Piazza del Campidoglio is a monumental square located on the top of the Campidoglio hill in Rome. It rises on the Asylum, the depression located between the Arx and the Capitolium, the two summits of the Capitol, and beneath it is the Tabularium, visible from the Roman Forum. Despite an initial abandonment in the medieval period, the Tabularium, already in the twelfth century, had been chosen as the seat of the municipality.
The square took on its present form in the sixteenth century when Paul III commissioned to Michelangelo Buonarroti the total renovation during the visit to Rome of the Emperor Charles V. The project envisaged: the renovation of the facades of Palazzo Senatorio, built a few years earlier on the ruins of the Tabularium, and Palazzo dei Conservatori, the construction of Palazzo Nuovo and the addition of various sculptures and statues, including that of Marco Aurelio, post in the center of the square, and those depicting the Tiber and the Nile.
The Capitoline Hill is the smallest hill in Rome and was originally made up of two parts (the Capitolium and the Arx) separated by a deep valley which corresponds to where Piazza del Campidoglio now stands about 8 meters above the original site.
The hill was earlier known as Mons Saturnius, dedicated to the god Saturn. The word Capitolium first meant the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus later built here, and afterwards it was used for the whole hill (and even other temples of Jupiter on other hills), thus Mons Capitolinus (the adjective noun of Capitolium). In an etiological myth, ancient sources connect the name to caput (“head”, “summit”) and the tale was that, when laying the foundations for the temple, the head of a man was found, some sources even saying it was the head of some Tolus or Olus. The Capitolium was regarded by the Romans as indestructible, and was adopted as a symbol of eternity.
The sides of this hill were very steep and on account of the difficulty of reaching the top and the dominating position it enjoyed over the River Tiber, it was chosen as the city’s main stronghold.
The main buildings faced the Ancient Roman Forum, from which a carriageable road known as the Clivus Capitolinus led up the hill to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the most important and imposing temple in Rome. In addition to this temple and those dedicated to Juno Moneta, Veiovis and in the Capitolina Area, the Capitoline Hill was the headquarters of the Public Roman Archive (Tabularium) and, in Republican Age, of the Mint.
By the 16th century, Capitolinus had become Capitolino in Italian, and Capitolium Campidoglio. The Capitoline Hill contains few ancient ground-level ruins, as they are almost entirely covered up by Medieval and Renaissance palazzi (now housing the Capitoline Museums) that surround a piazza, a significant urban plan designed by Michelangelo.
The word Capitolium still lives in the English word capitol, and Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. is widely assumed to be named after the Capitoline Hill. Many ancient ruins can be seen along the Museums’ exposition routes while others can be viewed in the open air on the hill where they still stand.
Ancient sources speak of an inhabited settlement founded by Saturnus on the Capitoline hill well before the foundation of Rome itself. It was here that the Greeks came with Heracles, to be followed later by descendants of the Trojans who accompanied Aeneas.
The mythical presence of a settlement on the Capitoline before the date normally associated with the foundation of Rome (753 B.C) has been confirmed by archaeological finds; a number of traces of a more ancient history have been unearthed on the hill.
Sporadic material dating back to between the XIV and VIII centuries BC, found at the foot of the hill in the sacred area of Sant’Omobono, probably originates from a settlement on the southern side of the Capitoline.
Recent excavation in the Roman Garden in the Palazzo dei Conservatori has also brought to light the remains of a protohistoric settlement dating from the middle Bronze Age (XV century BC) to the Iron Age (VII century BC), with inhumation tombs, the remains of what were probably huts and equipment for the working of iron.
A survey carried out within the Tabularium has brought to light a number of assorted fragments of Bronze Age pottery and the remains of what was probably the floor of an VIII century BC hut.
A collection of Archaic votive objects, with miniaturist pottery, small flat impasto cakes and other votive items, was brought to light in 1926-27 in the block between the streets of the Capitoline and Monte Tarpeo and the Vignola steps.
