The Capitol, today the Town Hall of Rome, is the smallest of the famous seven hills of Rome, but also the most important, because the nucleus of the city was born here, encircled by a primitive system of defensive walls to protect the inhabitants from hostile tribes that inhabited the surrounding hills. In fact, the Capitol has a double summit: one is located just to the right of the square, while the other, almost adjacent to its left side, corresponds to Santa Maria d' Aracoeli.

The Capitol Hill underwent several reconstructions over the centuries until it assumed its present appearance which is what Michelangelo's project. The Capitol has been since ancient times an important place for the city's life, first as a religious center and later as a place of power when you settled the Senate of Rome. The social and religious importance of the Capitol grew especially during the Republican era. There were built several temples, including one dedicated to Jupiter, the most revered of Rome. The hill overlooked the Roman Forum, and its summit was reached on the same side, facing south, where it was much less steep than now. This became the most sacred site of Ancient Rome.

In the Middle Ages, when the temples had collapsed and disappeared from the site all traces of Roman civilization, the Capitol was renamed Monte Caprino for the custom of grazing goats and other animals. The first important building to rise again in this place was the Senatorial Palace, built for the first time in the twelfth century on the ruins of the Tabularium, the state archive of ancient Rome. The latter was located at one end of the Forum, and was re-used as a warehouse for salt, and later as a prison. Nowadays, the main attraction is The Capitol Square designed by Michelangelo. The square facing St. Peter, with the pavement design and the centrifugal center equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

The square is surrounded by three palaces: the New Palace, the Senatorial Palace and the Palace of the Conservators, and once housed the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius. The palaces and the New Conservatives are now the headquarters of the Capitoline Museums, which are the public gallery of sculptures oldest in the world. We are the Spinario, the Dying Gaul and the Capitoline Venus. From here you can enjoy an unsurpassed view of the Roman Forum, and it was from here that ancient Rome was governed.

The Senatorial Palace was completed by Giacomo Della Porta and Girolamo Rainaldi and now houses the City Council of Rome. The Palace of the Conservatives was started again by Michelangelo and finished by Della Porta and the project of the New Palace was instead the brothers Rainaldi (1655). On the left side of the square houses the Pinacoteca Capitolina, which houses an enviable pictorial review, from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century: among them Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Rubens, Pietro da Cortona. On the right side the Capitoline Museum with the Hellenistic and Roman art.


History in detail


Middle Ages

Since medieval times the area of the Capitol was the seat of the civil administration of the city. On the remains of a fort existed Tabularium family courses which took over in 1114 the Roman people, and was designated as the seat of the City Council and enlarged in the fourteenth century.

The dirt clearing in front of the people was destined to meetings and was flanked by buildings for the seat of Banderesi, that is, of the captains of the town militia.


Operations of the Rossellino

In 1453, Pope Nicholas V built to Rossellino the Palace of the Conservators, heavily renovating the Houses of Banderesi to realize the new headquarters of the judiciary. Rossellino designed a building with a portico with arches on the ground floor and a facade with twin lancet windows and loggias. Was preserved the orientation of pre-existing, following clearly intent perspective, according to a design principle identical to the one that will implement Rossellino Pienza, creating a trapezoidal square. Renovation work also involved the Senatorial Palace, but were interrupted by the death of the pontiff. The palace of the Conservatives will almost completely demolished in 1540 by Michelangelo, but the accommodation is documented in the fifteenth-century designs by Maarten van Heemskerck painted between 1536 and 1538.


Current appearance: Michelangelo Buonarroti

The current appearance is due to Michelangelo Buonarroti, who in 1540 was commissioned by Pope Paul III to the recovery of the Capitoline as in the Middle Ages was in such a state of disrepair as to be used for grazing goats, for it was even called "goat hill".

Michelangelo kept the oblique orientation of existing buildings, harmonizing them changed his plan, for example, added the double staircase for access to the Senatorial Palace, then added to the square a new building, in order to obtain a square trapezoid that is not opened to the Forum area, also in a state of disrepair, but towards the districts renaissance in those years became the center of social life of Rome.

Michelangelo, in fact, has created a place that resembles a throne,  and to access it you have placed the staircase called Cordonata, behind this there are two fountains made ​​of marble lions that blow black water in two vessels, about half of cordonata on the left is the statue of Cola di Rienzo, on top of the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux appear to act as guardians and greet visitors in the beautiful square in the center of which is placed a copy of the equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (the original is exhibited in the adjacent Capitoline Museums).

