A Tourist in Rome - Capitoline Hill
|Location:||The hill between the Roman Forum, the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Campus Martius, and the Forum Boarium, accessible from Via dei Fori Imperiali via the road between Caesar's Forum and the Victor Emmanuel Monument, or from Via del Teatro di Marcello from the stairway to the right of the stairway to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli.|
|Metro:||Colosseo, and is also on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour|
|Time:||about 30 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time|
The Capitoline Hill is one of the two currently non-populated hills of the Seven Hills of Rome, along with the Palatine Hill. It was the the geographical and ceremonial center of ancient Rome, being the site of their most important temple, the Temple of Jupiter. This temple towered over the Roman Forum, and its foundations can be seen today (1st and 2nd photos below) inside and outside the Capitoline Museum, which is the shining star of museums in Rome, and the primary attraction of today's Capitoline Hill. The hill and the Temple of Jupiter became symbols of Rome, the Caput Mundi (capitol of the world). In ancient times, the Capitoline Hill was a natural fortress, with rocky cliffs on all sides and two crests on the top. The northern crest, where the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli now stands, was the slightly higher crest, and was called the Arx (citadel) and held the Temple of Juno. The southern crest, where the Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Caffarelli (the part of the Capitoline Museum furthest from the Victor Emmanuel Monument) now stand was called the Capitolium, and held the Temple of Jupiter. This end of the hill was reserved exclusively for religious purposes from a very early period, becoming the center of the State cult and the destination of Rome's military triumphal processions. The saddle-shaped depression between the two crests was called the Asylum, an area where, according to legend, Romulus had declared a sanctuary to attract foreign refugees and increase the population of Rome. Since those ancient times, the hill's edges have softened and due to development, the hill mainly faces west to the Via del Teatro di Marcello today (3rd photo below), rather than facing east toward the Roman Forum (4th photo below) as it did in antiquity. The edges of the hill were steep enough that they were used for executions in ancient times. The northern part of the eastern edge held the Gemonian Stairs and the southern part of the eastern edge has the Tarpeian Rock.
The Piazza del Campidoglio, or simply Campidoglio (1st photo below, just for fun), is the modern piazza at the spot of the ancient Asylum, designed by Michelangelo in 1536-1546 and finally completed during the 17th century, except for the paving which was finished during the 20th century by Mussolini in accordance to Michelangelo's design. The star-shaped paving stones on the Campidoglio (2nd photo below), designed by Michelangelo, form one of the symbols of Rome. It's embossed on a money-clip (3rd photo below) that I bought in the Capitoline Museum gift shop, and which I love to use whenever the opportunity arises. The apparent oval of the paving stones on the Campidoglio is actually slightly egg-shaped to balance the trapezoidal space outlined by the buildings which surround the piazza. The 4th photo below shows the paving stones of the Campidoglio through the gorgeous old character-filled windows of the Palazzo Nuovo in the Capitoline Museum. The 3rd photo above and the 5th photo below are views of the stairway (actually more of a ramp since each individual step slopes upward) from Via del Teatro di Marcello up to the Campidoglio. That stairway, called the Cordonata, is often attributed to Micelangelo, but was actually completed and modified by Giacomo Della Porta in 1578.
The Campidoglio is loaded with historically significant statues. At the bottom of the Cordonata stairway are two Egyptian basalt lion sculptures from the temple to Serapis and Isis in the Campus Martius near Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which have become fountains (1st and 2nd photos below), one on each side of the stairway. Part way up the stairway, on the left, is a statue of Cola di Rienzi (3rd photo below), a 14th century political figure in Rome who claimed himself to be a Tribune and reviver of the ancient Roman Republic, and who ended up being killed near this spot. At the top of the stairway are statues of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) (4th photo below), which are also visible in the 5th photo above. Castor is on the left (5th photo below), and Pollux is on the right (6th photo below). Michelangelo wanted to use the statues which actually now surround the Quirinal Obelisk and the Fountain of Castor and Pollux, but the popes had already confiscated those statues for their palace on the Quirinal Hill. Instead, fragments of statues of Castor and Pollux were found during excavations in the Jewish Ghetto, and were moved to the top of the stairway in 1585. Unfortunately, Castor's original head was never found, so a new one was sculpted in 1582. Pollux's head was badly damaged and a new nose, chin and hair were created at the same time. It is impossible to be sure, but the original faces might have portrayed Augustus' grandsons Gaius (who died at age 24 in 4 AD) and Lucius (who died at age 19 in 2 AD), who were Augustus' intended successors as emperor, and were identified with Castor and Pullux even during their lifetime, and moreso after their deaths. The Dioscuri are particulary appropriate to have been placed here since they are protectors of the city of Rome and insurers of Liberty.
