Capitoline Hill and the Capitoline museums

The heart of ancient Rome

The Capitoline Hill was the heart of ancient Rome, the center of religious worship. At that time, the temple of the god Jupiter was erected on it. Gradually, the place became established as a center of political life.

The Capitoline Hill is closely related to the history of Rome. According to some legends, it was there that the she-wolf nursed the brothers Romulus and Remus. Another famous legend associated with this hill is that of the geese that saved Rome when the Gauls attacked. In the 3rd century BC, the Gauls entered the territories of the Romans and surrounded their capital. They outnumbered the Roman soldiers many times over. The Gallic commander Brennus decided to attack the Romans at night. However, the sacred geese of the temple of Jupiter sensed the galls crawling along the walls of the city and uttered a loud cry, with which they warned of the imminent danger, waking up the guards and the inhabitants of the city. Another curious fact about the hill is that Brutus and the other conspirators in the assassination of Caesar sought refuge there.


Description: the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius /picture source: Shutterstock/;

With the decline of the Roman Empire, the Capitoline Hill also declined, becoming a pile of ruins. This decline was put to an end in 1537. with an ambitious project conceived by Pope Paul III. He wanted to transform the hill in connection with the expected visit of Carl the Fifth. Then he had the idea of building a magnificent square to start the process of restoring Rome’s former glory. The task was more of Michelangelo Buonarroti. Today, an exquisite staircase, the work of Michelangelo, called the Cordona, leads to Piazza Campidoglio. At the base of the staircase are placed black basalt Egyptian lions, and higher up are statues of the twins Castor and Pollux. Castor and Pollux are mythological figures. Although they were twins, Castor was mortal and Pollux immortal. After Castor’s tragic death, Pollux begged his father Jupiter to return his brother, in exchange for which he was willing to take his place in the Underworld. Eventually, Jupiter decided that they could both become immortal. The square overlooks the seat of power – the Vatican. This was achieved by the construction of a third palace – Palazzo Nuovo, which forms an angle of 80 degrees to the two other palaces already existing on the site – Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo dei Senatori. Thus, the new square acquires an amazing trapezoidal plan. At the request of Pope Paul III, the only surviving bronze equestrian statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius was placed in the square. The statue on display today is a copy. The original is preserved and can be seen in the Capitoline Museums, which are housed in the three palaces. Michelangelo was not able to complete his creation while he was alive, but his investigators did, creating one of the most beautiful Renaissance urban spaces.


Description: the statues of Castor and Pollux /picture source: Shutterstock/;

The history of the Capitoline Museums can be traced back to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a rich collection of bronze statues to the people of Rome. Today in the museum you can see mostly ancient sculptors, most of them Roman, but there are also Greek and Egyptian ones on display. Among the most famous exhibits are the original equestrian figure of Marcus Aurelius and the Capitoline she-wolf.

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