are as high as your neck so their outlines form corridors leading to courtyards that once gushed fountains. Rumour said that Domitian was so paranoid at the end of his reign that held had walls of polished marble so he could spot assassins. The focus for the ruins is the Museu Palatine which houses marble statues and busts found in the ruins and is definitely worth a look. But I wanted to see the Casa Livia. The Empress Livia was wife to Augustus and if you have ever seen the BBC's version of "I, Claudius" was memorably played by Sian Phillips. The Casa Liva is a little way to the west of the Museu Palatine and only consists of three rooms. The rooms however are adorned with frescoes. You can leave it to your imagination to envisage the plotting and scheming that went on in this palace.

The great palace on the Palatine eventually fell into ruin and was picked up by Renaissance families. One of these, the Farnese, created a garden dating back a thousand years. It is a nice place to relax after the ruins with fountains, bamboo groves, shrubs and grottoes. The view from the western end of the Palatine across Rome to St Peters is unbeatable and worth the admission price on its own.

The Capitoline Hill

The true heart of Rome. Where the she-wolf suckled Romulus who founded a city in his name in 753BC. In Roman times it housed the cities major temples - Minerva and Jupiter. But today houses the spectacular Musei Capitolini in a gorgeous Piazza designed by Michelangelo known as the Campidogio. Much the best reason to climb the hill as well as magnificent views across the Forum. To reach the Capitoline from the Forum head to the northwest corner and take any of the trails up through the pine trees. These should connect with the Via Della Consolozone.

In a city that doesn't lack beautiful Piazza's - the Campidogio is one of the best. It was designed by an aging Michelangelo on the orders of Pope III for a visit by the Emperor Charles V. The very same man who sacked Rome twenty years earlier - but such is politics. As you climb the cordonata the beauty of the Piazza becomes apparent. The orange baroque buildings form a perfect square and surround an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The tangerine of the buildings looks magnificent against the sapphire of the sky (see photo). Best of all are the colossal white marble statues of Castor and Pollux which stand guard against the ramp. This is a good place to rest and get your breath back.

If you hanker after more Roman grandeur then you must enter the Capitoline museum. Split between two buildings on the Piazza this is well-worth the 8,000 lira. Highlights for me included the frescoe of the 'Rape of the Sabine women' (which probably happened where we were standing), a green copper bust of Constantine with staring eyes and the physical symbol of Rome - the capitoline wolf. On the ground floor is a terracotta courtyard which housed fragments from an immense statue of Constantine. Going by the size of the head and feet - the statue must have been gigantic. But my tip for you is the rooftop restaurant. You can take a drink on the terrace and enjoy the cream cityscape spread around you. There is only one word to describe Rome: Glorious.

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