The Capitoline Hill, between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one 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 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.
The hill was the site of a temple for the Capitoline Triad
, started by Rome's fifth king, Tarquin the Elder
. It was considered one of the largest and the most beautiful temples in the city (although little now remains) and was probably founded on an earlier Etruscan temple of Veiovis
, the remains and cult statue of which survive. 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
by Tarquin's order.
At this hill the Sabines, creeping to the Citadel, were let in by the Vestal Virgin Tarpeia. For this she was the first to suffer the punishment for treachery of being thrown off the steep crest of the hill to fall on the dagger-sharp Tarpeian Rocks below. 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, it being fortified by the Roman defenders.
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 afterwards). 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.
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 stores 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 11th 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. 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 palazzos 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.
Michelangelo's first designs for the piazza and remodelling of the surrounding palazzos date from 1536. He reversed 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.
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’’ 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
". Since no "perfect" forms would work, his apparent oval in the paving is actually egg-shaped, narrower at one end than at the other. 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 center springs slightly, so that one senses that one is standing on the exposed segment of a gigantic egg all but buried at the center of the city at the center 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
, the "head of the world." This paving design was never executed by the popes, who may have detected a subtext of less-than-Christian import. Benito Mussolini
ordered the paving completed to Michelangelo's design — in 1940.
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.
He provided new fronts to the two official buildings of Rome's civic government, the Palazzo dei Conservatori, the Senatorio, and finally the Nuovo. 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 dei Conservatori
The Palazzo dei Conservatori
("Palace of the Conservators"), originally called the Palazzo Caffarelli, was built in the Middle Ages for the local magistrate on top of a sixth century BC temple dedicated to Jupiter
"Maximus Capitolinus". It was 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. Another giant order would serve later for the exterior of St Peter's Basilica
. Its facade was updated by Michelangelo in the 1530s and again later numerous times.
Built during the 13th and 14th century, the Palazzo Senatorio
("Senatorial Palace") stands atop the Tabularium
that had once housed the archives of ancient Rome. Peprino
marble blocks from the Tabularium were re-used in the left side of the palace and a corner of the bell tower. 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 Martino Longhi the Elder
and built between 1578 and 1582. Its current facade was designed by Giacomo della Porta
and Girolamo Rainaldi
To close off the piazza symmetrically and cover up the tower of the Aracoeli, the Palazzo Nuovo
, or "New Palace", was constructed in 1603, finished in 1654, and open 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.
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 which decorate the balustrades are not the same 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.
The name Capitol Hill
for the location of the United States Congress
in Washington D.C.
was chosen by the founders of the US in emulation of the ancient Roman location.