There are several other statues and objects along the edge of the Campidoglio on a balustrade at the top of the Cordonata. The objects on the left and the right, nearest to Castor and Pollux are the Trophies of Marius. In this context, a 'trophy' is a display of captured enemy arms and armor which was mounted on a wooden framework and carried as part of a triumphal procession. The Trophy of Marius on the left is shown in the 1st and 2nd photos below, and the one on the right in the 3rd and 4th photos below. Marius was a late-2nd-century BC general who reformed the armies of the Roman Republic, defeated Teutonic barabaries, won a war in Numidia, won the Social War for Rome, and was consul of the Roman Republic for several terms. He was also Julius Caesar's uncle-in-law. But the association of these trophies with Marius is fiction, because they were actually made for one of the triumphs of the emperor Domitian, and they display the shields and equipment used at that time. They were reused in the early 3rd century to decorate a fountain also named the Trophies of Marius in an imperial villa built around the time of Emperor Alexander Severus. In 1590, the panels were moved from the fountain to the balistrade of the Campidoglio and at that time an inscription on the underside of one was found, telling that the marble had been quarried during the reign of Domitian.
Moving outward from the two trophies, we next find a statue of the emperor Constantine the Great on the left (1st and 2nd photos below), and his son, emperor Constantine II on the right (3rd and 4th photos below). The inscription under the statue of Constantine the Great is Constantinus Aug, indicating he was an Augustus, a senior emperor. The inscription under the statue of Constantine II is Constantinus Caes, indicating he was a Caesar, a junior emperor.
Moving one more step outward, we find mile markers from the Appian Way. On the left is Mile Marker VII, found in 1848, which is inscribed with the name of Vespasian in 76 AD (1st photo below). On the right is Mile Marker I of the Appian Way, also inscribed with the name Vespasian, and recording repairs made by Nerva in 97 AD, and added to the balustrade in 1692 (2nd photo below). Mile Marker III, still viewable today along the Appian Way, is shown in situ in the 3rd photo below. It is very weather-worn, you can barely make out the Roman numeral III right of center near the top.
At the center of the Campidoglio is a famous equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on a pedestal designed by Michelangelo (1st, 2nd and 3rd photos below). The statue itself is a copy; the original is in the Capitoline Museum, safe from the elements (4th and 5th photos below). The original was erected in either the Roman Forum near the Antonine Column, or in Piazza Colonna in 175 AD, 5 years before Marcus Aurelius' death. It was not destroyed during the Middle Ages as were most bronze statues because medieval Christians thought it portrayed Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor. Out of the 22 recorded equestrian statues in the late imperial period, this statue is the only one to have survived. In the 8th century it stood in the Lateran Palace, and in 1538 it was moved to the center of this piazza during Michelangelo's redesign. The star-shaped pattern of paving of the Campidoglio emanates from this statue at the center.
Three buildings line the sides of the Campidoglio other than the side lined by the stairway. At the opposite end of the piazza from the stairway is the Palazzo Senatorio (1st photo above) located behind the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in that photo. It was built during the 13th and 14th centuries, and it stands atop the ancient Tabularium, which overlooks the Roman Forum and once housed the archives of ancient Rome. For the first several hundred years, it housed the Senate of Rome, but now it is the city hall of Rome, where today's City Council meets and the mayor has his office. During the 16th century, Michelangelo removed the ancient second floor of the Tabularium and built the upper floors we see today, and he modified the building's facade with a double stairway, discussed in the next paragraph. When you face the Palazzo Senatorio, the building on your right is the Palazzo dei Conservatori (2nd and 3rd photos below), which houses the ticket office, the entrance to, and the first half of the exhibits of the spectacular Capitoline Museum. The Palazzo dei Conservatori was built in the 13th century for the local magistrate and renovated by Michelangelo. The pre-existing 80-degree angle between the front face of this building and that of the Palazzo Senatorio, along with his aesthetic feelings against tearing down the structure, caused Michelangelo to design the Palazzo Nuovo at that same angle to the Palazzo Senatorio, making the trapezoidal shape of the piazza. An underground passageway connects that part of the museum to the building on the left side of the piazza, the Palazzo Nuovo, which was constructed from 1603-1654, which Michelangelo designed to balance the piazza and make the space symmetric. The Palazzo Nuovo (4th and 5th photos below) is much smaller than the Palazzo dei Conservatori, but holds superb works of sculpture. Branching off the underground passageway that connects the two pallazi is a hallway which leads to the Tabularium, which is behind and under the Palazzo Senatorio and overlooks the Roman Forum.
