The page covers:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Palazzi del Campidoglio: Senatorio, dei Conservatori and Nuovo
Uffici delle Corporazioni
in a second page:
Inside Palazzo dei Conservatori
Inside Palazzo Nuovo
In 1754 Giuseppe Vasi opened his book of etchings covering the Palaces of Rome with a view of Palazzo Pontificio al Quirinale, at the time the residence of the Popes, and closed it with a view of Palazzi di Campidoglio, which housed the offices of the lay municipal authorities of Rome.
In order to show all the details of the palaces Vasi structured his view around the ramp leading to them, while many other etchers and painters showed it in conjunction with the steps leading to S. Maria in Aracoeli (you may wish to see the etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi - it opens in another window).
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Steps leading to S. Maria in Aracoeli; 2) Palazzo Nuovo; 3) Palazzo Senatorio; 4) Palazzo dei Conservatori; 5) Ramp towards (the centre of) Rome; 6) Accesses from Campo Vaccino. The small map shows also 7) Palazzo Caffarelli; 8) Palazzetto Altemps; 9) Rupe Tarpea.
The view in June 2010 including the full view of the steps leading to S. Maria in Aracoeli
(in the upper left corner the lift to Terrazza delle Quadrighe)
In the XVIIIth century houses and other buildings surrounded Palazzi di Campidoglio and S. Maria in Aracoeli, but today the two monuments are isolated from the rest of the city (apart from the bulky mass of Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II). Changes started during the French administration of Rome at the beginning of the XIXth century and ended in 1930 with the pulling down of a neighbourhood at the foot of the hill.
View taken from near the top of the ramp
Changes to Piazza del Campidoglio and its palaces are very limited and they all relate to Palazzo Senatorio: a) in 1806 a clock on the fašade of S. Maria in Aracoeli was relocated to the tower of the palace; b) a coat of arms of Pope Clement VIII above a 1598 inscription celebrating the completion of the new fašade was removed after 1870 and in 1890 coats of arms of the Kingdom of Italy and of the City of Rome were placed at the sides of the inscription (see enlargement it opens in another window).
The Senate of Ancient Rome was housed in Curia Julia in the Forum; the building was turned into a church in the VIIth century; in 1143, in the frame of attempts to form a municipal power in Rome, the ancient institution was revived; a Senate composed of some 50 members met in the medieval fortifications of Campidoglio above the Tabularium, an ancient building which housed the tabulae, the laws of Rome.
The choice of this location was no doubt linked to the historical relevance of the site, but it had also a practical purpose: it was easily defensible and in 1145 Pope Lucius II was killed while leading an attack against the Senators and their supporters.
(left) Statue of Charles of Anjou by Arnolfo da Cambio inside Palazzo dei Conservatori. He was appointed Senator of Rome in 1263, before he conquered the Kingdom of Naples; (right) gravestone of Pietro Lante di Pisa, Senator in 1380-381 in S. Maria in Aracoeli
Eventually the popes managed to enforce
their authority over the City of Rome and they turned the Senate into a body of their government system; for many centuries they appointed a
Senatore di Roma who was assisted by four Conservatori; they had limited rights in matters such as markets,
trade regulations and upkeep of streets and monuments.
In the XVth century the popes continued to fortify Palazzo Senatorio: the two short wings which project from the fašade hide the towers built by Pope Martin V (left) and Pope Boniface IX (right). The palace was given an elegant appearance in the XVIth century; Michelangelo designed the twin steps leading to the entrance, while the fašade was completed by Giacomo Della Porta, but the other three sides of the building retain the aspect of a fortress.
The Senator of Rome, Count Rezzonico (nephew of Pope Clement XIII), had paid me a visit after his return from Germany (..). Though, as usual, I kept my distance, I was to be drawn inevitably into his circle (..) and I could not decline an invitation at a concert given in the Senator's residence on the Capitol (..). The sun was setting and the view of the Colosseum and its surroundings from the Senator's windows was magnificent (..). I had only to turn my head slightly to survey a vast panorama, lit by the glow of the setting sun.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - February 1778 - translation by W. H. Auden and E. Mayer - Collins 1962.
You may wish to see a detail of a portrait of Rezzonico as Senator of Rome by Pompeo Batoni (it opens in another window).
Museo di Roma a Palazzo Braschi: ephemeral triumphal arches erected in Piazza del Campidoglio for the "possessio" of Pope Paul V in 1605 (left) and of Pope Clement X in 1670 (right). The latter was designed by Carlo Rainaldi together with a second arch at Orti Farnesiani
The decision to redesign Palazzo Senatorio and the square in front of it was taken by Pope Paul III as part of a diplomatic effort to improve relations with Emperor Charles V after the 1527 Sack of Rome.
In 1535 Charles conquered Tunis and the Pope suggested celebrating this victory with a triumphal procession, similar to those of ancient Rome which ended on the Capitoline Hill. Michelangelo was charged with the development of an overall project which included making the access to the hill easier by opening a new street and building a ramp; as a matter of fact when the Emperor visited Rome in April 1536 very little work had been completed and the imperial procession did not access the top of the hill through the new ramp. Eventually the new piazza became the site where the Senator of Rome and the Conservatori paid their first homage to the newly elected pope.
(left) Pedestal designed by Michelangelo with the coat of arms of Pope Paul III; (right) bell tower
This foreword explains the decision to relocate a bronze equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in front of Palazzo Senatorio; the pedestal was carved out of a large marble block of the Forum by Michelangelo. It bears the coat of arms of Pope Paul III in the front and that of the City
of Rome in the back. The statue was situated near Palazzo del Laterano and for many centuries it was known as Caballus Constantini and thought to represent Emperor Constantine; most likely this mistaken identity saved the statue from being melted; at the end of the XVth century it was recognized as a portrait of Marcus Aurelius and the pedestal bears his name in an inscription which imitates the classic ones. Many modern equestrian statues were modelled after that of Marcus Aurelius (e.g. those of Gran Duke Ferdinand I in Florence and of Emperor Joseph II in Vienna).
Palazzo Senatorio had a medieval bell tower which was located to the left of the entrance; in 1577 it was struck by lightning and it was rebuilt at the centre of the palace by Martino Longhi the Elder during the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII.
Palazzo dei Conservatori and the decoration of Piazza del Campidoglio
dei Conservatori was built in the XIIIth century to house some municipal offices and those of the guilds into which all economic activities were organized; in the XVth century it was rebuilt and it was assigned to the Conservatori, the officers appointed by the Pope to assist the Senator and who were so named because of their role in the conservation of the monuments of Rome. In 1563-568 the palace was redesigned by Michelangelo and Giacomo Della Porta; the fašade is remarkable for its pilasters which span two stories, rather than one as in classical architecture (see for comparison Colosseo). This new pattern influenced the design of Palazzo Chigi Odescalchi by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Michelangelo planned to complete Piazza del Campidoglio with a third palace, similar to Palazzo dei Conservatori, in order to give the square a symmetrical shape. His project, which we know from contemporary etchings, included inscribing an oval inside the square and having a star-like decoration starting from the statue of Marcus Aurelius; the oval is visible in the small 1748 map, while the star motif was completed only in 1940 (it can be seen in the Italian 50 cents Euro coin - it opens in another window).
In Michelangelo's project the third palace should have had only an aesthetic purpose; Pope Paul III had a residence behind S. Maria di Aracoeli (its imposing tower can be seen in another plate by Vasi) and the balcony of the new palace could have been used for blessings. With the death of the Pope in 1549 the interest for this building subsided; a century later municipal authorities promoted its completion during the pontificate of Pope Innocent X. The interior was designed by Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi while the fašade is similar to that of Palazzo dei Conservatori. The new palace did not have a specific purpose until 1734 when Pope Clement XII turned it into a museum to house the (second) Albani collection of antiquities (more on this topic in a page covering Villa Albani).
(left) Portico of Palazzo dei Conservatori; (right) central window of Palazzo Nuovo
Today Palazzo Nuovo, Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Tabularium beneath Palazzo Senatorio are linked by an underground passage and they make up Musei Capitolini.
The ancient Romans made use of chairs, but not to sit at a dining table; for their dinners they lay on couches in a position very similar to that exemplified by the two ancient statues of river gods which Michelangelo placed in front of Palazzo Senatorio. They portrayed the Nile and the Tigris; the latter however was turned into the Tiber by adding the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus (see the image used as background for this page). They most likely decorated the baths which Emperor Constantine built on the site of today's Palazzo Rospigliosi, where they were found, but, as they are dated IInd century AD, they were originally made for another monument.
Statues of Castor and Pollux (they were identical twins)
In Michelangelo's project the access to Piazza del Campidoglio should have been flanked by the statues of
Castor and Pollux in Piazza del Quirinale; when eventually in 1578 Giacomo Della Porta built the balustrade which closes the square
two facts had occurred which led to a change: a) the popes had started to build their palace on the Quirinale Hill and they were
unwilling to deprive that location of the two famous statues; b) in 1561, during excavations associated with the construction of
the walls of the Ghetto, several fragments of two gigantic statues of Castor and Pollux were found;
these fragments complemented other parts which had been found in previous years.
Pope Gregory XIII decided to utilize these statues for the decoration of Piazza del Campidoglio; all the pieces were assembled and a team of sculptors worked at their restoration; in 1582 the statues were placed on pedestals similar to that designed by Michelangelo for Marcus Aurelius; the head of the statue on the left was made at that time as the original head was not found.
Southern section of the balustrade with (left to right) one of the two "Trophies of Marius", a statue of Emperor Constantine and the column marking
the first mile of Via Appia. The northern section has a similar decoration
In the XVth century a high number of statues were unearthed in the ruin of the ancient Roman monuments; some of them were used by the
popes to embellish their residences (e.g. Casino del Belvedere), others were assigned to the City of Rome (the first ones by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471);
it is difficult to identify the guidelines followed by the popes in their decisions; it can be said that the statues housed in Musei Capitolini
are mainly related to figures/events of the history of Rome.
In 1590 Pope Sixtus V placed the "Trophies of Marius" which decorated a gigantic fountain near S. Eusebio on the balustrade of Piazza di Campidoglio; in 1653 Pope Innocent X added the statues of Emperor Constantine and of his son Constantine II; the column marking the first mile of Via Appia was added in 1692; the column on the northern section of the balustrade was found at the seventh mile in 1848.
(left) One of the two "Trophies of Marius" (you may wish to see some details of it); (centre) personification of Rome (late Ist century AD); (right) Centrale Montemartini: statue of Diana which stood on the bell tower until 1870. It held a large cross and it was a personification of Christian Rome
Michelangelo planned to place a large statue of Jupiter between the statues of the two rivers; eventually a standing statue of Minerva was placed in the niche, but when a fountain was built at the end of the XVIth century, it was replaced by a smaller seated statue of Minerva which was modified in order to portray a personification of Rome.
Marforio (in the courtyard of Palazzo Nuovo)
In 1595 the colossal statue of a river god (or Neptune) situated at the foot of the hill was relocated to Piazza del Campidoglio; it was known as Marforio and it was one of the talking statues of Rome (Pasquino, Madama Lucrezia, Abate Luigi, il Facchino and il Babuino, in addition to Marforio). The decision to relocate the statue was most likely aimed at monitoring the satires which were hung on it. The statue was moved inside Palazzo Nuovo in 1679. It is dated early Ist century AD, but there is uncertainty about the river it represents.
Statues on the balustrades of Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori: (left to right): Meleager (?), Apoxyomenos (Scraper) and Hercules. They were donated by Pope Pius V in 1566 and placed on the balustrades at a later time
The balustrades of Piazza S. Pietro are decorated with 140 statues of saints, but in Piazza del Campidoglio the balustrades of the three palaces have only two statues of saints (St. Peter and St. Paul). All the other statues depict pagan heroes and gods. It is hard to classify them as ancient statues because they were largely restored and their missing parts were replaced by new ones.
(left) Egyptian basalt lion (from Iseo Campense) at the beginning of the ramp. The coats of arms are those of the Conservatori in charge in 1582; (right) monument bearing the heraldic symbols of Pope Innocent XII; (insets) details of the plate showing the lion and the little monument
In antiquity the hill was accessible
only from the Roman Forum. The steps leading
to the church of S. Maria in Aracoeli were built in 1348 by Cola di Rienzo to celebrate the end of the Black Death, a particularly violent pestilence. The ramp leading to Piazza del Campidoglio is commonly attributed to Michelangelo, but it was actually modified and completed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1578.
The plate by Vasi shows a small monument to the right of this ramp. It celebrates the opening of a second less steep ramp; it has three pots on its top, the heraldic symbols of Pope Innocent XII Pignatelli (pignatta means pot). The monument is now relocated along the modern winding street which allows cars to reach Piazza del Campidoglio.
(left) 1584 portal leading to Palazzo Caffarelli; (right) re-assembled gate of Villa Della Rovere near Porta Salaria
which was relocated to the eastern side of Palazzo Caffarelli in 1926
The Caffarelli are chiefly known because of Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli, nephew of Pope Paul V Borghese, who added his uncle's surname to his own. Giovanni Pietro I Caffarelli who served as page to Emperor Charles V during his Roman visit was rewarded with a piece of land behind Palazzo dei Conservatori; his son Ascanio started to build a family palace which was accessed through a portal from Piazza di Campidoglio; the palace was completed in 1610 by Giovanni Pietro II who celebrated the achievement with an inscription and a coat of arms which are now placed on a terrace in front of the palace, the fašade of which has lost its Renaissance appearance.
(left) Modern terrace in front of Palazzo Caffarelli (you may wish to see some views from this terrace); (right) inscription and coat of arms of Giovanni Pietro II Caffarelli
In the XIXth century Palazzo Caffarelli became the German Embassy and it was adapted to its new function. It was confiscated at the end of World War I and again modified in order to enlarge Musei Capitolini.
(left) Staircase from Piazza del Campidoglio to Portico di Papa Giulio III; (right) small statue of St. Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of the Roman owners of inns
A portico and a staircase were built in 1550-553 on the south-eastern side of Palazzo dei Conservatori. They are almost identical to those which led to Convento di S. Maria in Aracoeli in the opposite section of Piazza del Campidoglio. The ground floor of Palazzo dei Conservatori and the building to the left of the staircase housed the offices of the most important guilds of Rome.
(left) Office of the carpenters' guild at Palazzo dei Conservatori; (centre) symbols of the tailors' and builders' guilds; (right) symbols of the greengrocers', bakers' and pharmacists' guilds
Guilds were part of the economic system of Ancient Rome and their importance is particularly evident at Ostia where some temples were built by guilds (e.g. that of ship carpenters and that of grain measurers). They had even more relevance in Rome between the XVIth and the XVIIIth century. All activities were reserved to members of a guild, and guilds could be as small as having four members, according to records of 1708. All guilds had a church or a chapel dedicated to their patron saint.
Re-assembled fašade and details of Palazzetto Altemps
The buildings opposite the southern side of Palazzo Senatorio were modified in the 1920s to provide room for some new offices needed by the City of Rome. One of these new buildings was decorated with the fašade of Palazzetto Altemps, a small casino located near Porta del Popolo which was pulled down to enlarge Via Flaminia. The fašade, designed by Onorio Longhi in 1600, has many references to the heraldic symbol of the Altemps, a rampant ram. The Altemps had a very elegant palace in town, which was built by Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, nephew of Pope Pius IV.
Rupe Tarpea seen from S. Maria della Consolazione
Tarpea is the name of a legendary young woman who opened the doors of the Roman Arx (the citadel on the peak of the hill where today S. Maria in Aracoeli is located) to the Sabines; in return for her treason the Sabines first buried her under their shields and then threw her body from a rock of the other peak which has been called Rupe Tarpea (Tarpeian Rock) since then. The ancient Romans executed traitors in a similar way; the exact site where these executions took place was debated for a long time; eventually a precipice on the southern side of the hill has been identified as the most likely location for Rupe Tarpea.
The Roman Forum from Rupe Tarpea
What a beautiful view of the city - exclaimed Hilda - and I never saw Rome from this point before!
It ought to afford a good prospect - said the sculptor - for it was from this point - at least we are at liberty to think so, if we choose - that many a famous Roman caught his last glimpse of his native city, and of all other earthly things. This is one of the sides of the Tarpeian Rock. Look over the parapet, and see what a sheer tumble there might still be for a traitor, in spite of the thirty feet of soil that have accumulated at the foot of the precipice.
Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Marble Faun - 1860
Move to page two and visit the interiors of Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
GiÓ dicemmo, che questo Colle fu detto Saturnio da Saturno, che da principio lo abit˛.
In tempo di Romolo fu chiamato Rocca, o vogliamo dire fortezza; ben Ŕ vero per˛, che come
fra poco diremo, la Rocca fu quella parte, che guarda il Tevere. Si disse ancora
Capitolino per un teschio di corpo umano trovato nel fare i fondamenti del divisato
tempio di Giove. Ora per˛ lo diciamo Campidoglio, e sebbene da prima avesse solamente
l'accesso nel clivo verso mezzo dý, dopo che i Romani passarono ad abitare il campo
Marzio, fu aperto anche il clivo verso tramontana. Il gran Pontefice Paolo III. fu
quello, che dopo aver aperta la strada d'incontro, fece ancora con disegno del
Buonarroti la magnifica scala a cordonata fiancheggiata di balaustri. Le due
Lionesse di marmo egizio, che buttano l'acqua nelle fontane, che sono nel
principio della scala, furono del tempio d'Iside, ed il tronco della statua,
che si vede fatta in porfido, viene creduta una Roma. Li due gran colossi, che si
vedono nel termine della scala rappresentano Castore, e Polluce co' loro cavalli, e li
due gran trofei di marmo uno a destra ed altro a sinistra sono quei di Mario; le due statue
sono di Costantino magno, e le due colonne, una Ŕ la migliaria rifatta dall'Imp.
Vespasiano, e quanto all'altra dicesi, che nella sua palla stessero le ceneri di Trajano.