Visiting Rome, especially for the first time, without at least touching on the city’s history would be nearly impossible to do. Along with ancient Greece, Rome is considered to be the birthplace of western civilization, and evidence of that achievement looms around virtually every corner in the city…at least the architectural remnants of it, anyway. As you’d expect, the Colosseum sees the highest tourist traffic among Rome’s famous ruins, but you’ll be able to discover even more history, as well as get a glimpse into daily life during the height of the Roman Empire, by visiting the Colosseum’s sister sites – the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
If I could offer just one piece of advice, it would be to visit both of these sites with a guide. There are no pamphlets handed out at the entrances or signs throughout the sites describing what you’re looking at. Both the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are entirely just ruins, which definitely keeps them feeling authentic vs museum-like, but doesn’t help you out much if you aren’t even aware of what you’re looking at. If a guided tour isn’t an option, I recommend at least printing off maps and doing a little reading ahead of time. That’s what we did, which helped give us a little more context, but I still think we’d have enjoyed it more if we’d gone through with a guide like we did at the Colosseum. (You can find a map of the Roman Forum here and Palatine Hill here.)
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill each have their own entrance, but the sites are connected, so you won’t need to exit one and then stand in line again to enter the other. Lines tend to be shortest at the entrance to Palatine Hill, so that’s where we started. (FYI – Entrance into both sites is included with your Colosseum ticket!) You’ll find more information on both sites below, as well as a list of must-see highlights inside the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill you’ll want to mark on your map before you go!
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One of the most ancient parts of the city of Rome, Palatine Hill sits at the center of the Seven Hills of Rome. These hills were located in the heart of Rome within the boundaries of the city walls, which is why several Roman emperors chose to build their palaces here, some of the remains of which you can still see today.
Palatine Hill’s history, however, dates even further back than the Holy Roman Emperors. Supposedly, the first people to ever live in Rome lived on Palatine Hill. Several myths and legends surround this area, the most famous of which (the tale of Romulus and Remus) depicts the fabled events that led to the founding of the city of Rome.
Stories aside, there is a lot of real history to be seen here. Most of what remains hardly resembles what it once was, but it’s interesting to see regardless. Palatine Hill is also an excellent spot to take a walk if the weather’s nice. It’s the least crowded of the Colosseum-Roman Forum-Palatine Hill trifecta and, thanks to its height, has lovely views over the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and other areas of the city!
Highlights at Palatine Hill
- Flavian Palace The enormous palace built for Emperor Domitian dominating Palatine Hill.
- Stadium of Domitian Most likely used as Domitian’s personal gardens, it’s possible small sporting events were also held here.
- Domus Severiana These were the last rooms added onto the imperial palace by Emperor Septimius Severus. The Baths are particularly worth a look.
- Circus Maximus The largest chariot-racing arena in Rome, capable of holding up to 300,000 spectators.
- Houses of Livia and Augustus These require a separate entrance ticket, but are the best-preserved living quarters on Palatine Hill.
- The Lookout Terrace Although not a part of the ancient ruins, the terrace near the connection between Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum is one of the best spots to get a good look at the Forum ruins before you enter them at ground level.
The Roman Forum
The Seven Hills of Rome might have been the geographical heart of Rome, but its true beating heart was the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum, a plaza around which several temples, important public buildings, and statues and memorials were once situated, was at the core of daily life in Rome for over a thousand years. Serving many purposes from a marketplace to an arena for public speeches and trials, the Roman Forum was essentially the commercial and political center of Rome.
Walking through the Roman Forum today feels a lot like walking through Pompeii, just a little greener. Following the area’s excavation in the 19th century, new paths were cut through what was left of the government buildings where the Senate met, the Forum’s many temples and shrines, and several monuments dedicated to Rome’s famous rulers of the times. A few select buildings, arches and columns, and statues remain recognizable in their semi-original forms; the rest of what you’ll see is only fragments of what once was, but it’s enough to be able to imagine just how incredible the Roman Forum would have looked in its prime!
Highlights at the Roman Forum
- Via Sacra Rome’s Sacred Road stretching from the top of Capitoline Hill, through the Roman Forum, and to the Colosseum.
- Milliarium Aureum The Golden Milestone was a monument measuring the distance of all cities in the Roman Empire to Rome. Only what is believed to be the base remains today.
- Arch of Titus The oldest of the Roman Forum’s triumphal arches, erected after the death of Emperor Titus by his brother Emperor Domitian.
- Temple of Castor and Pollux These three, tall Corinthian columns known as the Three Sisters are one of the most recognizable monuments still standing in the Forum.
- The Curia The official meeting place of the Roman Senate, the Curia was torn down and rebuilt many times. The current Curia dates back to 305 AD.
- Temple of Vesta Containing the Sacred Fire, an eternal flame guarded by the Vestal Virgins, this temple was one of the most important in ancient Rome.
- House of the Vestal Virgins This was the residence for the priestesses who guarded the eternal flame. Several statues depicting the Head Vestals remain, albeit mostly headless.
- Temple of Saturn The original was the first temple built in the Roman Forum. The eight columns still standing today belong to one of its successors built in the 4th century.
- Arch of Septimius Severus Commemorating Emperor Septimius Severus’s decade in power, this arch was also considered the symbolic center of Rome.
Tickets can be purchased online here or at the entrance to any of the three sites. (Ticket queues will be shortest at Palatine Hill.) Your ticket allows a single entry into the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, and is good for two consecutive days which is super helpful since trying to fit all three sites into one day would make for one very full day!
Looking for more? Check out 10 Things To Do On Your First Trip To Rome + Travel Tips!
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