Piazza del Campidoglio

Piazza del Campidoglio around the corner Palazzo Senatorio
Youtube Drone
Youtube Piazza Campidoglio (5.04 minutes)
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Piazza del Campidoglio around the corner the Palazzo Senatorio

pictures: josemazcona and shettelbus

Rome in the middle ages had no centre. The old Forum Romanum and the Capitoline were mostly hidden under sand.

scale model Capitoline and part of Forum Romanum aerial picture
Israël Silvestre  ‘Capitoline Hill’ 1631 – 1691
scale model  Capitoline
area Capitoline and part of Forum Romanum
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scale model Capitoline and part of Forum Romanum

The city council wanted to erect a new centre in the 16th century. The choice was made for the Capitoline. In the glory days of Rome, the most important temples stood there including the temple of Jupiter (Youtube reconstruction temple of Jupiter  altier4.com 1.38 minutes and for more info about the temple of Jupiter, click here for Wikipedia). While the other Italian cities did have beautiful central squares, like Sienna, Rome didn’t manage until the 16th century. On December 10 1537, on the Capitoline, Michelangelo Buonarroti was named an honorary citizen of Rome at age 62.

Siena
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Siena plein

pictures: jrgcastro and festivalos

In the early 16th century, two buildings arrived from the quattrocentro: the Palazzo dei Conservatori at the south side and the Palazzo dei Senatori at the eastside. Pavement was non-existent, it all looked rather neglected. In the same month that Buonarroti was made an honorary citizen, the cavalry statue that was first located at the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, was transferred to the Capitoline (December 10 1537). Read more about the statue in the Magistri Gregorii narratio de mirabilibus urbis Romae (tales of the wonders of the city Rome) from the 12th or 13th century here at Leo Nellissen (dutch).

Piazza del Campidoglio
Hieronymus Cock before and after Michelangelo’s intervention mid-16th century
to the right Palazzo dei Conservatori, the Palazzo dei Senatori, the cavalry statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Piazza del Campidoglio in 1618
Youtube Marcus Aurelius te paard (3.48 minutes)
Piazza del Campidoglio
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Piazza del Campidoglio Hieronimus Cock

Not much is known about how the square came to be. We do know from literature that Michelangelo had to satisfy at least four demands for his design.

  1. it had to be a nice entrance to the city.
  2. the plateau had to be evened out.
  3. the declined palazzi had to be restored.
  4. it had to become a whole, a unity, and have five entrances.

Buonarroti saw the possibilities of a grand design, but he had to dose the plan carefully. The city’s budget was limited, and the governing bodies would protest if he would unveil his entire plan in one go. The campanile of the Palazzo dei Senatori had to be moved to the middle and for symmetric reasons, a third palace had to be included: the Palazzo Nuovo (Michelangelo’s design of the Piazza del Campidoglio). Michelangelo left the old palaces intact, but he did give them new facades. This was not only more aesthetically pleasing, but better in terms of budget, too. The problem of the square was that the two palaces were facing each other at an 80 degree angle. Buonarroti exploited this weird angle by giving the square the shape of a trapezoid.

Piazza del Campidoglio
Youtube Drone
aerial picture
 

Something that would inspire Bernini for the square he designed for the St. Peter. The entire design met the demands that Michelangelo phrased as follows in a famous letter by him about architecture.

If a plan has different components, all these components must be of the same quality and quantity, and be in unison in terms of style and proportions. […] just like the nose, at the centre of one’s face, and has no connection to the eye, but one hand must indeed be like the other, and the one eye must match the other. And indeed, the architectural elements must be derived from the human body. Whoever does not master the human figure and the most important aspects of man’s anatomy cannot understand architecture.