If you're lucky and the afternoon light is right (1st photo below) or the window is opened during the evening (2nd photo below), the right-most window of the 2nd floor of the Palazzo Nuovo will show you the back side of one of my favorite works of art, showing Cupid and Psyche in their romantic embrace (3rd photo below).
Focusing back on the Palazzo Senatorio, the facade of the building features a double stairway, shown in the 1st photo below. Under the left stairway is the sculpted personification of "The Nile" river god (2nd and 3rd photos below), leaning on a Sphinx. This is a typical ancient statue of a river god, as they usually hold a cornucopia and lay on couches.
Under the right stairway is a sculpted personification of "The Tiber" river god (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th photos below), leaning on the She-Wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus. This was originally a portrayal of the Tigris river god, but was changed to the Tiber when the She-Wolf was added. The Nile and Tigris river gods were found in Palazzo Rospigliosi, across the street and just a little bit south from the Quirinal Obelisk.
In the center is a statue of Roma (1st photo below), the personification of Rome, a goddess derived from Minerva, rather than the statue of Jupiter that Michelangelo wanted put there. Beneath the statue of Roma is a large pool called the Fontana del Campidoglio (Fountain of the Campidoglio). Roma also appears on top of the bell tower of the Palazzo Senatorio (2nd, 3rd and 4th photos below).
The colossal statue of the river god Marforio, from the first or second century AD, was originally located beside the Mamertine Prison, situated behind a great round stone basin which was moved in 1818 into the Fountain of Castor and Pollux. Marforio was moved in 1595 from that location at the foot of the hill onto the Campidoglio, probably to control the satires which were hung on it since it was one of the Talking Statues of Rome. People posted questions one day on the statue named Pasquino, and anonymous subversive answers would appear on Marforio the next day. The statue was moved into a beautiful courtyard in the ground floor of the Palazzo Nuovo in 1679, and can be viewed as part of your tour of the Capitoline Museum, or in the photos below.
The left side of the Palazzo Senatorio has a column with a Romulus and Remus She-Wolf at the top, shown in the photos below. Sorry for the excess of photos, but I really like this particular She-Wolf.
Another She-Wolf is made from bushes, this one tucked behind the left side of the Palazzo Senatorio, and located in front of an unidentified ancient-looking wall behind it (1st and 2nd photos below). More of that wall is shown in the 3rd and 4th photos below. A similar looking wall runs along bottom of the northern (left) edge of the Palazzo Senatorio (5th photo below). Perhaps that wall is part of the original Tabularium?
Several historical plaques can be seen on the left side of the Palazzo Senatorio, as shown in the photos below. The 1st and 2nd photos are from a monument to Scipio Africanus, the general who saved Rome from ruin when Hannibal invaded with his elephants. The 3rd photo is a dedication to Pope Leo X. The 4th is to Pope Innocent XII. The 5th is to Pope Julius II and Pope Paul III, and the 6th is to World War II heroes of Italy.
A walk around the rest of the top of the Capitoline Hill shows a few more sights of interest. I suggest walking around to the right side of the Palazzo dei Conservatori where a road leads to the Piazzale Caffarelli with its unusual fountain (1st photo below) and its spectacular view of the Theatre of Marcellus (2nd photo below). Continue walking around the buildings, and on the edge of the building on the other side you'll come to the glass enclosure affording a view into the foundation of the Temple of Jupiter (3rd photo below). Continue walking around the building and you'll come to a nice view of the Roman Forum from the back of the southern side of the Palazzo Senatorio (4th photo below). Walk back out to the front of the Palazzo Senatorio and you'll pass under the bridge in the 5th photo below.
The Capitoline Hill is an excellent place to see the Roman Forum for free, especially at night. On the left (northern) and right (southern) side of the Palazzo Senatorio are porches from which you can view the Roman Forum. These porches (along with the Capitoline Hill) can be reached from Via dei Fori Imperiali via the small road between Caesar's Forum and the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and from Via del Teatro di Marcello on Vico Jugario which turns into Via de Consolazione, as well as from the Cordonata ramp from Via del Teatro di Marcello. The two photos below were taken from the porch on the left (northern) side, which I find provides a more pleasing view than those from the right (southern) side (4th photo above).
The two panoramas below were taken from the Capitoline Hill. The upper one is of the Roman Forum, taken from inside the Tabularium while visiting the Capitoline Museum. The lower one is of the entire Campus Martius area, taken from the top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument.