Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Capitoline - Treasures from the Genesis of Rome

Of Rome's seven hills, the Capitoline is the most sacred. Its importance stretch far back into antiquity. We climbed the hill towards the Piazza del Campidoglio using the steps from the Roman Forum instead of using the gentle rising ramp of Cordonata (the “official” entrance to the Piazza, which faces away from the Forum towards St. Peter’s.) The Piazza del Campidoglio, a perfectly proportioned square was redesigned by the Florentine artist, Michelangelo in 1536, who positioned the ancient bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the center of the square. The original statue has now been moved inside the museum for protection from pollution (a copy was placed on the pedestal in 1997).

The Piazza is flanked on three sides by the Palazzo Nuovo (the New Palace), the Palazzo dei Conservatori (the Palace of Conservation.) and the third flank is taken up by the Palazzo Senatorio, which was built upon the ruins of the ancient Tabularium, a place where they kept records and which was originally erected in 78 B.C, (also see the first picture in my post A Day Among the Ruins of Rome). These three building is now home to the Capitoline museums. This specific hill, the Capitoline, which
was home to the most important temple in the Roman world, The Temple of Jupiter, the main god of the Romans, overlooks the Roman Forum to the south, the Palatine Hill to the southwest and the Forums of Julius Caesar, Trajan and Augusts to the southeast, and the Piazza Venezia to the north, certainly saw it fair share of history. Oh boy, if walls could talk…

But let me start at the beginning of the day. Today was a relative quieter day in terms of number of places we visited. Actually, travel fatigue was setting in or jet-lagged was only acknowledged now. The past 4 days was a blur. All of us were rather tired and by 2 PM Monica was half asleep on her feet. Even my feet, especially my ankles were sore. Nevertheless we still walked from Piazza del Campidoglio to the Pantheon looking for a new shoulder bag because mine broke that morning. We never found a bag in town, but upon our return to our neighborhood we found a good one at a Chinese shop near the local supermarket. Baffling! What we should have done was to pop into that Irish pub just off Piazza Venezia, had a beer and lunched and watched the 1st rugby test between South Africa and England as was advertised on the walkway. We would have saved our feet some walking and gave them much needed rest. But hindsight…

First thing in the morning we tried to go to the Palatine (once the residence of emperors and aristocrats and where Romulus is said to have founded Rome 753 B.C.), which we did not visit two days earlier when we were at the Roman Forum. (The Palatine Hill is just above the forum.) Upon arrival we noticed that several of the ruins were closed for restoration, among them the Palace of Septimius Severus and the House of Livia (Caesar Augustus’ wife.) These were the highlights of the Palatine and we thought paying the €11 entrance fee was too stiff for what was left to see. So we went to our next planned destination for the day, the Piazza del Campidoglio and the Capitoline museums.

The Capitoline museums, in my humble opinion, are by far the best museum we visited in Italy, and we visited some good museums. The museum contains some of the oldest collections, not just in Rome but in the world, with a wealth of classical sculptures. Founded in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV, the Capitoline Museums were subsequently enriched by the donations of some of Rome’s most famous popes. Some of the excavations inside the museum (behind glass and locked doors) go back to when Rome was originally settled as a village in the last Bronze Age. The Palazzo dei Conservatori houses exhibits and artifacts reflecting the history of the Italian peninsula and excavations from around the Forum and greater Rome, as well as paintings from Italian and European masters, while the Palazzo Nuovo focuses on Roman statues and copies of ancient Greek statues. By the way, if you don’t see many pictures of exhibits in most of Italy’s museums then it is because cameras and taking of pictures are prohibited in many museums. Sometimes you can take pictures but a flash is not allowed. However that did not always prevented me from taking a few stolen shots. On the other hand, sometimes I simply just put my camera away to enjoy the collections.

Later in the day, while Monica and Lamar rested and eating gelato on a low wall behind the Pantheon, built around 27 AD by Agrippa and dedicated to all the Roman gods, I walked over to a Gothic church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva on Piazza della Minerva, which contains works of Michelangelo and
Bernini. In the center of the piazza is Bernini’s whimsical sculpture of an elephant supporting an Egyptian obelisk.

From the Pantheon we took a taxi home and decided to do some shopping in the neighborhood and to make it an early night before the trek to Florence the next day, where more walking is installed for the next 4 days.

The Cordonata, dramatic entrance to the Piazza del Campidoglio, flanked at the top by statues of Castor and Pollux
The Piazza del Campidoglio with the replica equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

The original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius inside a airconditioned room in the meseum. 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.
La Lupa Capitolina (The Capitoline Wolf) - a rare Etruscan (the civilization that lived in central Italy before the Romans) bronze that could date from the 5th century B.C. (Romulus and Remus, the legendary twins who according to legend, were suckled by the wolf, were added at a later date.)

The excavated foundations of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, which originally stood on the Capitoline Hill and towered over the Roman Forum below. This temple was originally build in 6 BC but rebuilt many times due to lightning strikes, always using the same foundations but changing the attributes with each rebuilt. It was still intact by 600 AD but by 12th century only recognizable by its ruins. In the 16th century most of the marble was carried off for statues. All that is left today is the foundations. For an artist’s impression of what the Temple looked like originally, click here.

There are several colossol statues in the Capitoline museum. Here is Monica at one of them: The statue of the war god Mars by Pyrrhus, dated 1st Century AD.

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. This charmingly prudish portrait of the goddess of love, whom the Greeks called Aphrodite and the Romans Venus, is a marble copy from the late 1st century A.D. of a 3rd Century BC Greek bronze sculpture, which is probably the most widely reproduced female statue of antiquity.

The view of Rome from the Capitoline Hill looking south. This was the view the ancient Romans would have seen from the Temple of Jupiter. The building on the far left is the Senate, then the Arch of Septimius Severus in the front, in the middle back is the Arch of Titus, The three columns on the right is the remains of the small circular Temple of Vesta, one of the oldest and most important holy places in old Rome and on the very far right, in the back one can see a glimps of the Palace of Septimius Severus and the Palatine Hill.

The view of Rome from the Capitaline Hill looking north. After Michelangelo redesigned the square the focus was away from the Forum, thus symbolically away from the old religion of pagans towards the current religion of Christianity, St. Peter's church is the whitish dome in the center of the picture at the back.

The Piazza della Minerva (Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom) with Bernini's whimsical sculpture of an elephant supporting an Egyptian obelisk. In the background is the round temple to all gods, the Pantheon.

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