At this hill, the Sabines, creeping to the Citadel, were let in by the Roman maiden Tarpeia. For this treachery, Tarpeia was the first to be punished by being flung from a steep cliff overlooking the Roman Forum. This cliff was later named the Tarpeian Rock after the Vestal Virgin, and became a frequent execution site. The Sabines, who immigrated to Rome following the Rape of the Sabine Women, settled on the Capitoline. The Vulcanal (Shrine of Vulcan), an 8th-century BC sacred precinct, occupied much of the eastern lower slopes of the Capitoline, at the head of what would later become the Roman Forum.
The summit was the site of a temple for the Capitoline Triad, started by Rome’s fifth king, Tarquinius Priscus (r. 616-579 BC), and completed by the seventh and last king, Tarquinius Superbus (535–496 BC). It was considered one of the largest and the most beautiful temples in the city (although little now remains). The city legend starts with the recovery of a human skull (the word for head in Latin is caput) when foundation trenches were being dug for the Temple of Jupiter at Tarquin’s order. Recent excavations on the Capitoline uncovered an early cemetery under the Temple of Jupiter.
There are several important temples built on Capitoline hill: the temple of Juno Moneta, the temple of Virtus, and the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus. The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus is the most important of the temples. It was built in 509 BC and was nearly as large as the Parthenon. The hill and the temple of Jupiter became the symbols of Rome, the capital of the world. The Temple of Saturn was built at the foot of Capitoline Hill in the western end of the Forum Romanum.
When the Senones Gauls (settled in central-east Italy) raided Rome in 390 BC, after the battle of River Allia, the Capitoline Hill was the one section of the city to evade capture by the barbarians, due to its being fortified by the Roman defenders. According to legend Marcus Manlius Capitolinus was alerted to the Gallic attack by the sacred geese of Juno. When Julius Caesar suffered an accident during his triumph, clearly indicating the wrath of Jupiter for his actions in the Civil Wars, he approached the hill and Jupiter’s temple on his knees as a way of averting the unlucky omen (nevertheless he was murdered six months later, and Brutus and his other assassins locked themselves inside the temple afterward). Vespasian’s brother and nephew were also besieged in the temple during the Year of Four Emperors (69).
The Tabularium, located underground beneath the piazza and hilltop, occupies a building of the same name built in the 1st century BC to hold Roman records of state. The Tabularium looks out from the rear onto the Roman Forum. The main attraction of the Tabularium, besides the structure itself, is the Temple of Veiovis. During the lengthy period of ancient Rome, the Capitoline Hill was the geographical and ceremonial center. However, by the Renaissance, the former center was an untidy conglomeration of dilapidated buildings and the site of executions of criminals.
The Temple of Capitoline Jupiter
The Temple of Capitoline Jupiter was dedicated to the Optimus Maximus Jupiter, together with the other two divinities that made up the Capitoline triad – Juno and Minerva.
The building was begun by Tarquinius Priscus and completed by the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, although it was only inaugurated at the beginning of the Republican era in 509 BC.
The temple building stands on a high podium with an entrance staircase to the front. On three of its sides it was probably surrounded by a colonnade, with another two rows of pillars drawn up in line with those on the façade of the deep pronaos which precedes the three cells, the central one being wider than the other two – in accordance with the canons of the Tuscanic temple.
The surviving remains of the foundations and of the podium, most of which lie underneath Palazzo Caffarelli, are made up of enormous parallel sections of walling made in blocks of grey tufa- quadriga stone (cappellaccio) and bear witness to the sheer size of the surface area of temple’s base (about 55 x 60 m).
The roof bears traces of a splendid terracotta auriga by the Etruscan artist Vulca of Veius in the VI century BC, commissioned by Tarquinius Superbus; it was replaced by a bronze one at the beginning of the III century BC.
