ROMAN ITINERARIES – CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 37
CAMPITELLI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 37
The Itinerary 37 of the Campitelli District starts from one of the sides of the Victorian, and it focuses on the streets of the Ancient Rome, with very relevant buildings from the historical and religious point of view, to include also the eminent Capitoline Square and the analysis of the Capitoline Museums.
Via di San Pietro in Carcere – Clivo Argentario – Via del Tulliano – Piazza del Campidoglio
THE MAMERTINE JAIL
Now take Via di San Pietro in Carcere, inaugurated in 1931, and just in front of the Central Museum of the Risorgimento walk along a short stretch of the Clivus Argentarius, recognizable by the ancient Roman basalt: the name should come from the stores of the ancient bankers (called argentarii) or from the Basilica of the Forum of Caesar, frequented by these bankers and indeed nicknamed Argentaria. The Clivus, which passes by a series of tabernae overlooking the road, ends with the Church of St. Joseph of the Woodworkers on the right at the foot of the Capitol.
The church stands above one of the oldest Christian memories of Rome: the ancient Carcer Tullianum, used by the ancient Romans as a place of executions and that in the Middle Ages was also called Mamertine Jail. The prison is remembered by various Latin writers, first of all Pliny. According to tradition, it was called Tullianum because it attributes its foundation to King Servius Tullius or King Tullius Hostilius, but probably its name comes from the spring that gushed inside, because in Latin the word tullus means spring of water. The façade, made of travertine blocks, still preserves the inscription of the consuls Vibio, Rufino and Cocceio Nerva, which allows us to date it around the I century AD.
Some plaques on the walls recall many of the most famous victims of the implacable Roman justice. According to Christian tradition, the two apostles Peter and Paul were imprisoned here and, while they were being taken down to the lower room, St. Peter would have banged his head against the wall next to the staircase, so much so that he miraculously left the imprint of his head on it; in reality, the ancient entrance to the lower dungeons was through an open circular hole in the floor of the upper room. The lower room represented a sort of death chamber, where the State prisoners, who followed the chariot of the consul or the victorious emperor during the triumph, were strangled: here died, among the others, Giugurta and Vercingetorix, as well as the partisans of Gracchus and Catiline. The Roman historian Sallustius describes it as repugnant, obscure and smelly, and remembers the contemptuous cold-blooded Giugurta who, thrown into the lower cell, said to his executioners: “How cold is your bathroom, Romans“.
Today in this gloomy environment, visited with emotion by many tourists and pilgrims, there is an altar decorated with a bas-relief by Jean Bonassieu, depicting “St. Peter baptizing the Saints Processo and Martiniano“, who were his jailers converted by him. Next to the altar is the small column to which the Apostles would have been chained.
THE CHURCH OF ST. JOSEPH OF THE WOODWORKERS
Above the Mamertine Jail stands a nice church, designed by the architect Giacomo Della Porta, dedicated to St. Joseph by the Congregation of Woodworkers, who in 1540 had rented the pre-existing Church of St. Peter in Jail. The construction of the Church of St. Joseph began in 1597 and ended in 1663, with a succession of architects from Giovan Battista Soria to Antonio del Grande. In the 19th Century a new apse was built and important restorations were carried out, but they did not prevent the terrible collapse of the roof of the church, which occurred on August 30th 2018: luckily, the collapse occurred while the church was closed, considering that just two days before there had been celebrated a wedding!
The façade with two orders, with the door placed between semi-columns, is enriched by several aedicules and has a large tympanum on the top: once it was certainly decorated with frescoes, which have been lost today.
THE INTERIOR DECORATIONS
Inside once stood out the beautiful wooden coffered ceiling, seriously damaged by the collapse of 2018 and partially recovered during the restoration, rebuilding with the same materials the lost portion. In the apse, frescoed in 1883 by Angelo Maccaroni with the Patriarchs of the lineage of St. Joseph, the statues of St. Peter and St. Paul stand out. Remarkable, in the second chapel on the left, the beautiful Nativity painted by Carlo Maratta.
