A Tourist in Rome - Capitoline Museum
|Location::||On the Campidoglio|
|Time::||2 hours - 2 days|
|Hours::||Tuesday - Sunday, 9 AM to 8 PM|
|Audio guide::||€5 audio guide is quite good; I'd recommend it.|
The Capitoline Museum is the oldest public collection of art in the world, began in 1471, and in my opinion, it is absolutely the best museum in Rome. If you are interested in artifacts and sculptures from ancient Rome up to the 1700s or so, you'll love it, too. It is filled with ancient Roman history and Roman copies of ancient Greek sculptures. To help you estimate how long you'll need to spend in this this museum, I'll tell you my experience. I spent about two hours in the museum the first time I went, and completely enjoyed the highlights (perhaps 50 objects) without having any prior background knowledge about Rome beside what I think most people have. After that trip to Rome I learned quite a bit of Roman history, so during my second visit to Rome I spent about 6 hours in the museum. After more study, my third visit was a full day. The more you understand and can appreciate, the more time you can spend in the museum. But if you understand nothing, still go and enjoy a few hours of beautiful sculptures.
The Capitoline Museum is made of 3 the buildings that surround the Piazza del Campidoglio on the Capitol Hill. You can get there from the Colosseo metro stop by walking down Via dei Fori Imperiali to the end of the Roman Forum, turning left at the street before you get to the huge white Victor Emmanuel Monument, and walking up the hill to the large piazza on the right. Or, if you're approaching from the other side of the Victor Emmanuel Monument, pass the stairway that leads to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and climb the stairs (actually, more of a ramp) to the piazza. The ticket booth, audio guide rental and entrance are all in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (1st photo below), the building furthest from the huge white Victor Emmanuel Monument. This building also houses the most famous works in the museum. The building across the piazza (closest to the Victor Emmanuel Monument) is the Palazzo Nuovo, which houses sculptures, and will probably be the last part of the museum you see. The buildings are joined by an underground passage which runs under the third building in the piazza, the Palazzo Senatorio, and houses a huge collection of inscriptions. None of the museum is above ground in that building, but in the underground passageway is a side-branch that leads past an ancient temple to the Tabularium, the public records building of Ancient Rome, where you'll get a great view of the Roman Forum. (For completists, the Central Montemartini Museum, miles away, is also part of the Capitoline Museum)
One of these days, I hope to create a virtual tour of the museum here, describing each piece in detail. For now, I've only done this for a few works.
Eleven reliefs still exist from a triumphal arch dedicated to Marcus Aurelius. Eight of them are on the Arch of Constantine and the other three are in the Capitoline Museum.
The 'sacrifice' relief (1st photo below) shows Marcus Aurelius in his role as pontifex maximus or chief priest, one of the traditional roles of a Roman Emperor. Augustus is sculpted in this role in the Palazzo Massimo. Typically, sculptures of emperors in this role are wearing a toga with a hood covering their head, and are holding a patera, a dish used during sacrifice. Considering how important religion and tradition was to Roman people, it was important for the emperor to demonstrate his conviction to these ideals. The temple in the background of this relief might be the Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus located on top of the Capitoline Hill.
The 'conquest and clemency' relief (2nd photo below) shows Marcus Aurelius dressed in a cuirass, on horseback. The trees in the background suggest he is in reviewing the battlefield after a victory. Barbarians surrender at his feet and beg for mercy. Marcus Aurelius' pose in this relief is reminiscent of the emperor's equestrian statue in the Capitoline Museum.
The 'Triumph' relief (3rd photo below) shows Marcus Aurelius riding a four-horse chariot and being crowned by Nike, a representation of Victory. The chariot is decorated with reliefs showing the figures of Neptune and Minerva flanking the figure of Roma. A temple is shown in the background, and a triumphal arch is shown on the right, presumably the arch that the emperor's chariot has just passed through as his triumphal procession has just begun. Commodus was probably also in the chariot originally, as suggested by the large size of the chariot and the figure of Nike who was probably centered above the two characters and holding crowns for them both. After Commodus went crazy and became extremely unpopular and was assassinated, his memory was damned (damnatio memoriae) by the senate, causing him to be removed from all inscriptions, statues, friezes, etc, as if by doing this they could make him never exist.