The temple was rebuilt in marble after total destruction had been wrought by terrible fires in 83 BC, 69 BC and 80 AD.
The large square in front of the temple (the Area Capitolina) featured a number of temples dedicated to minor divinities, in addition to other religious buildings, statues and trophies.
The Temple of Juno Moneta
The Temple of Juno Moneta, the result of a vow taken by L. Furius Camillus during the war against the Auruncii, was built on the Arx in 344 BC. Ancient sources, in referring to the episode of Juno’s sacred geese that warned the Romans during the Gallic siege of 390 BC, appear to suggest the existence of a previous temple building, which has been linked to two terracotta Archaic architectural artefacts found in the Garden of Aracoeli and dating to between the end of the VI and the beginning of the V century BC.
The remains of a square wall, built in cappellaccio and tufa-stone from Fidene, which have been preserved in the same garden and which some scholars have attributed to the fortification work of the Arx, might possibly go back to the supposed Archaic and Mid-Republican phases of the Juno Moneta Temple. Examples of the Imperial Age remodelling of the building can be seen in the two parallel walls in cementitious material which run into the tufa-stone structures at right-angles.
The denomination Moneta, referring to the divinity’s peculiar capacity for warning, was later to lend itself to the name of the workshop responsible for minting coins which thenceforth also became known as Moneta; in Republican times it was situated near the temple of Juno. The remains of a building made in blocks of cappellaccio, attributed to the Auguraculum, can be seen in the garden in front of the Sixtus IV entrance to Palazzo Senatorio. This space, laid out in accordance with ritualistic canons, faces the Forum and it was from here that the auguries observed the flight pattern of birds in order to interpret the will of the Gods.
The Temple of Veiovis
The Temple of Veiovis was only brought to light in 1939, during the excavation underneath Piazza del Campidoglio for the creation of the Gallery Junction. The parts of the building which make up the Palazzo Senatorio are superimposed both over the temple and over the nearby Tabularium, thereby managing to obscure the Roman building almost completely and as a result saving it from destruction. According to ancient sources, and based on the discovery, in the area of the cella, of a marble statue used for religious purposes, it has been possible to identify the divinity to whom this temple was dedicated: Veiovis, the youthful God of the underworld who was the ancient Italic version of Jupiter.
Latin authors define its position as being “inter duos lucos”, that is to say between two sacred woods situated on the two heights of the Capitoline Hill. In the same area was also situated the Asylum, where, legend has it, Romulus extended hospitality to fugitives from other parts of the Latium region, in order to populate the new city which he founded. Consecrated in 196 BC by Consul Lucius Furius Purpurio in the Battle of Cremona during the war against the Boii Gauls, the temple was then dedicated in 192 BC by Quintus Marcius Ralla. The chief feature of this temple, and one which is not shared by many other Roman buildings – probably on account of the very limited space available – is the transversally-elongated cella, whose width is almost double its depth (15 x 8.90 metres). The temple’s high podium has a lime-and-mortar internal nucleus lined with Travertine marble.
The façade runs in line with the road that climbed up from the Clivus Capitolinus, and features a pronaos with four pillars in the central part preceeded by a flight of steps. Three distinct building phases have been identified, the last of which has been dated to the first quarter of the I century BC and is linked with the building of the Tabularium. The temple was then restored by Emperor Domitian in the I century AD with the addition of brick pillars and coloured marble coating on the floor and cella walls. The area surrounding the building was paved with large slabs of Travertine marble.
The remains of the Tabularium, an imposing Late Republican Age building lie underneath the Palazzo Senatorio. In Roman times its was used for the conservation of the bronze tabulae containing the laws and the official deeds of the Roman State.
