First construction: 1538
In photo: View of the Piazza del Campidoglio
Since ancient times the Capitol was the most important place in Rome, initially as a place of worship and then as a center of power with the advent of the Senate during the Empire. The buildings surrounding the Piazza del Campidoglio are evidence of the historical events and secular events associated with the city.
Traces of housing settlements since the Iron Age came to light during the first excavations of the hill (5th century BC). This originally was characterized by two verdant summits, the Arx and the Capitolium , with a valley in the center called Asylum (the current Piazza del Campidoglio) .
The Asilum will become the center of the entire hill where the Capitoline temples that sanction its sacredness will be raised. During the excavations of the foundations to build the Temple of Jupiter, the head (caput) of an Etruscan warrior from the name Tolus or Olus was found , from which caput Toli, then Capitolium and consequently Capitol.
The middle Ages
In the Middle Ages almost all the evidence of the great Roman civilization had vanished and the temples dismantled. The Capitol, once a sacred place, was renamed Monte Caprino because of the custom of the people to graze goats.
In the XII century, on the ruins of the Tabularium , the Urbe State Archive, the first important building was built, the Palazzo Senatorio, the seat of the medieval municipality and residence of the Senator who administered the city.
In the fourteenth century Pope Nicholas V initiated the reorganization of the Banderesi houses by transforming the building into the Palazzo delle Corporazioni , to reaffirm the power of the papal dogma over the city authorities.
Historically, the square was created because the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V organized a visit to Rome scheduled in 1538 at the invitation of Pope Paul III Farnese .
He wanted a majestic image to restore Rome’s grandeur and impress the emperor. For the renown of the event, he decided to rearrange the entire complex to build a monumental square and chose to entrust the project and the works to the greatest and most brilliant artist of the Italian Renaissance, Michelangelo.
When work began on the new square, the situation of the two existing buildings, Palazzo Senatorio and Palazzo dei Conservatori , was problematic and in a state of bleak abandonment.
Buonarroti’s project resolutely envisaged radical interventions on the old buildings, modifying their facades, for an aesthetic result worthy of the grandeur of Rome; unfortunately the two buildings were diverging from each other at an angle of 80 degrees.
Buonarroti exploited this unusual non-orthogonal arrangement by designing a third building to obtain symmetricity to the Palazzo dei Conservatori: Palazzo Nuovo , at the same angle, gave life to a trapezoidal shape, thus completing the area at the top of the hill. The bell tower of the Palazzo dei Senatori, located on the side, was to be placed in the center.
The architect changed the orientation of the buildings on the hill by turning it downwards towards Campo Marzio which was the beating heart of Rome. The objectives for the urban rearrangement of the whole complex for Michelangelo were five:
- it must have been a nice entrance to the city
- the plateau was to be leveled
- declining buildings had to be restored
- it had to become a whole, a unit and have five entrances.
In a famous letter on architecture, Michelangelo declares his satisfaction with the entire project because it meets his needs which we report as follows:
“If a plan has different components, all these components must have the same quality and quantity and be in unison in terms of style and proportions. […] Just like the nose, in the center of your face, and has no connection with the eye, but one hand must actually be like the other, and one eye must coincide with the other. And indeed, architectural elements must be derived from the human body. Whoever does not master the human figure and the most important aspects of human anatomy cannot understand architecture ”.
Michelangelo Buonarroti, the artist who designed the Piazza del Campidoglio
Italian sculptor, painter, architect and poet, Michelangelo Buonarroti (Caprese, 6 March 1475 – Rome, 18 February 1564) is the one who painted the wonderful Sistine Chapel. It was the same artist who made the David, the Moses, the Pietà and the project of the Dome of San Pietro.
The pavement of the twentieth century
During the renovation phase, the pavement of the square was non-existent, everything was somewhat neglected. To complete the project for the transformation of the architectural complex, Michelangelo had the idea of creating an original design for the flooring that assembled the various buildings by harmonizing them.
The construction of the elliptical flooring took place only in 1940 respecting Michelangelo’s precious starry floor design. A document of historical relevance are the engravings of the French designer Étienne Dupérac from 1569 who copied the original drawing. About four centuries had passed since the project of an architectural scenario unique in the world.
Buonarroti saw the possibilities of a great design, carefully dosing the plan from an architectural point of view for the location of the precious starry floor design.
