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.
Capitoline hill was the centre of the Roman world with its temples & view overlooking Forum.
Today on the hill you'll find the Piazza del Campidoglio. This beautiful 17th century square has the two Capitoline Museums facing each other across it. The other building on the square is the Palazzo Senatorio, previously used by the Roman Senate, it now houses offices of the mayor. In the centre of the square is a statue of Marcus Aurelius (a copy, the original is inside the nearby museum).
The square is best approached from Plazza Venezia by climbing the Cordonata. This is a staircase with a pair of granite lions at the foot. At the top are statues of the mythical twins Castor and Pollux.
“Death is a release from the impressions of the senses, and from desires that make us their puppets, and from the vagaries of the mind, and from the hard service of the flesh.” — Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)
In the Capitoline Musuem, the Hall of the Geese honors an episode in the history of Ancient Rome when the sacred geese at the Temple of Juno saved the Eternal City.
When the Gauls invaded Rome in 390 BC a detachment of soldiers were able to make their way undetected to the side of the Capitoline Hill. The men scaled the hill so quietly that the soldier at the head of the line reached the top without being challenged.
As he struggled to put himself over the rampart, Juno’s sacred geese, disturbed by the noise, began to squawk, and woke up the sentry on duty. Marcus Manlius, captain of the guards, rushed to the wall and tossed the intruder over the precipice. To commemorate this event, the Ancient Romans carried a golden goose in procession to the capitol every year.
There are two bronze geese in the Hall of the Geese in the Capitoline Museum. They stand in oval-shaped scalloped niches high on the wall, so look up!
Capitol Hill Square is the home of the city's government. The square was designed by Michelangelo in 1530. The focal point of the square is the statue of Marcus Aurelius (a reproduction of the statue, the original one is inside the Capitoline Museum).
The long staircase that takes you to the square is called the Cordonata. At the top of the staircase are the statues of Castor and Pollux.
There are 3 important buildings in the square: Palazzo Nouvo, Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Senatorio. In front of the Palazzo Senatorio there is a very nice fountain where you will also see the statue of Lady Rome.
Construction of the square started in 1546 but only the staircase at the entrance of the Palazzo Senatorio was completed when Michelangelo died in 1564. The project was finished in the 17th century.
The Capitoline Hill is one of the most famous and highest of the seven hills of Rome. By the 16th century, Capitolino had become Campidoglio in the Roman dialect. Similarly, the English word capitol derives from Capitoline. The Capitoline contains relatively few ancient ground-level ruins, as they are almost entirely covered up by Medieval palaces (now the Capitoline Museums) that surround a piazza. A significant portion of the architecture in this area was designed by Michelangelo.
“Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.”
— Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)
AFFECTING THE SOUL We were delighted with the addition of this new glass-covered exhibition hall — the Sala Marco Aurelio — at the Palazzo Nuovo. Its centerpiece is the equestrian bronze of Marcus Aurelius, which was once in the center of Piazza del Campidoglio. When we visited in 2000/2001, the original was kept in a small, dimly lit room behind a glass partition. What a welcomed improvement this new arrangement is! To be able to circle this work wholly was a thrill.
In 1981, the original, 11-foot-6-inch-tall, bronze (see photos #2–#5) of Marcus Aurelius that Michelangelo placed in the piazza was removed. Because it suffered effects of weather and pollution, it needed extensive conservation; at the same time a copy (see photo #1) was made and placed in the piazza in 1997.
Marcus Aurelius’ raised right arm can be seen as a greeting, and it could also symbolize the emperor’s clemency; it is thought that a barbarian enemy once cowered beneath the horse’s raised foreleg pleading for mercy. The monument was believed to be formerly gilded. A local belief says that the monument will turn gold again on the Judgment Day.
Because the rider was mistaken for Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, this bronze survived, in all its glory, the Church’s anti-pagan campaigns. It gives us an idea of how fabulous Ancient Rome must have looked with so many works of art of this high quality scattered about. The original equestrian monument, which dates from AD 173, stood in the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano before it was transported by order of Pope Paul III for Michelangelo’s use in his redesign of the Piazza del Campidoglio in 1538.