The building was completed by Quintus Lutatius Catulus, Consul in 78 BC, as part of a programme of public works for the redevelopment of the Capitoline Hill, which in 83 BC had suffered a great fire. The works are commemorated in an inscription, still visible in the XV century but now lost, which passed down the building’s ancient name (Tabularium). A similar, albeit more fragmented, inscription can be found on the squared blocks of tufa-stone on the outside of the monument, on Via di S. Pietro in Carcere. Set on a tall basement, up against the side of the hill on the level of the Forum, was the actual multi-storey building itself, looking out over the piazza behind, which occupied the area between the two heights of the Capitoline Hill. The greatest respect was held for the already-existing temple of Veiovis, whose area on the western corner of the Tabularium was delimited by a four-sided indentation.
The narrow corridor on the first floor, illuminated by rectangular openings hewn out of the sturdy basement, is covered by a pavilion-vaulted gallery with large archways framed by architectural features; the gallery can still be visited and is well preserved. We might also assume the existence of yet another upper floor, which probably housed the public archives. A steep staircase inside the basement, access to which was later sealed off on account of its being covered by the podium of the temple of Vespasian and Titus, joined the Forum level to the temple of Veiovis, while a second staircase led to the upper floor of the Tabularium. In the Middle Ages a fortress was built over the remains of the Tabularium, and this was later transformed into the Palazzo Senatorio. Since then, the building has been used for functions associated with the city’s administration. Some of these rooms were used from between the XIV and the XVII centuries for the storage and sale of salt, while other areas were used as prison cells right up until the middle of the XIX century.
City walls, roads and houses
The walls surrounding the so-called Servian city probably ran round the top of the hill in its north-western sector near Campus Martius, going up from the Forum Boarium near the Tiber and running towards the Quirinal along the saddle which Trajan subsequently cut into in order to construct his own Forum.
Remains of the first cappellaccio city wall from the VI century BC and of blocks of Grotta Oscura tufa-stone from the IV century BC phase have been discovered in a number of places. The names of three gateways in this section of the city wall have been handed down to us, although their exact position is by no means clear: Porta Carmentalis (near the Tiber), Porta Flumentana (maybe near Campus Martius) and Porta Ratumena (near the Quirinal).
The Clivus Capitolinus climbed up the Capitoline from the Roman Forum; this was the thoroughfare used for triumphal parades by victorious generals on their way to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline. The lower part started its route near the Temple of Saturn – part of the central section is still used by traffic and joins the Roman Forum to the Capitoline. The remains of the road that climbed away from the Campus Martius in the deep valley between the two heights of the Capitoline Hill have been found. It was lined with buildings in brick and tufa-stone with travertine marble corbels supporting the balconies, the remains of some of which are still preserved under the piazza itself. Other places on the hill could only be reached by flights of steps: Centum gradus, Gradus Monetae and Scalae Gemoniae.
A number of residential buildings sprung up around the Capitoline hill during the Imperial Age, especially on the north-western side and on the slopes, as can be seen by the 5-storey block (insula) dating from the II century AD which can still be seen near the Aracoeli steps.
The church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli is adjacent to the square, located near where the ancient arx, or citadel, atop the hill it once stood. At its base are the remains of a Roman insula, with more than four storeys visible from the street.
In the Middle Ages, the hill’s sacred function was obscured by its other role as the center of the civic government of Rome, revived as a commune in the 12th century. The city’s government was now to be firmly under papal control, but the Capitoline was the scene of movements of urban resistance, such as the dramatic scenes of Cola di Rienzo’s revived republic. In 1144, a revolt by the citizens against the authority of the Pope and nobles led to a senator taking up his official residence on the Capitoline Hill. The senator’s new palazzo turned its back on the ancient forum, beginning the change in orientation on the hill that Michelangelo would later accentuate. A small piazza was laid out in front of the senator’s palazzo, intended for communal purposes. In the middle of the 14th century, the guilds’ court of justice was constructed on the southern end of the piazza. This would later house the Conservatori in the 15th century. As a result, the piazza was already surrounded by buildings by the 16th century.
