Of Rome's seven hills, the Capitoline (Campidoglio) is the most sacred -- its origins stretch way back into antiquity (an Etruscan temple to Jupiter once stood on this spot). Climbing Michelangelo's long, sloping steps makes for a dramatic approach. At the top is a perfectly proportioned square, Piazza del Campidoglio, also laid out by the Florentine artist. Michelangelo positioned the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the center, but it has now been moved inside for protection from pollution (a copy was placed on the pedestal in 1997). The other steps adjoining Michelangelo's approach will take you to Santa Maria d'Aracoeli.
One side of the piazza is open; the others are bounded by the Senatorium (Town Council), the statuary-filled Palace of the Conservatori (Curators), and the Capitoline Museum. These museums house some of the greatest pieces of classical sculpture in the world.
The Capitoline Museum, built in the 17th century, was based on an architectural sketch by Michelangelo. In the first room is The Dying Gaul, a work of majestic skill that's a copy of a Greek original dating from the 3rd century B.C. In a special gallery all her own is the Capitoline Venus, who demurely covers herself. This statue was the symbol of feminine beauty and charm down through the centuries (also a Roman copy of a 3rd-c. B.C. Greek original). Amore (Cupid) and Psyche are up to their old tricks near the window.
The famous equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, whose years in the piazza made it a victim of pollution, has recently been restored and is now kept in the museum for protection. This is the only bronze equestrian statue to have survived from ancient Rome, mainly because it was thought for centuries that the statue was that of Constantine the Great, and papal Rome respected the memory of the first Christian emperor. The statue is housed in an impressive, newly opened exhibition area, along with several other Capitoline treasures.
The Palace of the Conservatori, across the way, was also based on a Michelangelo architectural plan and is rich in classical sculpture and paintings. One of the most notable bronzes, a Greek work of incomparable beauty dating from the 1st century B.C., is Lo Spinario (a little boy picking a thorn from his foot). In addition, you'll find Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf), a rare Etruscan bronze that could date from the 5th century B.C. (Romulus and Remus, the legendary twins who were suckled by the wolf, were added at a later date.) The palace also contains a Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) -- mostly works from the 16th and 17th centuries. Notable canvases are Caravaggio's Fortune Teller and his curious John the Baptist; The Holy Family, by Dosso Dossi; Romulus and Remus, by Rubens; and Titian's Baptism of Christ. The entrance courtyard is lined with the remains (head, hands, a foot, and a kneecap) of an ancient colossal statue of Constantine the Great.
- © Frommer's 2013
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