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Capitoline Hill

Country Italy
City Roma

Capitoline Hill Photo Gallery

Capitoline Hill
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Capitoline Hill Description

Legend has it that the ancient Rome stood on seven hills, Capitoline Hill being one of them. This is where the Roman senate assembled during the days of efflorescence of the Eternal City to govern the land. The public assembled here to make the rulers aware of its wishes, and it was allegedly represented by the most passionate, unscrupulous and gifted orators. However, sometimes decent people would also make their speeches there—Cicero and Cato, for example. The hill is considered to be the very center of the city. It stands near the southern bank of the Tiber, to the northwest of Palatine Hill, and has steep rocky slopes that make it impossible to climb. Historically, there was only one road to the Forum, which can still be used by anyone who wishes to ascend the hill and admire the ruins of Rome's former glory, touching eternity itself. Nowadays there are three ways of approach. This is where the main Roman temple once stood—the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the supreme deity, the symbol of power, glory, and immortality, as well as the Temple of Juno Regina (Moneta) and a temple of Minerva. According to tradition, the temple was consecrated on September 13, 509 B. C. It was also the repository of material goods brought here by the Roman military leaders from their victorious campaigns. They laid the best part of the spoils at the feet of Jupiter's statue and crowned it with a golden wreathe. Apart from material wealth, the temple kept the Sibylline Books in storage, prophesying the future of the world. Their originals were destroyed in fire in 83 B. C. Regardless of all the fires, destructions, pillaging, and general decline that followed, the Roman scholar Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus expressed his admiration of the temple in the first quarter of the sixth century. He wrote: “The ascent to the high Capitol furnished a sight surpassing all that the imagination could conceive.” Nothing remains of the temple's former majesty but portions of foundations and a couple of statues. But even they have an amazing aura that makes it possible to imagine the feeling of unity with Jupiter experienced here by the ancient Romans. Nearby the ruins of the temple we find one of the earliest Christian churches, the Santa Maria in Aracoeli, and a relatively small building known as the Palazzo Caffarelli Clementino. The church is claimed to be the location of the world's oldest Christian altar, which is said to predate the birth of Jesus Christ. The legend has it that this is where Gaius Octavius Augustus had a vision that made a most profound impression on him—the vision of Virgin Mary and the Infant, who was the son of God. He ordered to have the Altar of Heaven (Ara Coeli) built on that site. Inside the church you will find pillars of white marble and an image of the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus dating from the tenth century and admire the wooden statue of the Divine Infant carved in the fifteenth century.

In the sixteenth century the great Italian artist and architect Michelangelo supervised the reconstruction of a substantial part of the Capitoline Hill. One of his masterpieces is the central marble staircase with railings known as the "Cordonata Capitolina," which can be used to ascend right to the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The construction of the staircase creates an illusion of an endless ascent. The staircase is adorned with the sculptures of Egyptian lions, as well as the equine statues of the twins Castor and Pollux immortalized as the constellation of Gemini. One can also see the statues of Emperors Constantine and Constantius II as well as two milestones from the famous Appian Way. Michelangelo also designed such architectural marvels as the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Palazzo Nuovo, the façade of the Palazzo del Senatore, and the Piazza del Campidoglio.

The statue of the Italian political figure and gentleman of fortune Cola di Rienzo, the protagonist of one of Richard Wagner's early operas, was erected next to the staircase, marking the place where the “last tribune of the people” was killed in 1354.

At the very center of the Capitoline Hill we find the bronze equine statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It survived the destruction of pagan symbols because Christian radicals of the time mistook the statue for a rendition of Emperor Constantine, who had made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. The monument was installed here in 1538 by the edict of Pope Paul III. In 2005 it was replaced by a copy, while the original was transferred to the Capitoline Museum for safekeeping.

The Capitoline Museum was founded in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV. The amazingly rich collections of the Museum are kept in the buildings surrounding the Piazza del Campidoglio—the Palazzo Nuovo and the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The museum has a large number of ancient artifacts and valuable works of art in its vaults, such as the bronze statue of a she-wolf suckling the infant Romulus and his brother Remus, the statues of Venus and the Dying Galatian, and a number of Etruscan statues cast in bronze dating from the late VI century B. C. The 12-meter-tall statue of Constantine II is particularly popular. The museum also houses paintings by Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens and other artists of the Renaissance. In 2000, the two main wings of the museum were joined together by an underground tunnel, which also leads to the ancient Tabularium. The museum complex is open Tuesday through Sunday, 9:30 A. M. to 8 P. M.

Right next to the Piazza we find a 35-meter-tall belfry built in 1580. It is part of the Palazzo del Senatore, whose facade is adorned with an elegant staircase, a statue of Minerva, and two gigantic figures symbolizing the rivers Nile and Tiber.

The Capitoline Hill is also the location of the Church of San Giuseppe dei Falignami. It was built in the XVI century on the ruins of the oldest Roman prison—the Mamertine Prison, also known as the Tullianum. The prison complex included overground constructions as well as an underground grotto. Tradition has it that it was built in the seventh century B. C., during the reign of King Ancus Marcius. This prison is believed to be the place where Peter the Apostle awaited the death sentence of Nero. You can visit it between 9 A. M. and 7 P. M. The duration of a paid guided tour is 40 minutes.

Next to the church we find the Piazza Venezia, whose modern ensemble dates from 1885-1911. Here we find an enormous monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the king who united all of Italy after centuries of fragmentation and foreign occupation. This monument is also known as the Altar of the Fatherland, or simply as “the typewriter” due to its shape. Many objects of cultural heritage dating from the Middle Ages and earlier were destroyed in the construction of the complex including the 30-meter-tall bronze statue of the king, a colonnade, fountains, and a grandiose staircase. These objects include the Tower of Paul III, part of the Ara Coeli Monastery and the Palazzo Torlonia. The complex also includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier erected by the grateful Romans in memory of the soldiers who fell in WWI. Inside the complex we find the Museum of the Risorgimento commemorating the epoch of national liberation and the unification of Italy (the period between the late eighteenth century and 1870).

The Palazzo di Venezia has been adorning the Western part of the Piazza Venezia ever since 1467. It was built at the initiative of Cardinal Pietro Barbo, who became Pope Paul II in 1464. In the centuries that followed, it housed the Embassy of Venice and Austria. Benito Mussolini addressed his Fascist comrades to revive the former glory of the Roman Empire from the balcony of this building. The Palazzo currently houses the National Museum, which exhibits the sculptures of the famed seventeenth-century architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Fascists had their grand parades right here on this square. The two main streets of Rome begin here, too—Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via Del Teatro di Marcello.

Next to the Palazzo di Venezia we find the Basilica of San Marco, built in 336 according to the historical chronicles. It was rebuilt a number of times over the centuries of its existence, and its modern shape dates from 1735. Next to the Christian construction we find a three-meter-tall bust of the Egyptian goddess Isis commonly known as Madama Lucrezia after the lover of Alfonso V of Aragon, Lucrezia d'Alagno, who used to live nearby. The statue was often vandalized by graffiti with irreverent verse.

The so-called Palazzo Bonaparte is also located in the vicinity of the Piazza Venezia. The mother of the emperor, Letizia Ramolino, lived there since 1818. Nowadays the Piazza Venezia is decorated by an enormous Christmas Tree every holiday season. The merry Italians love to come here to celebrate the New Year.

Capitoline Hill video guide

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