The Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and Colosseum are often referred to as the Ancient City of Rome. There is tons to see but not many labels inside. We highly recommend taking a guided tour of the area but if you go it alone you should definitely take this guide along with you!
Pro Tip: If you are researching for your trip and considering a solo-journey to the area, definitely bookmark this post on your internet browser. This way you can circle back to it in Rome! Also, check out our Colosseum tours which include admission for the entire area including the Palatine Hill.
These three articles are intended to be used together and are in chronological order. If you start with our Colosseum article, the icon below, and move through the posts you’ll be able to see everything in order.
6 Things to See On the Palatine Hill
At this point you are finishing up with the Colosseum and should head to the Palatine Hill. Make sure you have your ticket in hand and head from the Colosseum exit, to the Palatine Hill entrance. You can find this entrance on Via di San Gregorio, 30.
6. Claudian Aqueduct (Aqua Claudia)
If you can appreciate engineering than seeing an aqueduct first hand is a bucket list item. The Claudian Aqueduct is the most productive and possibly the most impressive of all.
People often overthink the idea of freshwater. How does it even get to your house? Maybe you have a well and if not you have to find a water source and really long pipes. If you live on a hill it may get even more difficult.
Rome was a large city 2000 years ago. Some estimates put it north of a million people. People need water each day to drink, bath, and deal with sewage. If there were a million people you have to imagine you’d need at least 3 million gallons per day to scrape by right? Perdue University estimates it could have brought 300 million gallons of water each day or more.
Aqua Claudia was one of the four great Roman aqueducts. Caligula started the project and Claudius completed it. It is approximate 43 miles long (69km), most of which is underground. The duct emerges from the ground as it reaches Rome and extends to over 100 feet (32m) off the ground as the ground slopes downward.
This was important if you wanted good water pressure on the top of a hill. As many as 700 engineers monitored these ducts to ensure they were working properly. It was quintessential for Rome’s prosperity and it was prosperous. A wealthy Roman lived a luxurious life even by today’s standards.
You’ll see a piece of this structure after entering the Palatine hill entrance on your left. It was one of ten aqueducts and likely the most productive. I highly recommend this and for me it is one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
5. Hippodrome Stadium of Domitian
What is the point of having a palace if you cannot have your own stadium inside? I imagine Domitian told his architect this when he was designing this elaborate and most opulent feature of his home. It stood 150 feet wide and 500 feet long (160m x 48m).
The purpose? A garden area where you could practice riding a horse and enjoy nature in the middle of a bustling city. There was an elaborate area that guests used for guest seating and private gladiatorial events, but there is not much mention of it in history.
Pliny the Younger, one of Rome’s historians wrote of a “Hippodromus Palatii” when describing the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian in the Hippodrome of Domitian, but they martyred Sebastian in 286 which was 200 years after Domitian.
The area had very likely multiple functions for a combination of things. Indoor/outdoor garden in the palace. Multiple fountains displaying the strength of Rome’s water systems. A place to hold private events or just to ride a horse privately. Don’t we all need a room in our house to ride a horse? After seeing this you will agree that it is one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
4. Hypocaust for Heating
They won’t look like much, but as you pass by the north-facing end of the Hippodrome (the only way you can walk) you’ll see some ruins on your right. This area was likely a heating system that could warm the palace during cooler nights in Rome.
The system heated below the floors and produced basically the same effect as a forced-air furnace does today. It was common in lavish palaces and therefore many rooms had heated floors.
3. Mosaic Palace Floors
As you pass into the Domus Augustana or House of Augustus, be sure to look down and see mosaic floors beneath you. This is almost definitely your direct connection with many famed personalities in Rome of the 1st, 2nd & 3rd centuries who would have walked on these same pieces of tile.
Globalization has taken a lot of the romance out of travel. There are very few surprises today. You can order tile from morocco and tea from China. It will likely be at your house in a few weeks if not less.
In the first century, purple cloth was a rarity and extremely expensive. Yellow marble didn’t even exist until the Romans ventured to Numidia (Algeria) and defeated Jugurtha King of Numidia. Prior to that, yellow simply wasn’t a color marble came in.
When you walked into the palace of Domitian, there was yellow, green, white, black, and even purple marble and granite. These are things most people have never even seen before – it was impressive, to say the least. Your jaw would drop when you saw a fountain spraying water into the air on the top of a hill with no larger hill in sight.
2. Circus Maximus Balcony
As you walk across the hill, step inside the walls of the palaces and towards the circus Maximus. You’ll be standing on a massive balcony which was part of the structure of the Temple of Apollo, and have the best view of the Circus Maximus.
At this point, you should start to understand how the Romans operated. The idea was “think big and only big.” You’ve just been conquered and agreed to join the Roman Empire instead of having your civilization erased from history and salt sowed into your land. The loss was a big ego hit, but you agree to come to Rome to see what you just bought into – not that you had a choice really.
As you are heading in, on paved roads which you’ve never seen, you pass by seemingly endless aqueducts standing 100+ feet tall. You pass by an impressive wall and then another impressive wall. Then you see the Colosseum and ask, “how many people in that?” Fifty-thousand or so.
Head up to the Palatine Hill here the Emperor is riding a horse in his own stadium that happens to be heated. He welcomes you and says, “I almost forgot, the game is on.” Then you arrive to his balcony seating on the Temple of Apollo where he can see the chariot races in the Circus Maximus. You ask, “How many people in this one?” We just put an addition on it so now it fits 250,000 people.
The Circus Maximus would have been one of the most impressive buildings in history. Including all modern stadiums built today, the Circus Maximus would be tied for the 4th largest stadium in the world. When you arrived to Rome and saw it – you wouldn’t feel as bad about being conquered. With such a great view this is one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
1. Casa di Livia
Attached to the House of Augustus on the east-facing hill you’ll find the Casa di, Livia. It is a small structure but an important feature has stood up the test of time. The building houses frescoes dating back to the last century BC. It gives you. a clear idea of how the Empress lived.
It is a multi-room structure on the northwest corner of the Palatine Hill. You can follow signs for “Casa di Livia” once on the hill. It is not always open. You can enter from M – F 9 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm. Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm.