This Italian name, Campidoglio ("cuhm-pee-DOHL-yoh"), comes from "Capitolium", the best known of the seven hills of ancient Rome, whose original name was probably Mons Tarpeius.
In early Roman times important temples were built here: the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the south west end and the Temple of Juno Monetae on the height known as Arx. The lower area between these two heights was known as Asylum, where, we are told, the founder of Rome, Romulus, gave safe haven to refugees from nearby towns.
When the city was depopulated through pestilence in during the dark ages, the Capitol maintained a small community, which used the area known as the Asylum as a market.
Later, during the age of family feuding, a fortress was built into the remains of the Tabularium, a building in which Roman magistrates had held their meetings.
In 1536 the Farnese Pope, Paul III, commissioned Michaelangelo to improve the appearance of the piazza on the hill, and Michaelangelo responded by designing a highly original piazza whose surface is covered by an intricate geometric pattern.
He added a graceful ramp, known as the Cordonata, leading up to the piazza.
He rebuilt the facade of the fortress, built on the ruins of the Tabularium, a Palace that became the home of the Senate of Rome, which was later finished by Giacomo Della Porta. He designed the facade of the Palazzo dei Conservatori reworked and left plans for another building opposite, the Palazzo Nuovo, which was built in 1654 with a facade reflecting the Palazzo dei Conservatori. It is in this state that we see the piazza today.
In ancient times, the highest part of the hill, the Arx, was where formal divinations were made. In the seventh century a monastery was built there and around 1285 a church was built here known as Santa Maria in Aracoeli (“altar of the sky”), which has a beautiful staircase leading up to it. It was by this staircase that the tribune of the people, Cola di Rienzo, was killed during his attempt to establish a Roman republic in 1354. There is a monument to mark the place of his death.
And this is the way we suggest: get on the Capitolium through the street on the back of the Victorian building; just 100 meters and you’ll meet the wall of the Senatorio Palace. Here is a marvellous sightseeing of the Roman Forum, in front of you Settimio Severo’arch and on the left Ss. Luca and Martina’s Church.
Going on the ascent on the top the she-wolf awaits for you; this has become the symbol of the city of Rome (Not strangely, this building houses city hall). Close by the she-wolf, inside the wall of the palace you’ll can see the African Scipio’s trophies. Keep right and enter a garden, under your eyes you’ll see the Ceasar’s forum, while the Traiano’s markets and the leaning Milizie’s tower are far away.
Before entering the Capitolium’ piazza, we suggest to join the Church of S. Maria in Aracoeli by the secondary door, which lies behind the Palazzo Nuovo. Like many churches in Rome, it houses a number of works of art.
Finally we can enter the Capitolium Piazza where on the opposite side, just in front of you the gigantic statues of the Dioscuri and Mario’s trophies stand aside to the “Michelangelo’s Cordonata” steps. The meaning of “Cordonata” is: practicable both by feet and horseback.
The stone lions at the foot of the Cordonata come from Egypt and have been turned into fountains. In fact, there were occasions when red and white wine flowed from them! The long flight leads up to Michaelangelo's piazza with the Senatorial Palace in front of you. On the right is the Palazzo dei Conservatori in whose courtyard you'll find a number of interesting pieces of ancient sculpture, including a giant head of the Emperor Constantine from the basilica of Maxentius. There is also a dedicatory inscription from the Arch of Claudius that celibrates the emperor’s conquest of Britain in 43 CE. Across the piazza the Palazzo Nuovo houses the Capitoline Museum which features a number of beautiful and famous ancient sculptures including the "Dying Gaul". At the centre of the piazza is an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which is a reproduction of the one that stood here for centuries only to be removed a decade ago for restoration and preservation.
Below the double staircase of the Senatorial Palace there are two reclining statues: personifications of two rivers, the Nile and the Tiber (originally the Tigris, but reworked), both from the Baths of Constantine. In the central niche of the staircase is a seated statue of Minerva in porphyry and marble converted into the goddess of the city.
To be continued with next bit: Capitolium - Act II