Michelangelo in a letter to cardinal Rodolfo Pio (Sebastian del Piombo). Cited from: James S. Ackerman, ‘The architecture of Michelangelo’, Penguin Books, London, 1971 (reprinted 1995) p. 37

Palazzo dei Senatori
Tabularium
backside
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Palazzo dei Senatori Piazza del Campidoglio

pictures: pasztilla and getolina

Piazza del Campidoglio and a part of the old Forum Romanum
Piazza del Campidoglio and a part of the old Forum Romanum.

The eyes have to be symmetric (Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo) but the nose of the Palazzo dei Senatori and the cavalry statue have to be unique. At the square in front of the Waag in Deventer, there doesn’t seem to be any unity, nor ‘eyes and a nose’.  Another panorama of the square here. You can see how Michelangelo in his design subtly guided his visitors along the square. Buonarroti didn’t just use smart paving to accomplish that. He designed an oval at the centre of the square. It was built from four interlinked triangles, forming a twelve-sided star with the statue in the middle. The oval is a bit recessed and is surrounded by three low steps. Within the framing of the three steps, the oval becomes more elevated towards the middle.

Piazza del Campidoglio
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Piazza del Campidoglio

pictures: cerezo and cygri

This allows Marcus Aurelius to have the highest vantage point from his horse. Furthermore, we’ll how nifty Buonarroti was in making use of the space between the three palazzi, in particular of the loggias. Michelangelo created a room reminiscent of a large room or saloon, but without a ceiling. The walls of both palazzi on the sides are identical and very interesting. When we arrive, I’ll explain the ingenuity behind how all three palaces were crafted into one architectonic unity and how he strived for a balance between the horizontal and vertical building elements. To achieve the latter, Buonarroti used the giant order for the first time in history. We will descend down the famous stairs, the cordonato, to then scale it again. Only then will you experience how the Piazza del Campidoglio is revealed to the visitor bit by bit. You then get to see the two famous classic statues of Castor and Pollux on both sides of the stairs.

Piazza del Campidoglio
big format
Castor and Pollux
Piazza del Campidoglio g Castor en Pollux

Photo: raffaele pagani

Cordonato
the lazy stairs
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Cordonato the lazy stairs Piazza del Campidoglio

pictures: megleigh and [fairview]

There is no time to visit the two museums that are now located in the Palazzo Nuovo and the Palazzo dei Conservatori. We will however have a chance to look at the remnants of the gigantic statue of Constantine. We again descend down the cordonato and now move up a medieval staircase with some 122 steps

Santa Maria Aracoeli
stairs and wall
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Santa Maria Aracoeli Rome

You’re bound to notice the difference with the stairs we just descended when you’ve reached the top and see the wall of the Santa Maria Aracoeli. The Santa Maria Aracoeli was, of course, built on the foundations of an old temple devoted to a heathen mother goddess (comparable to the Magna Mater Cybele; see Palatine). As the name indicates, the church is also devoted to a mother, namely the Madonna. You will see a typical Roman church when we enter.

Santa Maria Aracoeli

Santa Maria Aracoeli rome

picture: Darragh Sherwin

The interior shapes into an exemplary illustration of the continuity of Roman life: the magnificent columns once ornamented the classical temples and palaces and the cosmati works of pavement and monuments beam with colourful pieces of marble that hail from the old ruins. The floor is littered with tombstones of famous people who resided in Rome throughout the centuries, the side walls are shaped by a series of family chapels of historical Roman families, and the wonderful, gilded ceiling commemorates the participation of the Papal fleet in the victory against Lepanto, which halted the Turkish advance in the Mediterranean. Whoever walks this church steps into a history book of Rome.

The interior shapes into an exemplary illustration of the continuity of Roman life: the magnificent columns once ornamented the classical temples and palaces and the cosmati works of pavement and monuments beam with colourful pieces of marble that hail from the old ruins. The floor is littered with tombstones of famous people [Giovanni Crivelli Donatelo] who resided in Rome throughout the centuries, the side walls are shaped by a series of family chapels of historical Roman families, and the wonderful, gilded ceiling commemorates the participation of the Papal fleet in the victory against Lepanto, which halted the Turkish advance in the Mediterranean. Whoever walks this church steps into a history book of Rome.