The artist has not simply used an embellishment pavement, but has created a perfect oval with a pavement design consisting of a starry warp consisting of four interconnected triangles, forming a twelve-pointed star that makes Michelangelo’s Capitol the ” Umbilicus Urbis “ .
The oval is somewhat recessed and is surrounded by three large circular steps placed higher. Within the frame of the three steps, the oval becomes higher towards the center.
The large staircase designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century on commission of Pope Paul III, the so-called “Cordonata” was built by Giacomo Della Porta and allows access to the square. The construction was slow: after Michelangelo’s death, the works continued faithfully on his plans and the work was completed in the 17th century.
The Cordonata is on a slope, formed by elements in stone or brick (cords) that make it similar to a staircase. It connects Piazza del Campidoglio with the underlying Piazza d’Aracoeli,
The statues of the Dioscuri
The large staircase was conceived very wide for the transit of men on horseback, therefore easy to access and widening slightly upwards, where the large statues of the Dioscuri , Castor and Pollux dominate .
Next to them on the balustrade stand the two marble groups of the so-called ” Mario’s Trophies” , a tribute to Domitian’s victories over the Catti and Dacians in 89 AD
A pair of Egyptian black basalt lions are placed at the base, while in the middle of the staircase, on the left, there is the statue of Cola di Rienzo , made by Girolamo Masini in 1887 just near the place where he was executed.
Marcus Aurelius statue
The bronze group of Marcus Aurelius placed on a pedestal is the beginning of the Michelangelo’s intervention on the esplanade. The equestrian statue between the two palaces, built in 166 AD, thus becomes the central core of the entire architectural complex.
The choice of the statue had a religious motivation as according to tradition it represented the emperor Constantine who had granted freedom of worship to the Christian religion in 313 AD
To this inaccurate attribution with the image of Constantine, it must be that the work was saved from the destruction that many other equestrian statues that decorated Rome went through, cast over the centuries to procure the precious metal.
The bronze sculpture that embodies the emperor Marcus Aurelius, was carried by the Lateran to the Capitol and placed in the center of the square. It is the most famous and only equestrian group of the classical era that has survived intact to this day. The original statue is preserved in the Capitoline Museums, the one on the square is a copy of it.
The buildings on the square
The renovation began from the Palazzo Senatorio which, while maintaining the foundations and remains of the Tabularium, has preserved the medieval and Renaissance structures despite the uninterrupted vicissitudes of its construction path.
The Palace of the Guilds of Arts and Crafts was built in the thirteenth century to house some municipal offices. Transforming the medieval building, in 1453, Pope Nicholas V had the architect Rossellino build the Palace was assigned to the Conservatories. The definitive restructuring was with Pope Paul III Farnese , from 1563, which has since been called Palazzo dei Conservatori.
The Palazzo Nuovo was built from scratch, on the basis of Michelangelo’s project, to complete the design of the Capitoline square, in addition to the pre-existing Palazzo Senatorio and Palazzo dei Conservatori.
In 1603 it was Pope Clement VIII who secured the financing for the construction. Its divergent orientation like the opposite Palazzo dei Conservatori was suggested by a pre-existing containment wall on the promontory of S. Maria in Aracoeli.
The senatorial palace
On the remains of the Tabularium was built the fortified residence of the noble baronial family of the Corsicans who in 1143 became the seat of the reconstituted Senate of the Roman people, called the Palazzo Senatorio.
The opening of a loggia overlooking the square that hosts the market, in 1299 changes the face of the Palace reversing its perspective: in the Roman age the hill looked towards the Roman Forum , in the Middle Ages the Capitol overlooked the opposite side, Campo Marzio.
Its renovation began from the inside with the medieval and Renaissance structures, and outside with a majestic facade, cadenced by pilasters of a giant order and by a double monumental staircase on the portal of the building.
In 1538 the reorganization of the entire structure was decided by Pope Paul III Farnese who gave the task of the project and the works to Michelangelo who accepted reluctantly.
The Florentine master revolutionized the palace by orienting it towards the place where Roman life was most involved, Campo Marzio , directing the renovations until 1544.
The façade was then enriched by a double ramp with a rich portal and a monumental fountain with two mixtilinear basins by Giacomo della Porta with the large statues of the Rivers, the Nile and the Tiber on the sides , which had been transferred since 1517 to the Capitoline Hill. The ancient porphyry statue of the seated goddess Minerva stands in a niche in the center of the architectural elevation.