The existing design of the Piazza del Campidoglio and the surrounding palazzi was created by Renaissance artist and architect Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1536–1546. At the height of his fame, he was commissioned by the Farnese Pope Paul III, who wanted a symbol of the new Rome to impress Charles V, who was expected in 1538. This offered him the opportunity to build a monumental civic plaza for a major city as well as to reestablish the grandeur of Rome.
Michelangelo’s first designs for the piazza and remodeling of the surrounding palazzi date from 1536. His plan was formidably extensive. He accentuated the reversal of the classical orientation of the Capitoline, in a symbolic gesture turning Rome’s civic center to face away from the Roman Forum and instead in the direction of Papal Rome and the Christian church in the form of St. Peter’s Basilica. This full half circle turn can also be seen as Michelangelo’s desire to address the new, developing section of the city rather than the ancient ruins of the past. An equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius was to stand in the middle of the piazza set in a paved oval field. Michelangelo was required to provide a setting for the statue and to bring order to an irregular hilltop already encumbered by two crumbling medieval buildings set at an acute angle to one another.
The Palazzo del Senatore was to be restored with a double outer stairway, and the campanile moved to the center axis of the palazzo. The Palazzo dei Conservatori was also to be restored, and a new building, the so-called Palazzo Nuovo, built at the same angle on the north side of the piazza to offset the Conservatori, creating a trapezoidal piazza. A wall and balustrade were to be built at the front of the square, giving it a firm delineation on the side facing the city. Finally, a flight of steps was to lead up to the enclosed piazza from below, further accentuating the central axis.
The sequence, Cordonata piazza and the central palazzo are the first urban introduction of the “cult of the axis” that was to occupy Italian garden plans and reach fruition in France.
Executing the design was slow: Little was actually completed in Michelangelo’s lifetime (the Cordonata Capitolina was not in place when Emperor Charles arrived, and the imperial party had to scramble up the slope from the Forum to view the works in progress), but work continued faithfully to his designs and the Campidoglio was completed in the 17th century, except for the paving design, which was to be finished three centuries later.
The bird’s-eye view of the engraving by Étienne Dupérac shows Michelangelo’s solution to the problems of the space in the Piazza del Campidoglio. Even with their new facades centering them on the new palazzo at the rear, the space was a trapezoid, and the facades did not face each other squarely. Worse still, the whole site sloped (to the left in the engraving). Michelangelo’s solution was radical.
The three remodelled palazzi enclose a harmonious trapezoidal space, approached by the ramped staircase called the cordonata. The stepped ramp of the cordonata was intended, like a slow-moving escalator, to lift its visitors toward the sky and deposit them on the threshold of municipal authority. The oval shape combined with the diamond pattern within it was a play on the previous Renaissance geometries of the circle and square. The travertine design set into the paving is perfectly level: Around its perimeter, low steps arise and die away into the paving as the slope requires.
Its centre springs slightly, so that one senses that he/she is standing on the exposed segment of a gigantic egg all but buried at the centre of the city at the centre of the world, as Michelangelo’s historian Charles de Tolnay pointed out. An interlaced twelve-pointed star makes a subtle reference to the constellations, revolving around this space called Caput mundi, Latin for “head of the world.” This paving design was never executed by the popes, who may have detected a subtext of less-than-Christian import, but Benito Mussolini ordered the paving completed to Michelangelo’s design in 1940.
Michelangelo looked at the center to find a solution to the Capitoline disorder. The statue provided a center and a focus. The buildings defined the space, and it is this space, as much as the buildings, that is the impressive achievement of the Capitoline complex. It is a giant outdoor room, a plaza enclosed and protected but open to the sky and accessible through five symmetrical openings. Axiality and symmetry govern all parts of the Campidoglio. The aspect of the piazza that makes this most immediately apparent is the central statue, with the paving pattern directing the visitors’ eyes to its base. Michelangelo also gave the medieval Palazzo del Senatore a central campanile, a renovated façade, and a grand divided external staircase. He designed a new façade for the colonnaded Palazzo dei Conservatori and projected an identical structure, the Palazzo Nuovo, for the opposite side of the piazza. On the narrow side of the trapezoidal plan, he extended the central axis with a magnificent stair to link the hilltop with the city below.