From: Georgina Masson, ‘Agon gids voor Rome’, Agon, Amsterdam, 1993 p. 45.

All twenty-two columns that separate the nave from the aisles are different. The third to the left still has the inscription: a cubiculo Augustorum. This indicates that this column likely comes from the emperor’s sleeping quarters. One of the tombstones is the one of Felici de Fredis. He was a gardener who, on January 14 1506, encountered a stone vault that was above the famous sculpture the Laocoon. Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo were present during this sculpture’s excavation which is now in the Vatican museum. They immediately saw that this was the sculpture that Pliny the Elder was so excited about.

Pinturicchio
‘frescocyclus about Bernardinus of Siena’
Bufalini chapel

Pinturicchio ‘frescocyslus about Bernardinus of Siena’ Bufalini chapel
Gozzoli
Anthony of Padua
Gozzoli Anthony of Padua Santa Maria in Aracoeli

At the Bufalini’s family chapel, to the right of the main entrance, you can see frescos by Pinturicchio. We will encounter more work by this artist in the Vatican museum. He painted a fresco cycle about the life of the holy Bernardinus of Siena that mainly depicted the servants of this holy man. The third chapel to the left also has a panel by Gozzoli about the  St. Antonius of Padua. There is also seen a fragment of a fresco by Pietro Cavallini.

Pietro Cavallini
Maria and Child

At the back and to the right at the sacristy, there is a separate chapel. This holds the famed and beloved Il Santo Bambino.

 

Santo Bambino
the recess
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Santo Bambino the recess Santa Maria Aracoeli

picture: Ben  Leferink

This wooden sculpture was carved from a tree from the garden of Gethsemane. The depiction of the child is lined with gold and jewels and stands atop the altar in a glass box. Many letters from around the world adorn the sculpture, which mostly request divine help. On January 6, the night of the Epiphany, the Santo Bambino is placed on the plateau of the Santa Maria Aracoeli for the city’s holy ceremonial blessings. Every year during the Christmas holidays, the sculpture visits children wards in hospitals to provide comfort and possibly even a cure.

It is custom to gift the Bambino jewellery after miracles or fulfilled prayers. If the patient would heal, the lips of the sculpture would turn a deep-red, otherwise they simply remained pale. Surrounding the Bambino are letters sent to him by people all over the world. The current sculpture is a replica; the original was stolen in 1994. A princess of the Borghese-family tried to steal it in the 18th century. She replaced the doll with a copy, but the following thunderous night, with self-sounding church bells and loud knocks on the door, the sculpture was allegedly found crying on the church steps.

source: Wikipedia and English

We walk around the back towards the monument that was built for Victor Emanuel in 1885.

Monument of Victor Emanuel
view from the back of the monument towards the Colosseum
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Monument of Victor Emanuel Rome

pictures: LonelyPilgrim and wnvkelly5985

We have a look behind the colonnade of this ‘wedding cake’ or ‘typewriter’ as this huge white marble construction from Brescia is often called in jest. If we descend down the steps of the cordonato and take a right turn towards the Via dei Foro Imperiale, we see the remnants of a Roman apartment building, a so called insulae (click here for Wikipedia).

remnants of a Roman insulae
upper side and area below the current ground level
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remnants of a Roman insulae Capitoline hill Rome

 

We walk back and cross the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a road constructed by Mussolini (situation prior to Mussolini’s interventions). On our right hand side we can see the remnants of the imperial forums. Finally, we head into the Via Cavour. We’ll take a break at some of the affordable terraces on the right.

Via dei Fori Imperiali
aerial photo
Youtube demolition Mussolini (2.09 minutes)
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Via dei Fori Imperiale Rome

pictures: GaijinSeb and Martin G. Conde

Via Cavour
aerial picture

Via Cavour Rome

picture: Marc Aurel

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