Capitoline Hill in Rome

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The Capitoline Hill ( or ; Latin: Collis Capitōlīnus), between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one of the seven hills of Rome. It was the citadel (equivalent of the ancient Greek acropolis) of the earliest Romans. By the 16th century, Capitolinus had become Capitolino in Italian, with the alternative Campidoglio stemming from Capitolium. The English word ' derives from Capitoline. The Capitoline contains few ancient ground-level ruins, as they are almost entirely covered up by Medieval and Renaissance palaces (now housing the Capitoline Museums) that surround a piazza, a significant urban plan designed by Michelangelo.



At this hill, the Sabines, creeping to the Citadel, were let in by the Roman maiden 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. 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 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.

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. 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.


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 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.

Michelangelo's first designs for the piazza and remodelling of the surrounding palazzi 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 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. Benito Mussolini ordered the paving completed to Michelangelo's design — in 1940.

Marcus Aurelius

In the middle, and not to Michelangelo’s liking, stood a replica of the Marcus Aurelius Equestrian statue. 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") 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.

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 for Ascanio Caffarelli Gregory Canonica. Until the cessation of World War I, the palazzo served as the German Embassy to Rome. Following the war, it was 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 Senatorio

Built during the 13th and 14th centuries, the Palazzo Senatorio ("Senatorial Palace") 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 palace and a corner of the bell tower. It now houses the Roman city hall. Its double ramp of stairs was 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.

Palazzo Nuovo

To close off the piazza's symmetry and cover up the tower of the Aracoeli, the Palazzo Nuovo, or "New Palace", 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 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.

American emulation

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.

See also

  • Seven hills of Rome
  • Aventine Hill (Aventino)
  • Caelian Hill (Celio)
  • Cispian Hill (Cispio)
  • Esquiline Hill (Esquilino)
  • Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo)
  • Monte Mario
  • Oppian Hill (Oppio)
  • Palatine Hill (Palatino)
  • Pincian Hill (Pincio)
  • Quirinal Hill (Quirinale)
  • Vatican Hill (Vaticano)
  • Velian Hill (Velia)
  • Viminal Hill (Viminale)


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