According to legend, the city of Rome goes back to a time thousands of years ago, when Remus and Romulus, twin sons of Mars (the god of War), were raised by a wolf. Romulus made his home on what is now called Palatine Hill, while Remus chose to live on Aventine hill.
Over time, five other nearby hills became populated. Together, these make up the famed Seven Hills of Rome.
The Seven Hills of Rome, in History
In recorded history, the first emperor of Rome, Augustus was born on Palatine Hill in 63 BC, making that address a very prestigious one indeed. Many other emperors followed suit and the ruins of many imperial buildings remain there to this day, most notably the palace of the Emperor Domitian.
While it is hard to compete with the pedigree of Palatine Hill, the other six hills also have long and distinguished histories. Capitoline Hill’s first claim to fame was as the location of temples of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. In more “recent” times, the Roman senate got together there. In even more recent times, Michelangelo designed three magnificent palaces there. Today, the nearly “brand new” (inaugurated in 1734 by Pope Clement) Capitoline Museum, not far from the Piazza del Campidoglio, houses some of the greatest works of art in the world.
Bathing seems to have been a passion of the ancient Romans, if the Seven Hills of Rome are anything to go by. For example, the Baths of Diocletian are located close to Viminal Hill. Those go back to 306 AD. Later, the National Museum of Rome was built inside the enormous complex, as were two churches, San Bernardo and Santa Maria degli Angeli.
The Esquiline Hill is the largest of the Seven Hills. Nero, one of the less appealing Roman Emperors, called this hill home. Its previous history is even less appealing – it used to be a quasi town dump and was also a pauper’s graveyard. Aside from its unseemly past, this Hill is also where the Colosseum can be found. You won’t find Nero’s palace anymore, because the Colosseum was built on top of it. Oh, and of course there were baths – in this case the Baths of Trajan.
We mentioned above that Romulus chose to live on the Palatine Hill. His twin brother Remus chose Aventine Hill. Between the two hills, the Romans built Circus Maximus, which today is basically just an empty field, but used to be the site of exciting chariot races. In very recent times, the Knights of Malta Square, designed by the 18th century architect Giambattista Piranesi, was built on Aventine. One of the singular touches Piranesi added to this structure was the “Hole of Rome:” peer through this keyhole and see the dome of St. Peter’s.
And that leaves Caelian and Quirinal. Although it stands to reason that there were baths on Quirinal, no evidence of a bathhouse remains there. That the ancient Romans built their baths to last is evidenced by the fact that Caelian Hills Baths of Caracalla, although not currently functioning as a bathhouse, still remain as ruins. The massive scale of these baths (finished in 216 AD) have to be seen to be believed – it’s quite astonishing to wander through the ruins, and wander, and wander…
The Seven Hills of Rome, Today
“Time marches on,” as they say, and if you visit the Seven Hills of Rome today, you get the eerie feeling of living in several eras of time at once.
At the Baths of Caracalla, for instance, you can sit on modern chairs under the stars and enjoy an amazing night out at the opera. The Colosseum has had a lighting makeover and shines like a jewel in the night.
All around these ancient sites, life goes on.While Maseratis and Ferraris have replaced chariots, Italian designer clothes and shoes have replaced togas and sandals, and modern spa resorts have replaced the ancient baths, Rome remains essentially the same – stylish, majestic, and rich in culture. No wonder they call it the “Eternal City.”