In the middle, and not to Michelangelo’s liking, stood the original equestrian statue of the emperor 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.
He provided new fronts to the two official buildings of Rome’s civic government, the Palazzo dei Conservatori, the Senatorio, and finally the Nuovo. Michelangelo designed a new façade for the dilapidated Palazzo dei Conservatori and he designed the Palazzo Nuovo to be a mirror complement, thereby providing balance and coherence to the ragged ensemble of existing structures. The construction of these two buildings were carried out after his death under the supervision of Tommaso Cavalieri. The sole arched motif in the entire Campidoglio design is the segmental pediments over their windows, which give a slight spring to the completely angular vertical-horizontal balance of the design. The three palazzi are now home to the Capitoline Museums.
Palazzo Caffarelli Clementino
Adjacent and now serving as an annex to the Palazzo dei Conservatori is Palazzo Caffarelli Clementino; here, short-term exhibitions are held. The palazzo was built between 1576 and 1583 by Gregory Canonico for Gian Pietro Caffarelli II. Until the cessation of World War I, the palazzo served as the German Embassy to Rome. Following the war, it was claimed by the Comune di Roma, which demolished a large section of the palazzo’s east wing to create the Caffarelli Terrace.
Palazzo dei Conservatori
The Palazzo dei Conservatori (“palazzo of the Conservators”) was built in the Middle Ages for the local magistrates (named “Conservatori of Rome”) on top of a sixth-century BC temple dedicated to Jupiter “Maximus Capitolinus”. Michelangelo’s renovation of it incorporated the first use of a giant order that spanned two storeys, here with a range of Corinthian pilasters and subsidiary Ionic columns flanking the ground-floor loggia openings and the second-floor windows. Michelangelo’s new portico is a reinvention of older ideas. The portico contains entablatures and a flat, coffer-like ceiling. The entablatures rest on columns set at the front of each bay, while matching half-columns stand against the back wall. Each pilaster forms a compound unit with the pier and column on either side of it. Colossal pilasters set on large bases join the portico and the upper story. All of the windows are capped with segmental pediments. A balustrade fringing the roof emphasizes the emphatic horizontality of the whole against which the vertical lines of the orders rise in majestic contrast. The verticality of the colossal order creates the feeling of a self-contained space while the horizontality of the entablatures and balustrades emphasize the longitudinal axis of the piazza.
The palazzo’s facade was updated by Michelangelo in the 1530s and again later numerous times. In Rome the portico of the Palazzo dei Conservatori sheltered offices of various guilds. Here disputes arising in the transaction of business were adjudicated, unless they were of sufficient importance to go before a communal tribunal, such as that of the conservatori. It was a natural place for such activity. Until the 1470s the main market of the city was held on and around the campidoglio, while cattle continued to be taxed and sold in the ancient forum located just to the south.
Built during the 13th and 14th centuries, the Palazzo Senatorio (“Senatorial palazzo”) stands atop the Tabularium, which had once housed the archives of ancient Rome. Peperino blocks from the Tabularium were re-used in the left side of the palazzo and a corner of the bell tower. It now houses the Roman city hall, after having been converted into a residence by Giovanni Battista Piranesi for the Senator Abbondio Rezzonico in the 18th century. Its double ramp of stairs was designed by Michelangelo. This double stairway to the palazzo replaced the old flight of steps and two-storied loggia, which had stood on the right side of the palazzo. The staircase cannot be seen solely in terms of the building to which it belongs but must be set in the context of the piazza as a whole. The steps, beginning at the center of each wing, move gently upward until they reach the inner corner, level off and recede to the main surface of the façade. They then continue an unbroken stateliness toward each other, converging on the central doorway of the second story.
