The "Campidoglio" or Capitoline became my favourite piazza in Rome since the Piazza Navona became so touristy and commercial (see my tip). The arrival by the monumental staircase “Cordonata” drawn by Michel-Angel is a pleasure although the lions, of Egyptian origin, at the entry of the staircase do not project any more wine like “in the good old days”. And then when arriving at the height of the statues of Dioscures one discovers this square also build following a project of Michel-Angelo.
The three palaces are splendid and an amateur of museums like me finds here to enjoy himself (I could not avoid writing 6 reviews about the marvellous collections of the Capitolini museums).
While climbing the stairs I like to see appearing the equestrian statue of Marcus-Aurelius placed there in 1538. Today it is a copy whose restored original is in the Capitoline museums (ref. my tip). The realization of this copy from 1997 called upon elaborate techniques. The restitution of the geometrical shape of the equestrian statue was made through a numerical model.
A splendid discovery is made when following the small streets left or right of the palace of the Senators with the sights on the Foro Romano.
But the pleasure does not stop there; if I want to rest, refresh or nourish myself I go up to the cafeteria "Caffè Capitolino" of the 2nd floor of the museum of the Palazzo dei Conservatori where the Cappuccino is excellent and the sight on Rome superb.
Caffè Capitolino can be reached by a free entrance independent from the museum at piazza Cafarelli (turn right after the stairs and take the short climb). There are tables inside and outside on a terrace. Open: 9 - 20 h. Closed on Mondays
Cordonata Capitolina (pics 1-2) is the famous sloping ramp (actually transversal stripes of stone that create slightly inclined steps) that connects piazza Venezia with Campidoglio. It was built by Michelangelo and features at the bottom 2 small fountains with the sculptures of Egyptian lions on them while at the top of Cordonata you can see 2 sculptures of Castor and Pollux.
We went up the steps to see the Campidoglio square(pic 3) that was also designed by Michelangelo. In the middle of the square you can see a replica of an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelus, the original can been seen inside the Capitoline Museums that spread out on 3 different buildings that face the square:
1)palazzo Senatorio. It was built in 13th century and housed the archives of ancient Rome. In our days it’s Rome’s City Hall.
2)palazzo dei Conservatori. It was built during the medieval times on the spot where an ancient temple once stood(the same goes for church Santa Maria in Aracoeli next to Campidoglio square)
3)palazzo Nuovo. The “New Palace” was built in 17th century
The Capitoline museum is the oldest public art collection in Europe (it was founded by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471). It has some great sculptures and a lot of portrait paintings (we got bored with them)
The Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9.00-20.00
The entrance fee is 6,5euros
The Vittoriano, Rome's memorial to the father of modern Italy - Vittorio Emanuele II - and arguably the city's most prominent landmark (perhaps only overshadowed by the Colosseum?), looks like a giant white elephant. It is the object of ridicule of many Romans, as well as ordinary tourists for its garishness. Criticisms aside, the memorial houses Italy's version of tomb of the unknown soldier - so it's national importance is never to be underestimated.
Site of the temple of Juno, this brick-covered church looks simple from the outside, but houses great artistic treasures inside - with Pinturicchio's frescoes are main standouts - on top of an ornate gilded ceiling (according to the guide book).
Unfortunately, the church was closed on both times I was there. But that didn't prevent me from having a good cardio climbing up the Aracoeli Staircase, the dramatic 14th-century stairway that leads to the northern summit of the Capitoline Hill on which the church sits.
Housed in two palazzi - Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori - designed by the maestro himself, Michelangelo, the Capitoline Museums offer an extensive collection of sculptures and paintings from different periods.
I love classical art, and I love art museums, but a severe thunderstorm gave me no choice but to thoroughly immerse myself into the museums' treasures - all in all more than five hours in splendid immersion. The collection is so vast and so overpowering. Below are some of my favorites:
Spinario (picture 2) - a 1st century bronze sculpture of a boy trying to remove a thorn from his foot.
Hall of Philosophers (picture 3) - busts of Greek politicians, scientists and poets - proof of how the Romans looked up to the Greek progenitors of classical thought and arts.
Marcus Aurelius' portico (picture 4) - this vast, multi-storey hall that contains all things Marcus Aurelius, a tribute to the last of Rome's "5 Good Emperors."
Located at the eastern side of Piazza del Campidoglio, the Palazzo Senatorio is a magnificent piece of renaissance architecture. It is the seat of Rome's city government. Aside from its splendid architecture whose facade was designed by architects Giacomo della Porta and Girolamo Rainaldi, there is a beautiful fountain at the base of the facade depicting the river gods of the Nile and Tiber (photos 3 and 4). The balcony beside the palazzo offers a good vantage point for taking pictures of the Roman Forum site.
This grand stairway that leads to Piazza del Campidoglio was also designed by Michelangelo. Unlike the nearby Aracoeli staircase that was made up of small steps, Michelangelo designed the Cordonata as a ramp, probably to allow horses and carriages to reach Piazza del Campidoglio.
“Yesterday, at noon, we set out for the Capitol, and stopped to look at the statues of Castor and Pollux, which look down the ascent. Castor and his brother seem to me to have heads disproportionately large, and are not so striking, in any respect, as such great images ought to be.”
— from the 1858 “French and Italian Note-Books” of Nathaniel Hawthorne
To reach the Piazza del Campidoglio, that was designed and built by Michelangelo between 1536 and 1546, the best way is to take the Cordonata. This hybrid of a set of steps and a ramp that lead to the piazza makes the ascent of Rome’s Capitoline Hill, the highest and holiest of the city’s original seven hills, a pleasant go of it.
And at the top of the Cordonata, as if guarding the entrance to Michelangelo’s piazza, are the loving twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, the eternal twins, who were placed by Jupiter in the sky as the Gemini.
The Greeks and Romans worshiped these twins as the protectors of business, travel and hospitality, and they were Rome’s special guardians. Castor stands on the left and Pollux on the right; they were found when excavations were made for building the walls of the Jewish Ghetto and were placed here in 1583.
Designed by the Renaissance master, Michelangelo, Piazza del Campidoglio is the Capitoline Hill's central square (or more like a trapezoid), flanked on three sides by Palazzo Senatorio, Rome's main municipal building, the two palazzi that comprise the Capitoline Museums - Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo.
Michelangelo's plans were not fully realized until in 1940 when Mussolini ordered the paving to strictly follow the maestro's pattern consisting of 12 pointed star referring to the 12 constellations. In the center is statue of Marcus Aurelius, the original of which is displayed at the nearby Palazzo dei Conservatori.
I think what adds real drama to the piazza is the Cordonata - the ramp that leads up to the top from the street below, in a seeming defiance to the ancient glory of the Forum on the other side. The ramp is big enough to accommodate horse riders to go uphill without dismounting.
The Capitoline Hill, once sacred to the Romans and destination of the triumphal processions of victorious generals, is today the headquarters of the Mayor and the Municipality of Rome. In the Piazza del Campidoglio, Michelangelo placed an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on the pedestal.
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