If open, go to visit the Oratory, also frescoed on the walls with the Stories of the Holy Family and provided with a beautiful wooden ceiling containing three representations: “The Rest in Egypt“, “The Marriage of the Virgin” and “Jesus among the Doctors“.
Below the church, between this and the Mamertine Jail, there is a small sanctuary where is kept the so-called “Miraculous Crucifix of Campo Vaccino”, found in the Roman Forum and once kept above the door of the Mamertine Jail.
THE CAPITOLINE HILL
The Capitoline Hill, with its 46 meters above sea level in the Aracoeli area, in ancient times was naturally defended by inaccessible cliffs, except on the side towards the Quirinal Hill. The Capitol Hill was composed of two different heights: the Capitolium and the Arx, separated by a slight depression, called Asylum. It was right here that Romulus “gave asylum” to the men who had fled or escaped from the other cities, which formed the first nucleus of the Romans.
According to legend, the god Saturn founded a village right here, connecting his name to an altar (around which the Temple of Saturn will be built) and a gate, as well as the ancient and licentious festivals called Saturnalia, which took place in the second half of December. The archaeological documentation has in fact shown that the hill was inhabited at least since the Bronze Age (14th Century BC).
THE ORIGINS OF THE NAME
Besieged by the Sabines, the hill would have been conquered by them thanks to the betrayal of Tarpea, to which a sector of the Capitoline Hill, called Mons Tarpeius, would have been dedicated. The most famous legend states that the name Capitolium was derived from the skull (caput) of an Etruscan warrior named Aulus, found by the Tarquins when the foundations of the Temple of Jupiter were dug: it stood right on top of the hill and it was for centuries the most important temple of Rome, the one where the victorious generals concluded their ceremony of triumph.
THE TEMPLE OF CAPITOLINE JUPITER
The temple, with its triple cell dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, was begun under the Etruscan Kings and inaugurated in the first year of the Republic, 509 BC, on the same hill where the Temples of Jupiter Feretrius, Terminus and Iuventas already existed. The Temple of Capitoline Jupiter stood in front of the actual Caffarelli Square and had next to it the temples of Fides and Opis: its first decoration was a polychrome terracotta quadriga, probably the work of the sculptor Vulca from Veio, of which some works attributed to him are preserved in the Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. An image of the Temple of Jupiter in the Imperial Age can be seen on one of the reliefs of Marcus Aurelius preserved halfway up the staircase of the Conservatori Palace, in the middle of the route of the Capitoline Museums.
In 390 B.C., the Capitoline Hill represented the last extreme Roman defense against the siege of the Gauls led by Brenno, with the Roman soldiers awakened by the squawking of the famous Capitoline geese, sacred to the goddess Juno, which allowed to protect the most sacred hill of the city.
THE CLIVUS CAPITOLINUS AND THE OTHER ROADS
The main access road to the Capitol was the Clivus Capitolinus, which represented the continuation of the Via Sacra, which crossed the Roman Forum: on it the great general Scipio the African erected one of the first triumphal arches built in Rome. However there were other accesses, in the form of stairs: the Scalae Gemoniae, the Gradus Monetae and the Centum Gradus. The hill was rich of monuments, statues and memories: on the place of the current Church of St. Mary in Aracoeli probably stood the Temple of Juno Moneta, next to which the first mint of Rome was built (that’s why today the currency is called “money”).
THE TEMPLE OF ISIS
On the Capitol were also built temples dedicated to Eastern gods, such as Mithras and Isis, and it was in the Temple of Isis that Domitian managed to save his life, shaving his head as one of the priests of the Egyptian goddess to not be recognized by the followers of Vitellio, who wanted to try to kill him.