This interruption of the diagonal line and the brief inward change of direction both absorbs the central axis and links the two sides. The fountain in front of the staircase features the river gods of the Tiber and the Nile as well as Dea Roma (Minerva). The upper part of the facade was designed by Michelangelo with colossal corinthian pilasters harmonizing with the two other buildings. Its bell-tower was designed by Martino Longhi the Elder and built between 1578 and 1582. Its current facade was built by Giacomo della Porta and Girolamo Rainaldi.
To close off the piazza’s symmetry and cover up the tower of the Aracoeli, the Palazzo Nuovo, or “New palazzo”, was constructed in 1603, finished in 1654, and opened to the public in 1734. Its facade duplicates to that of Palazzo dei Conservatori. In other words, it is an identical copy made using Michelangelo’s blueprint when he redesigned the Palazzo dei Conservatori a century earlier.
A balustrade, punctuated by sculptures atop the giant pilasters, capped the composition, one of the most influential of Michelangelo’s designs. The two massive ancient statues of Castor and Pollux that decorate the balustrades are not the same as those posed by Michelangelo, which now are in front of the Palazzo del Quirinale.
Next to the older and much steeper stairs leading to the Aracoeli, Michelangelo devised a monumental wide-ramped stair, the cordonata, 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.
Influenced by Roman architecture and Roman republican times, the word Capitolium still lives in the English word capitol. The Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. is widely assumed to be named after the Capitoline Hill.
The Musei Capitolini date back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated to the people of Rome a group of bronze statues that until then had been kept at the Lateran. These statues constituted its original core collection. Various popes subsequently expanded the collection with works taken from excavations around Rome; some were moved from the Vatican, some, such as the Albani collection, were bought specifically for the museum. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, Pope Benedict XIV created a picture gallery. A considerable quantity of archaeological material was also added at the end of the nineteenth century when Rome became the capital of Italy and new excavations were carried out whilst creating two completely new districts were created for the expanding city.
The Museums’ collections are displayed in the two of the three buildings that together enclose the Piazza del Campidoglio: Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo, the third being the Palazzo Senatorio. These two buildings are linked by an underground tunnel, which contains the Galleria Lapidaria and leads to the ancient Tabularium, whose monumental arches overlook the Forum.
The Palazzo Nuovo houses the collections of ancient sculpture made by the great noble families of the past. Their charming arrangement has remained substantially unchanged since the eighteenth century. They include the famous collections of busts of Roman philosophers and emperors, the statue of Capitoline Gaul, the Capitoline Venus, and the imposing statue of Marforio that dominates the courtyard.
The Conservators’ Apartment contains the original architectural nucleus of the building, decorated with splendid frescoes portraying the history of Rome. The ancient Capitoline bronzes on display here add to the noble atmosphere: the Capitoline She-wolf, Spinario and the Capitoline Brutus.
On the first floor of the palace, a huge glass room, recently built, contains the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which once stood in the Piazza del Campidoglio, and the imposing remains of the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter. A section is also dedicated to the most ancient part of the Campidoglio’s history, from its first inhabitation until the construction of the sacred building, displaying the results of recent excavations. The halls that overlook the room contain works from the Horti of the Esquiline; the hall which connects the room to the apartments of the Palazzo dei Conservatori contains the Castellani collection, testimony to nineteenth century collecting practices.
On the second floor, the Capitoline Picture Gallery contains many important works, arranged in chronological order from late mediaeval times to the eighteenth century. The collection includes paintings by Caravaggio (Good Luck and St. John the Baptist), a massive canvas by Guercino (Burial of Saint Petronilla) and numerous paintings by Guido Reni and Pietro da Cortona.
The Palazzo Caffarelli-Clementino holds the numismatic collection, known as the Medagliere Capitolino. On display are many rare coins, medals, gems and jewels, as well as an area dedicated to temporary exhibitions.