Travel

When in Rome: Visiting the House of Livia on the Palatine Hill

I wrote about the series of special events that took place in Rome, in celebration of the 2000th anniversary of Emperor Augustus’ death. My last post focused on the ‘House of Augustus’ (see here) and today I will concentrate on the ‘House of Livia’ in this follow-up piece.

The House of Livia, Palatine Hill, Rome Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The House of Livia, Palatine Hill, Rome. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

First excavated in 1839, the house has been attributed to Livia on the basis of the name IVLIA AVG[VSTA] stamped on a lead pipe on display on the left-hand wall of the tablinum. The two-storey house, built around a central atrium, was decorated with advanced “Second Pompeian Style” wall paintings, reflecting the sophisticated taste of wealthy Romans. The remains of the house are reached by a sloping hallway whose floor is covered with a black and white geometric mosaic leading into a rectangular atrium.

Plan of the House of Livia

Plan of the House of Livia. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The best preserved section of Livia’s House consists of a rectangular atrium and three relatively large adjoining rooms (a tablinum and two side rooms). Each room was painted with a mythological subject and its floor decorated in black and white geometric mosaic.

The tablinum of the House of Livia, also known as the "Room of Polyphemus". Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The tablinum of the House of Livia, also known as the “Room of Polyphemus”. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The central room (the tablinum), also known as the “Room of Polyphemus”, was the most richly decorated. Each of its walls had a large mythological picture in the middle, set in a large columnar frame. The mythological picture on the back wall, now totally illegible, showed one of the earliest representation of the story of the monster Polyphemus and the sea nymph Galatea. It depicted Polyphemus immersed in the water with a young Cupid riding on its shoulders pursuing the nymph Galatea as she rides a sea-horse (hippocampus).

Detail of wall painting on the back wall of the tablinum Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Detail of wall painting on the back wall of the tablinum. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Around the central panel are backdrops of illusionistic architecture and small panels with ritual scenes.

Detail of fresco on the back wall of the tablinum. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Detail of fresco on the back wall of the tablinum. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The mythological scene on the right-hand wall of the tablinum is still partly visible. Here Mercury is depicted rescuing the mortal woman Io, who had been changed into a white heifer by Zeus in order to disguise his affair with her. Io is facing her guardian Argus while Mercury, arriving from the left, is about to free her.

The tablinum with the mythological scenes in the center of both walls Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The tablinum with the mythological scenes in the center of both walls. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Detail of fresco on the right-hand wall of the tablinium Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Detail of fresco on the right-hand wall of the tablinum. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The decoration on the right-hand room is characterized by luxuriant festoons and garlands of fruits, flowers, branches and leaves. A yellow frieze running along the top the frescoes was filled with scenes of everyday life in Egypt (camels, sphinxes and a statue of Isis can be seen).

The right-hand room of the House of Livia, characterized by luxuriant festoons of fruit and flowers Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The right-hand room of the House of Livia, characterized by luxuriant festoons of fruit and flowers. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The right-hand room of the House of Livia, characterized by luxuriant festoons of fruit and flowers. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Fresco detail with luxuriant festoons in right-hand room of the House of Livia. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The decorations on the left-hand room show winged fantasy figures, human and animal, ending in elegant plant tendrils.

The left-hand room of the House of Livia showing winged fantasy figures, human and animal, ending in elegant plant tendrils Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The left-hand room of the House of Livia. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The triclinium (dining room) is remarkable for its delicate decoration. Each wall was given an elaborate design of illusionistic architecture featuring a large picture of a sacred and rural landscape in the centre.

A relatively simpler architectural scheme with imitation veneer adorned the walls of the atrium and the vestibulum.

The vestibulum with imitation veneer adorning the walls Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The vestibulum with imitation veneer adorning the walls. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Wall painting fragment alternating wide black and narrow green panels framed in red and bordered above and below in yellow bands. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Wall painting fragment alternating wide black and narrow green panels framed in red and bordered above and below in yellow bands. Photo © Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Following the expensive conservation effort, a visit to the House of Liva and Augustus can now be booked with Coopculture.it or at the Arch of Titus entrance to the Forum. Tighter restrictions on the number of visitors who can access the site at any one time have been put in place since September 2014 and you will need to book to join the 2pm English tour which runs on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays. The guided tour lasts 75 minutes and accommodates a maximum of 20 people. However, if you call the Coopculture call center (+39 06 399 67 700), you may join a smaller group albeit without a guide (in our case 8 people). A member of staff will  escort you to the site and will remain with you for the duration of the visit (about one hour for both Augustus and Livia’s houses). Combined ticket for the Palatine-Roman Forum / Colosseum (valid for one entrance in the two sites for 2 consecutive days) or the Archaeologia Card (valid 7 days) have to be bought to get access to both Imperial houses.

Originally published on Following Hadrian, republished with permission.
Filed under: Travel

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Carole Raddato’s favourite hobby is travelling and for the last 8 years she has taken a huge interest in the history of the ancient world. She has dedicated all her free time to this passion. She loves to share with other history fans all the incredible facts and stories that she discovers throughout her journeys. She is neither a professional photographer nor an ancient history scholar, but she hopes that everybody can enjoy her photos. She is particularly interested in everything related to the emperor Hadrian whom she finds fascinating. He was himself an incessant traveller, visiting every province in the Empire during his reign. When Carole is looking for new ideas for her travels, she usually takes inspiration from his journeys and it is a great motivation for her to follow him in his footsteps.