All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in August 2010.
Palazzi di Campidoglio (Book 4) (Map B3) (Day 1) (View C8) (Rione Campitelli)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Palazzi di Campidoglio
Ancient Statues (including Marforio)
The Plate (No. 80)
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 Roman Senator and of the Conservatori, his assistants; the hill (Lat. Capitolium) which once housed the Temple to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, became a symbol of municipal power in the XIIth century.
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 - external link).
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.
At Vasi's times many 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). This change is due to a series of demolitions which started during the French administration of Rome at the beginning of the XIXth century and ended in the 1930s with the pulling down of the buildings at the foot of the hill, including SS. Venanzio and Ansovino and S. Rita da Cascia.
When restricting the comparison between Vasi's times and today to Piazza del Campidoglio and the surrounding palaces, changes appear to be 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) the coat of arms of Pope Clement VIII above the entrance was removed in the XIXth century and c) two coats of arms of the Kingdom of Italy and of the City of Rome were placed in 1890 to the sides of a 1598 inscription celebrating the completion of the new fašade.
Palazzi di Campidoglio
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 which stood 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 also had 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.
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 a small group of Conservatori; they had limited prerogatives 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 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 captured Tunis and the pope suggested celebrating this victory with a triumphal procession, similar to those of ancient Rome, which ended at Campidoglio. 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.
This foreword explains the decision to relocate a bronze equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in front of Palazzo Senatorio; the pedestal, carved by Michelangelo out of a large marble block of the Forum, bears the coat of arms of the pope and in the back that of the City of Rome. The statue was located 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: see 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, causing extensive damage; it was rebuilt at the centre of the palace by Martino Longhi the Elder during the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII.
Palazzo dei Conservatori was built in the XIIIth century to house some municipal offices and 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 1563-68 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).
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 decoration was completed only in 1940 (it can be seen in the Italian 50 cents Euro coin - external link).
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 the interest for this building subsided; a century later the 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).
Today Palazzo Nuovo, Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Tabularium are linked by an underground passage and they house Musei Capitolini.
Read Henry James's account of his visit to this site in 1873 (he was disappointed by the square, but was enthusiast about the statue of Marcus Aurelius).
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 Ghetto, several fragments of two gigantic statues of Castor and Pollux were found; these fragments complemented other parts found in previous years.
Pope Gregory XIII decided to utilize these statues for the decoration of Piazza del Campidoglio; all the found pieces were assembled and a team of sculptors worked at their restoration; in 1582 the reconstructed 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.
From mid XVth century a high number of statues were unearthed in the ruins of the ancient Roman monuments; some of them were used by the popes to embellish Casino del Belvedere, their summer residence at the Vatican, others were donated to the City of Rome; 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 illustrating the history of Rome.
In 1590 Pope Sixtus V placed on the balustrade the Trophies of Marius which decorated a gigantic fountain near S. Eusebio; 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 at the other end of the balustrade was found at the seventh mile in 1848.
In 1595 the colossal statue of a river god located 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.
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 were found on the site of today's Palazzo Rospigliosi and they portrayed the Nile and the Tigris; the latter however was changed into the Tiber by adding the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus (see the image used as background for this page).
Michelangelo planned to place a large statue of Jupiter between the statues of the river gods; 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.
In ancient times 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 (by following the link you can see a small monument to Cola di Rienzo which in 1887 was placed near the steps). The ramp leading to Piazza del Campidoglio is commonly attributed to Michelangelo, but it was actually completed and modified by Giacomo Della Porta in 1578.
The plate by Vasi shows at the side of the ramp a small monument celebrating the opening of a second less steep ramp; it has three pots on its top, the heraldic symbols of Pope Innocent XII Pignatelli (pignatta=pot); the monument is now relocated along the modern winding street which allows cars to reach Piazza del Campidoglio.
The Caffarelli are chiefly known because of Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli, nephew of Pope Paul V Borghese, who added to his name that of his uncle. 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.
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.
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.
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 threw her 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; after the old buildings which surrounded Palazzi di Campidoglio were pulled down, the precipice on the southern side of the hill was identified as the most likely location for Rupe Tarpea.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
You have completed Book 4! Move to Book 5 - plate 81 - Ponte Mammolo
Next step in Day 1 itinerary: Campo Vaccino
Next step in your tour of Rione Campitelli: Campo Vaccino