After Michelangelo’s death, the facade was completed in 1605 by Giacomo Della Porta who continued to preside over the work. Remodeling operations continued throughout the first half of the 17th century.
On a project by the papal architect Martino Longhi the Elder, the large brick bell tower with three superimposed orders was built between 1578 and 1582 . The two prominent floors are cadenced by four arches on the four facades that give light to the bell cells inside which are kept the two large bronze bells cast in 1804 and 1805.
The clock, still working today and which was previously placed on the facade of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, was moved to the main front of the tower in 1806.
The purpose of the old Pope Paolo III Farnese began to have consistency in the following decades and only after more than a century did it come to an end, with the completion of the construction of the Palazzo Nuovo that Michelangelo himself had designed.
Palazzo dei Conservatori
In the fifteenth century, Pope Nicholas V had the old building of the professional guilds of arts and crafts of the thirteenth century rebuilt , assigning it to the Conservatives, thus showing papal power and his hegemony over civil institutions.
During the pontificate of Paolo III Farnese , from 1563, the renovation of the palace began, which was then called Palazzo dei Conservatori , whose assignment was given to Michelangelo. The ancient facade was characterized by a long arcaded portico on columns and characterized by two prestigious works: the she- wolf and the colossal bronze head of Constantine .
Michelangelo’s design modified the interior and exterior in the Renaissance style with the grandiose Corinthian pilasters of the facade that join the two floors interspersed between a pilaster and the other by two orders of six windows each with a triangular tympanum respectively in the first and arched in the second.
The large porch is decorated with 14 Ionic columns and the eight statues on the balustrade complete the roof. The largest central window in the center is different with two small columns surmounted by an open tympanum at the base.
At the corners the façade closes with ashlar cantons in high relief in contrast with the delicate frieze inserted in the string course frame of the center. After the entrance there is a first courtyard with a square plan with an arcade on two orders, the first Doric and the second Ionic. A second courtyard has blind arches and a fountain.
The structure of the building diverges slightly from the facade of the Senatorio and the central axis of the square. This evaluation suggested to Michelangelo to harmonize the architectural design of the square with the project of a new twin palace on the opposite side, in the same divergent way.
The aim was to create a scenographic balance of magnificent refinement in the eyes of those who went up to the Palazzo Senatorio from the extensive cordonata coming from Campo Marzio.
In 1876 the building was transformed into a museum but the rooms of the actual apartment of the Conservatories were intended for the Municipality of Rome as a representation. The glorious museum houses the oldest public art collection in Rome (gift of Pope Sixtus IV to the people).
Inside the palace, in the Sala degli Orazi and dei Curiazi, a historical event for Europe occurred. The signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957, in the presence of the representatives of the six founding countries of the EEC (European Economic Community).
Sixty years later, in 2017 , with the participation of the 27 representatives of the European Union, the signature was celebrated in the same room.
The construction of Palazzo Nuovo in 1603 took place thanks to the financing of Pope Clement VIII and was built by Vignola (Jacopo Barozzi da) and completed under the guidance of Girolamo Rainaldi and his son Carlo .
Designed by Michelangelo who was in charge of completing the Capitoline Square which he redesigned himself, it has a mirror facade to the Palazzo dei Conservatori which stands opposite it and with the same oblique orientation.
Inaugurated in 1734, under the papacy of Clement XII Corsini , it is historically the first public museum in the world with one of the oldest collections of classical art among which the prestigious collection of Alban antiquities , consisting of 418 sculptures.
Eight pilasters, with Corinthian capitals give rhythm to the facade, two of which act as a cantonal: on them runs a wide band with a rich cornice. The portico opens between pairs of columns, with the emblem of Alexander VII in the center and two inscriptions in memory of King Charles Albert and the Statute promulgated in 1848, and the other on the 25th Anniversary of the Risorgimento .
Other works were donated to the Capitol by Pope Pius V in 1566, in addition to the sculptures that were no longer located in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. The collections are still arranged according to the eighteenth-century exhibition concept.
Today, together with the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Tabularium, they make up the exhibition site of the Capitoline Museums , among the most important Roman museums in the world. In its courtyard there is the giant lying statue of Marforio which, together with the most famous Pasquino and other characters, is one of the so-called “talking statues” of Rome.
How to get there
The connections to Piazza del Campidoglio are:
Bus : 64 and 40 (from Termini Station)
Metro : line B, Colosseo stop and then 10 minutes on foot