On the right is the Palace of the Conservatives, with the entrance to the Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo on the left part of the same museum complex being connected with the palace of the Conservatives from an underlying tunnel called "Lapidary Gallery ", the center to which the Senatorial Palace accessed from the staircase added by Michelangelo.

In a niche in the center of the front of the steps of Senatorial Palace, stands the goddess Rome (actually it is a sculpture of the goddess Athena from the Capitoline Museum), below the goddess Rome there is a fountain and sides of this two large statues, posing lying, representing the Tiber and the Nile.

The architectural design of Michelangelo appreciates watching from every corner of the square but even more watching from above by where stands the original and famous pavement pattern.

Senatorial Palace is the seat of the municipal administration, the mayor, the council and the city council gather in the renovated dining Julius Caesar.


Completion of works: Della Porta

The work, however, were supplemented in accordance with the guidelines of Michelangelo's original plan.

He was particularly concerned Giacomo Della Porta, who was responsible for the rebuilding of the Palace of the Conservators and the completion of the facade of the Senatorial Palace, with the positioning, among other things, in the central niche, a statue of Athena taken from the Palace of the conservative, but in 1593 it was replaced with another statue of Athena, much smaller (too small for the size of the niche, so having to put on three pedestals), red porphyry and white marble, converted as an allegory of the goddess Roma.

When, at the end of 1587, the branch of the new aqueduct of "Acqua Felice" reached the Capitol, Pope Sixtus V proclaimed a public competition (deliberately excluding the Della Porta, reflecting the difficult relations between the two) for the realization of a fountain on the square. Winner was the project of Matthew Bartolani: it was a huge project, but it was only partially realized, with the construction of two tanks, one inside the other, huddled in the center of the facade of the Senatorial Palace, between the statues of the two rivers and under the niche containing Athena, of rectangular shape with the longer side lobed.

But Della Porta was thinking of a different arrangement of the square. At that time he was also working on the fountain in Piazza San Marco, which provided, as background, the imposing statue of Marforio. A few days after positioning the statue, however, was shown at the top of the Capitol. It is possible that Della Porta, with a sudden afterthought, is able to propose an alternative to the pope Bartolani project, which upset Michelangelo's original design: in fact thought Marforio to use as a background for an imposing fountain that would have closed the left side of the square, one to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, instead of the New Palace. The pope would not hear, confirmed the project and Bartolani Marforio remained parked on the square.

The only two fountains that in 1588 the Della Porta was able to realize for the Capitol are the two basalt lions on either side of the base of the cordoned off, transferred in 1582 from the ruins of the "Temple of Isis", completed with two marble vases, purpose-built, to collect water. The two lions original ones moved in 1885 in the Vatican Museums were then relocated in place in 1955.

Only in 1594, with Pope Clement VIII, Giacomo Della Porta was able to make "his" fountain Marforio (among other things, his last work): the entire sculptural group was added to a hot equal to those used at the base of Senatorial Palace, in front of an impressive statement. The structure was dismantled, however, some fifty years later, when he began work on the construction of the Palazzo Nuovo, and then rebuilt in 1734 in the courtyard of the palace, where it is now, but without the prospect dellaportiano.


Closing remarks

The square was completed in the seventeenth century, although the floor was built only in 1940, according to Michelangelo's original plan deducted from a print by Etienne Duperac.

The Cordonata is adorned with various sculptures: in addition to statues of two lions at the base, towards the middle of the climb is, on the grassy Cordonata between the same and the steps of Aracoeli, the statue of Cola di Rienzo, on top There are statues of the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, from a temple of Castor and Pollux in Circo Flaminio and two marble trophies of arms, called the trophies of Marius, from the nymph by Alessandro Piazza Vittorio.

The Senatorial Palace is now the seat of the Municipality of Rome, while the Capitoline Museums, opened in 1735 (one of the oldest public museums in the world) are housed in the other two buildings, joined also by an underground tunnel, the Lapidary Gallery.


Medieval church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Got out of the square going up the stairs you arrive at the medieval church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The basilica dates back to the fourth century, situated where, according to legend, the Sibyl prophesied to Augustus the coming of the Redeemer. A rebuild in Romanesque-Gothic style will be the Franciscan Friars Minor who was entrusted in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV. Inside can admire one of the rare cosmateschi floors, monuments Andrea Bregno and Donatello, the paintings of Pietro Cavallini, Giulio Romano, Pinturicchio and others.



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