The Capitoline Hill, between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one of the most famous and highest of the seven hills of Rome.
The existing design of the Piazza del Campidoglio and the surrounding palazzos was created by famed Renaissance artist and architect Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1536 - 1546.
Michelangelo's first designs for the piazza and remodelling of the surrounding palazzos date from 1536.
In the middle, and not to Michelangelo’s liking, stood the only equestrian bronze to have survived since Antiquity, that of Marcus Aurelius. Michelangelo provided an unassuming pedestal for it. The sculpture was held in regard because it was thought to depict Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Emperor.
The bronze now in position is a modern copy, the original is in the Palazzo dei Conservatori nearby.
Built during the 13th and 14th century, the Palazzo Senatorio - Senatorial Palace, stands atop the Tabularium. It now houses the Roman city hall. Its double ramp of stairs were designed by Michelangelo. The fountain in front of the staircase features the river gods of the Tiber and the Nile as well as Dea Roma (Minerva). Its bell tower was designed by Martin Longhi the Elder and built between 1578 and 1582. Its current facade was designed by Giacomo della Porta and Girolamo Rainaldi.
Next to the older and much steeper stairs leading to the Aracoeli, Michelangelo devised a monumental wide ramped stair (the cordonata), gently and gradually ascending the hill to reach the high piazza, so that the Campidoglio resolutely turned its back on the Roman Forum that it had once commanded.
It was built to be wide enough for horse riders to ascend the hill without dismounting. The railings are topped by the statues of two Egyptian lions in black basalt at their base and the marble renditions of Castor and Pollux at their top.
“On the steps of the Capitol itself, stand two colossal statues of Castor and Pollux, each with his horse, finely executed.”
from a letter written by Percy Shelley to a friend, T.L.P., Esq. dated 23.March.1819, Rome
BROTHER TWINS They are Castor & Pollux. Because their mother, Leda, first slept with Zeus, then with King Tyndareus of Sparta within the same night Pollux is divine, and Castor is mortal. They are inseparable, never doing anything without the other at his side.
On 15 July 499 BC, during a battle on the shores of Lake Regillus where the Romans took the offensive against their neighboring communities, these twin brothers, of extraordinary beauty and stature, dressed as divine knights were seen, with their lances at rest, at the forefront of the cavalry leading it to victory.
At exactly the same moment in the Foro Romano two identical youths were seen dismounting their horses and leading them to drink at the Fountain of Juturna. Those in the Forum were drawn to the young men and asked of the battle. The youths told their questioners that the Romans had won the day, and immediately vanished. All who had seen them swore that they were the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, twin sons of Jupiter and Leda, and the primary stars in the Gemini constellation.
With their mighty steeds the regal Dioscuri stand at the top of the Cordonato greeting all visitors. They are Roman copies of Greek originals dating from the late Imperial era, originally from a temple in the Circus Flaminius.
They are magnificent!
Your visit through Rome would not be complete without seeing the statue of Marcus Aurelious at Capitoline Hill. The design of the statue and the location is superb. If your coming from Emmanulle Vittori (National Monument), the stairs that lead up to where one of Rome's greatest emperors sits perched on his high horse is just around the corner.
The ancient city is so well preserved, it is beyond my belief. It is called For Romano. The old city now is 25 feet lower than normal street level, due to rebuilding over the previous structures and continued build up around the Campidoglio area. The Arch of Septimus SEverus is best preserved, and has marble statues depicting military victories. The is a house of Vestal Virgins, where they lived for life, or until they lost that honor, and kept a flame going 24/7 for Temple of Vesta. Temple of Saturn is where the biggest events were held.
Get a map of what it looked like in the proud era, and learn of the culture form this. Open 9-6 daily, except Sunday for 9-1, and longer in summertime.