THE EVENTS OF THE CAPITOLINE HILL
On the Capitoline Hill, in medieval times, the Germanic emperors came to receive the support of the Roman people at their election to the Holy Roman Empire. On this hill, in the Humanistic and Renaissance age, it started the trend to reward poets as triumphants, crowning them with laurel wreaths, and the most famous among them was Francesco Petrarca.
Always on the Capitoline Hill the Roman citizens listened to the flaming words of the tribune Cola di Rienzo, and in 1513 Pope Leo X decided to grant in this square the Roman citizenship his brother Giuliano dei Medici, offering the citizens an extravagant banquet.
THE EQUESTRIAN STATUE OF MARCUS AURELIUS
It was Michelangelo Buonarroti, on behalf of Pope Paul III, who redesigned the Capitoline Square to give it back all the deserved political importance and to give it the role of the seat of secular-administrative power, well distinct from the religious one of the Popes in St. Peter’s, even if the presence of the mighty Tower of Paul III (now demolished) always reminded the Roman people that they should reserve full obedience to the Pope. Just in 1940, the architect Antonio Muñoz arranged the paving of the square in order to realize the decorative design already planned by Michelangelo.
Michelangelo, probably following the Pope’s wishes, decided to transfer the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which until then had remained in the Lateran Palace, to the center of the square. Since it is the only intact bronze equestrian statue of a Roman Emperor that has survived, it was saved from fusion thanks to an incorrect identification: it was believed that the man represented Constantine, Roman Emperor to whom Christians were very devoted. This is absolutely impossible: for all his life, indeed, Constantine had his face shaved, while as you can see the statue of Marcus Aurelius has his face covered by a thick beard. A more probable reason was that the Lateran Palace, built on the imperial houses donated by Constantine to Pope Sylvester, might have kept this equestrian statue because it was there where once was the residence of the Aurelian family.
In 1979, a bomb attack on the Senatorial Palace damaged the marble base of the statue; investigations also found the presence of fractures on the horse’s legs and a serious corrosion process on the entire surface. It was therefore decided to restore the statue, which was kept inside the Capitoline Museums, replacing it with a copy to be placed in the center of the square, exposed to the bad weather.
Marcus Aurelius, a real emperor philosopher, wears the tunic and dresses the clamide, with leather shoes at his feet. With his right hand he makes the sign of the submissio, expression of the Emperor’s invincible power, while with his left hand he prepares to hold the reins of the horse. The face has an expression of superb detachment from earthly things. The statue of Marcus Aurelius has become the prototype of almost all equestrian statues produced later: it rests on a monolithic base, probably carved by Michelangelo recycling a portion of lintel from the Roman Forum. The pedestal has the coat of arms of the Roman People and Paul III with the inscription that recalls how the Pope wanted to transfer the statue from the Lateran and another inscription celebrating the Emperor, in full imitation of those of Ancient Rome.
BARBARIANS, OWLS AND GUARDIANS
There are two curiosities about the horse. The first one is that the majestic stallion seems to be going by pace even if, according to the tradition, under the raised front leg there was the small figure of a barbarian with his hands tied behind his back, symbol of the military victories of the Emperor: the barbarian was probably melted in order to recycle the bronze of which he was composed. The second curiosity concerns a popular legend about the tuft of hair collected together that can be seen between the ears of the horse: according to tradition, it would be a small owl, which will sing on the day of the end of the world.
Once the statue was placed in the center of the square, the Pope established the position of guardian of the horse, much desired by the Roman aristocrats because it involved the remuneration consisting of 10 pounds of wax, 3 of pepper, 6 pairs of gloves and two flasks of wine.
