Fit for an Emperor

by Danilo Brunetti

One of Rome’s most important imperial palaces reopens after nearly half a century. Tiffany Parks has the details.

For anyone who has ever gazed up from the Circus Maximus to the towering ruins of the Palatine Hill, marveling at their extraordinary ability to dominate Rome’s skyline for nearly two centuries, now is your chance to explore them at last. While the ruins of the Palatine have been open to visitors for centuries, for the last 50 years, access has been denied to arguably its most important site.

Famously, the Palatine Hill was the chosen location for the emperors to build their palaces. Emperor Augustus began the tradition, selecting this hill for his imperial residence because, according to Rome’s founding legends, it was the site of the simple hut of Rome’s first king, Romulus. But Augustus’ residence was surprisingly modest given his position; it wasn’t until his stepson and successor Tiberius came to power in 14 AD that the tradition of Rome’s imposing imperial palaces began.

The Domus Tiberiana was the first true Roman imperial palace, built on the northwest slope of the hill in the 1st century AD. In addition to the emperor’s residence, the palace consisted of vast gardens, places of worship, barracks for the Praetorian Guard, and innumerable ceremonial spaces, undergoing several extensions over time until it covered an impressive four hectares, still the largest palace on the hill.

But nearly 50 years ago, the site was deemed structurally unsound and was closed to the public indefinitely. After half a century of on-again, off-again restorations, this fascinating site is finally reopening its doors. The opening of the palace is part of a new exhibit, Imago Imperii, consisting of 13 different spaces previously off-limits to even the most ardent lover of ancient Rome. Don’t miss this chance to explore a part of ancient Rome that few alive have ever seen.