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22: The Sacred Hill of Rome

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The renowned Seven Hills of Ancient Rome are: Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Palatine, Aventine and Caelian. The highest is the Viminal at 180 feet, and the lowest the Aventine at 150 feet.

We have begun this chronicle by naming the seven hills because although Bolívar's biographers tell us that he took his oath: ("Never to give rest to his arm nor to his soul until he had removed the yoke of Spanish Rule from his Fatherland") on the "Monte Sacro," there is some question as to which hill is meant.

The only place actually bearing the name "Monte Sacro" is a small hill with an uninspiring view, situated on the northwestern outskirts of Rome, about five miles from the Forum. Because of the distance from the heart of the city, many historians have instead decided upon the Aventine Hill as the probable site of the oath. Although we subscribed to this theory, a recent visit to the various sites in Rome and closer examination of the facts has led us to conclude that the "Monte Sacro" is actually the Palatine.

In describing the event, Simón Rodríguez, Bolívar's tutor, who accompanied him to Rome, mentions that upon reaching the top of the "Sacred Hill," Bolívar's penetrating gaze swept over the magnificent view before us," and that Bolívar referred in his oath to the greatness of ancient Rome and its Patricians. The scenery from a vantage point on the Palatine is breathtaking. To the north rise the ruins of the Roman Forum, with the many temples, the Senate, the Basilica Julia and the Arch of Septimus Severus. On the Palatine itself can be admired the ruins of the Imperial Temple of Augustus and of the Palace of Emperor Tiberius. Looking to the northwest, you can see the ruins of the Temples of Venus and Rome, the majestic Arch of Constantine and, in the center, the remains of the gigantic Colosseum, completed in 80 A.D., which at that time was considered the grandest structure in the world.

But from the Aventine Hill, located behind the Palatine, the only ruins that can be seen in the distance are the Baths of Caracalla and, toward the outskirts of the city, the beginning of the Via Appia,(1) famous for the miraculous apparition of the Redeemer to Saint Peter, at the gates of Rome, where Saint Peter asked his master: "Domine, quo vadis?"

Confirming this hypothesis, Admiral Hiram Paulding, who visited Bolívar in Perú in June of 1824, writes in his Memoirs (New York, 1910) that the Liberator himself told him during this interview that it was on the Palatine that he had sworn to break the shackles of Spanish oppression.

Another deduction that would seem to confirm this theory is that, when Bolívar and his tutor Rodríguez visited Rome during the spring of 1805, they stopped at a boarding house located on the Piazza di Spagna. The distance from there to the Palatine Hill is slightly over one mile, and en route to the hill are the ruins of the Roman Forum. On the other hand, the distance between the Piazza di Spagna and the Aventine Hill, located behind and beyond the Palatine, is nearly two miles.

However, the name of the hill is not important. Posterity will continue calling it "Monte Sacro"-the name given to it by the Father of Five Republics in a letter to his former tutor written from Pativilca, January 19, 1824. To us it will always be "Monte Sacro." Bolívar's oath, inspired by the magnificent ruins of the Roman Forum, sowed on that "Sacred Hill" a seed of Liberty for all Americans that was to germinate a few years later into the Independence of an entire continent!

1. Built by Censor Appius Claudius in 212 B.C.

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