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The palatine hill in Rome


Rome picture
Rome picture

Many of the treasures of Rome no longer can be seen where they were placed originally, many can be seen only in other cities of the world, while many others still in Rome represent the spoils of conquest brought to the city from around the ancient world or the cannibalizing of one age or of one faith upon the creations of an earlier one. Rome was sacked first by the Gauls in 390 bc and subsequently by the Visigoths in ad 410, the Vandals in 445, the Normans in 1084, and Spanish troops in 1527. Muslims laid it under siege in 846. The Great Fire of Rome—Nero’s fire—occurred in ad 64, and fires and earthquakes ravaged individual buildings or whole areas fairly often over the millennia. But, of all these scourges, it was the stripping of the structures of antiquity for building materials, especially from the 9th century through the 16th, that destroyed more of Classical Rome than any other force. The heritage of the past that survives in Rome is nevertheless unsurpassed in any city of the West, and it is so ubiquitous that its highlights must be comprehended in terms both of geography and of type.

The origins of Rome, as of all ancient cities, are wrapped in fable. The Roman fable is of Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars, abandoned on the flooding Tiber and deposited by the receding waters at the foot of the Palatine. Suckled by a she-wolf, they were reared by a shepherd and grew up to found Rome, Romulus being obliged to execute Remus for disobeying one of the city’s first laws. The Etruscan bronze statue of the maternally ferocious wolf (late 6th or early 5th century bc; Capitoline Museum) is one of the greatest works among the thousands of masterpieces in Rome. The nursing infants were sculpted and placed under the Etruscan statue in 1509.

The wolf cave, the Lupercal, was maintained as a shrine at least until the fall of the empire but is now lost. On the same side of the Palatine, “Romulus’ House,” a timber-framed circular hut covered in clay-plastered wickerwork, was kept in constant repair. Modern excavations have revealed the emplacement of just such Iron Age huts from the period (8th–7th century bc) given in the fable for the founding of Rome.

On this hill the columns of lost palaces rise in uncompromised beauty from fields of wildflowers and the dust of history. Ilex and pine and bay frame views of Rome. This is the landscape—classical, with figures—that has stirred romantics since it was first limned by 17th-century etchers and sketchers. Before the emperors departed, virtually the entire hill was one vast palace. The Palatine was a superior residential district by the 3rd century bc. Augustus was born there in 63 bc and continued to live there after he became emperor. His private dwelling, built about 50 bc and never seriously modified, still stands.

Known as the House of Livia, for his widow, it has small, graceful rooms decorated with paintings. Other private houses, now excavated and visible, were incorporated into the foundations of the spreading imperial structures, which eventually projected down into the Forum on one side and onto the Circus Maximus on the other. The three crests of the hill were flattened in the course of building. The palace was begun by Tiberius, to whose work Nero, Caligula, Trajan, Hadrian, and Septimius Severus made their own additions. The biggest and richest structure of all was created for Domitian (reigned ad 81–96), whose architect achieved feats of construction engineering not seen before in Rome. Parts of the lavish structure—the richly marbled, centrally heated dining hall of which is among the chambers visible today—were occupied by popes after there were no more emperors, and then the hill was abandoned.

After some six centuries the great Roman families returned to the Palatine, planting 16th-century pleasure gardens and pavilions over past glories. A whole set of rooms from the private wing of Domitian’s palace was preserved by incorporation into the Villa Mattei. Atop Tiberius’ palace the Farnese family built two aviaries and a garden house and laid out one of Europe’s first botanical gardens—some parts of which have escaped archaeological excavation. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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