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The Palatine

The Emperors´ Views
and Lunch in the Gardens

By Judith Geary

view of the Palatine from the Coliseum
view of the Palatine from the Colosseum

The guidebook said the Palatine was open until six. But it was just after four-thirty in the afternoon, and the gate was locked. I could see two people inside the ticket booth, an older woman and a dark-haired young man, but they were paying no attention to me as I knocked on the window. A space between the gate and the booth was wide enough to walk through, however and the door in the rear was open.

Farnese Gardens
Farnese Gardens

“Parla Inglesa?” I asked the young man, who perched on a stool with one long leg stretched into the doorway. I assume anyone who answers in the affirmative speaks better English than my minimal Italian. At his nod, I continued, with what I hoped was the proper air for a suppliant. “The book says the Palatine is open until six.”

“Only in summer,” he answered. It's nearly impossible to speak in a bored monotone with an Italian accent, but he managed. “Now, we stop selling tickets at four-thirty.”

It was March. He had a point, but I was determined. Verda, my best buddy and companion on the trip, was taking an afternoon rest at the hotel, and I wanted to scout out the Palatine while I could dash madly from one luscious ruin to another rather than maintain a civilized pace. “Couldn't you make an exception; it's only a few minutes past.”

“Other people came before four-thirty. Why should we make an exception for you?”

roof tiles visible below soil and hedge at Farnese
roof tiles visible below soil and hedge at Farnese

Ah, an opening. “This is the fourth time I've been to Rome, and I haven't seen the Palatine yet.” Not a glimmer of response. Then, an inspiration. “And I'm old enough to be your mother. What if it was your mother wanting to buy a ticket?”

“My mother doesn't have to buy a ticket. But you are not my mother.”

“"No, I'm not. But I do have a son who reminds me of you.” I looked hopefully for a response in his dark eyes - a response I believed I saw. “My son James is 20. How old are you?”

“Twenty,” he said, glancing away.

“My son James is tall, like you. He has dark hair and very dark eyes, like you.” I paused. All of what I said to him was true, unfair, perhaps, but true. “But my son James is very soft-hearted. He would give your mother a ticket.”

He spoke in Italian to the woman in the booth. She busied herself with some sort of paperwork, as she had throughout our conversation. I had no indication if she understood English or not, but she silently handed him a ticket over her shoulder.

bird and cat, contending?

 Afraid? Who, me?
the agressor

I thanked him gleefully and skipped off up the path. Ok, I didn't really skip but I felt like it. It occurred to me later that, I may have been speaking English, but I was really arguing in Italian.

After my whirlwind tour of about half an hour on this afternoon (the park closed at five), Verda and I did come back for a more leisurely visit the following day. I've combined the days for the rest of this description.

Approximately half the top of the Palatine is covered by the Farnese Gardens. Cardinal Alessandro Farnese had the gardens planted on the soil-filled ruins of Tiberius' palace in the 16th century. This area has been excavated and re-landscaped in the last century and is a pleasant enough retreat from the Roman sunshine, even for those more interested in an earlier era. The sloping path to the garden's entrance reveals roof tiles fully a foot below the base of a bordering hedge.

Along the path, a drama played itself out as I watched. A bird appeared to be contending with a cat over occupation of a garden bench. I can only suppose a nest or a mate in the overhanging tree made the bench important to the bird, but he certainly appeared the aggressor.

Balconies offered views from the Palatine into the Forum. Verda and I choose this spot for our usual fruit and provolone lunch.

See Verda's article on the Campo dei Fiori  for a bit about the “cheese lady.”

Guidebooks describe steps linking the House of the Vestals to the Palatine's Germalus peak, but both these areas were closed to the public, as were the house of Livia and the Huts of Romulus. As frustrating as the ubiquitous Roman fences became, wonderful sites enough for multiple lifetimes waited around every corner and beyond every heap of ancient masonry. A grotto fed by overflow from the fountain above overlooked the Forum.

view from a balcony in the Farnese Gardens into the Forum views from the Farnese Gardens into the Forum
view into the Forum

view of Basilica of Maxentuis (and Constantine) from the Palatine

view of Basilica of Maxentuis (and Constantine) from the Palatine

Overwhelming the former Palatium peak and the cleft between, ruins of The Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana, Domitian's public and private residences lie beyond the excellent little museum, The Palatine Antiquarium. The best preserved remains are in the lower stories—closed to the public, of course—but an impressive amount can still be seen from the available viewing area. One looks down into the ruins of the Domus Augustana (see below).

Domus Augustana

Domus Augustana

Domus Augustana

Then turn in the opposite direction to get the Emperor's view down into the Circus Maximus. As Verda pointed out, you can really see why the emperors chose this spot. The view is incredible—you have the center of the city on one side and the racetrack on the other—with the Tiber beyond. It's all laid out at your feet like a carpet--symbolic of the rest of the world if you're a Roman Emperor.

Ruins of the Domus Flavia lie over Republican era houses between the Augustana and Farnese Gardens.

view from a porch of the Domus Flavia toward St. Peters Circus Maximus from the Domus Augustana
view of Circus Maximus from Domus Augustana view from the Domus Augustana
Domus Flavia  
fountain base of the Domus Flavia Domus Flavia

When Verda and I visited the Palatine mid-day we learned from the beautiful young man in the ticket booth that his name was “Romeo.” How likely is that? Unfortunately, I lost the picture I took of him. (Perhaps I was nervous and shut the camera before its tiny digital brain had time to save the image.)

Finally, to tie together the millennia, an evening view of St. Peters from a porch of the Domus Flavia.


Tully and me Judith Geary lives in Boone, NC where she is variously a writer, editor and adjunct faculty member at Appalachian State University. The material for this article was gathered during an independent visit March 9-17, 2001. She also is editor at High Country Publishers, Ltd.

Other articles by Judith Geary:
Big Changes in Ancient Rome
In the Steps of Julius Caesar
the little house in Pompeii held a grand illusion
Republican Roman Construction
Buildings of Artificial Stone 
Republican Roman Names

© Judith Geary 2001
Gladiator photo © Irene Hahn


Ancient Rome as seen in the year 2001

for articles click here
by Judith Geary & Verda Ingle

Irene's Travelogue: Roman Germania 1999

gladiator image, click here for travelogue

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