You may wish to read a page on the main monuments first.
(left) A relief portraying an eagle, symbol of Rome; (centre) a lintel; (right) fragment of a marble foot. A detail of a lintel can be seen in the image used as background for this page
In 1724-26 Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma, promoted excavations at Domus Flavia that led to the discovery of basaltic statues of Bacchus and Hercules and of several columns of pavonazzetto,
which he used to embellish his properties at Parma.
By the time (after 1870) the Italian government acquired the property of the whole hill and undertook a systematic plan of excavations, most of the decorations, inscriptions, statues and columns of the palaces were gone. The most interesting findings are on display in a small museum inside the archaeological area, but by wandering about one can still see some interesting fragments of capitals, lintels and statues.
Walls and floors of Domus Flavia were decorated with coloured marbles: it is said that in the last years of his life
Emperor Domitian became so wary of a plot to kill him that he had the marbles continuously polished with beeswax so that he could detect anyone approaching him from behind; eventually
this did not prevent his assassination.
As the conspirators were deliberating when and how to attack him, whether at the bath or at dinner, Stephanus, Domitilla's (niece of Domitian) steward, at the time under accusation for embezzlement, offered his aid and counsel. To avoid suspicion, he wrapped up his left arm in woollen bandages for some days, pretending that he had injured it, and concealed in them a dagger. Then pretending to betray a conspiracy and for that reason being given an audience, he stabbed the emperor in the groin as he was reading a paper which the assassin handed him.
Suetonius - The Lives of the Twelve Caesars - translation by J. C. Rolfe
Most of the best known monuments of ancient Greece were built using white marble because it was easily available in the mountains near Athens or on Paros. The size of the Roman Empire provided the emperors with a large choice of marbles for the monuments they built in Rome. They often preferred coloured marbles as one can see at Domus Flavia (you may wish to see a page on the stones of Rome) .
(left) Paedagogium; (right) a forica near Domus Tiberiana
The ruins of the Palatine do not speak only about the emperors: the running of the palaces required many servants: at the foot of the hill (on the side towards Circus Maximus), archaeologists have found evidence of a school (Paedagogium) for their children. Remains of a forica (men's room) are another indication of the facilities designed for them.
Miscellanea: 1) 1726 inscription celebrating one of the first restorations of ancient buildings by Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma; 2) inscription celebrating a visit by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746;
3) inscription on a wall of Domus Severiana (when part of it housed a convent) with verses from "Pange Lingua" (Sing my Tongue), a hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) (translation: Faithful Cross!
above all other, one and only noble Tree! None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peers may be; sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest weight is hung on thee!); 4) an ancient stone with carved lines and cavities. It might have been used for betting games (see similar stones at a Roman fort in Jordan); 5) "Rosa canina" flowers near Domus Tiberiana. The ancient Romans loved roses, but they knew only the small varieties (see a page on the Rose Garden of Rome)
Guidebooks and audio guide devices are excellent tools for understanding and appreciating the historical and artistic importance of the Palatine monuments. Obviously they cannot cover some small details which can be noticed by wandering about without reading a guidebook or listening to the audio guide device.
What should we do with a monument or a work of art of the past which is greatly damaged? Italians have had to deal with this question since the XVth century when they started discovering ancient statues.
For at least three centuries the answer was: let's try to complete them. Based on this assumption heads of emperors were placed on torsos of athletes and the best sculptors
were asked to add arms, legs, hands, feet and fingers to statues which had lost them: a famous example of this approach is the restoration of the Laoco÷n group (it opens in another window): Pope Julius II, based on the advice of Raphael, approved the addition of an outstretched right arm to the bearded figure of Laoco÷n (in 1957 the missing arm was found: it was not outstretched, but bent down as suggested by Michelangelo).
In the early XIXth century a more cautious view was developed: the reconstruction of the missing parts of Arco di Tito was made using a different stone and without imitating the original decoration. In the late XIXth century a conservative approach which was aimed at the sole conservation of the findings prevailed. While other countries have followed different paths (see a case at Afrodisias), on the Palatine archaeologists have chosen to plant a tree to indicate the location of a monument, instead of building a fake one. A lonely pine on a mound marks the site of a small temple which stood at the centre of a pool.
Mediterranean cypresses act as a windbreaker, in addition to making the area very evocative of its past. Many pines and cypresses have been planted along Via Appia Antica.
In 1217 Pope Honorius III approved the Order of the Preachers, founded by St. Dominic. The pope lived in Rocca Savella and St. Dominic brought some orange trees from Spain which were planted in the cloister of nearby S. Sabina. Orange trees became an ornamental plant which at first embellished cloisters and later on also gardens: so they were planted in Orti Farnesiani on the site of Domus Tiberiana. The fruits are not edible, but seeing them (and a palm tree) on December 30, 2007 gave me the feeling that winter was not a cold and dreary season.
Villa Adriana was turned into an olive-grove by its XVIIIth century owners and the view of its monuments gained by being surrounded by these trees. Based on this experience archaeologists similarly embellished the slopes of the Palatine.
A visit to the emperors' palaces has the added value of allowing views of other monuments, including some of the best known domes of Rome.
A Grand Tour view of Colosseo