THE SENATORIAL PALACE
Behind the copy of Marcus Aurelius stands the mighty Senatorial Palace, built on the remains of the Tabularium whose large façade, with arches reopened only at the beginning of the 20th Century, dominates the Roman Forum. The building was the location of the public archives of the Roman State: the name derives from “tabulae“, that means “documents”. It was erected by the consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus in 78 B.C. to replace the one destroyed in the fire of 83 B.C. and this is demonstrated by an inscription on the Tabularium, related to the inspection of the building made by Catulus. The portico, rich in architectural fragments and accessible by the entrance to the Capitoline Museums, belongs to a specific monumental typology, also known in Palestrina and Terracina, where the high podium is characterized by arches framed by semi-columns.
Above the Tabularium, used in the Middle Ages as a fortress and as a salt storehouse, there is today the rear façade of the Senatorial Palace, flanked on the right by the massive Tower of Nicholas V, built around 1450 and equipped with evident battlements, and on the opposite side by the Tower of Martin V, built around 1427. This side of the Senatorial Palace has, between the towers, a more recent elevation of one floor, clearly visible in the pictures. On the façade there are walled coats of arms, reliefs and inscriptions relating to senators of Rome, mostly from the 16th Century, as well as tombstones commemorating the heroic days of the Roman Republic, the unification of Italy and Rome as the Capital of Italy.
THE FACADE OF THE SENATORIAL PALACE
The main façade of the Senatorial Palace is obviously the one overlooking the Capitoline Square. It is the result of the realization, although with some variations, of the original Michelangelo’s project of which remains the elegant and balanced double ramp staircase. The double staircase in the center is adorned with a niche in which is a statue of Minerva sitting, of the Domitian age, made of porphyry and white marble, transformed into the personification of the goddess Rome. In front of it there is a fountain with two overlapping pools in Greek marble, in which flows the Felix Water and which was designed by Matteo Bartolani in 1588. On the front of the ramps of the staircase, Michelangelo placed two large statues representing the personification of rivers, coming from the Baths of Constantine on the Quirinal Hill: the one on the left represents the Nile, while the one on the right originally represented the Tigris, but was later transformed into the figure of the Tiber.
The massive and lustrous façade is marked by high pilasters, including windows with triangular and curvilinear tympanums and smaller richly framed windows. Below the cornice, the frieze presents the heraldic symbols of Pope Clement VIII (1593-1605). On the top of everything there are ancient statues, reintegrated in the missing parts. All this façade is literally leaning on the medieval one, with a thickness of less than a meter, and on it you can see some inscriptions recalling the intervention of Victor Emmanuel II during the Tiber flood in December 1870, the heroic Battle of Dogali, the proclamation of Rome as Capital of Italy, the Romans who died for the independence of Italy and the coats of arms of Rome and Savoy.
THE BELL TOWER
On the Senatorial Palace stands the bell tower built by Martino Longhi the Elder around 1580 in place of the medieval one, damaged by a lightning. At the top of the tower there is a statue of Minerva, also adapted as a personification of Rome, which from 1870 replaces another statue, representing Diana adapted as goddess Rome with a cross in her hand: the replacement was certainly due to the anticlericalism that hovered in Rome after the Italian unification. The tower, built in brick with travertine decorations, is 35 meters high and is divided into four floors, in which arches are flanked by pilasters with Corinthian capitals adorned with seraphim faces. There are numerous coats of arms of Pope Gregory XIII, who wanted its construction during his pontificate.
THE PATARINA BELL AND THE CLOCK
In the 19th Century, Pope Pius VII had two bells placed on the tower, cast by Andrea Casini, to replace those of the 16th Century which, in turn, had taken the place of the “Patarina Bell“, the most famous in Rome. The Patarina, so called because in Viterbo there was a Christian heretical group called “Patarini“, was stolen from Viterbo during a war at the beginning of the 13th Century, but in 1570 it was so badly damaged that it was decided to pull it down from the tower and melt it down. Today, the largest bell, cast in 1803 and weighing almost 6,000 kilos, is a real masterpiece, with decorations on three bands: at the top, a she-wolf with twins between leaves and medallions; in the center, the Virgin among the patron saints of Rome Peter and Paul, the coat of arms of the Senate in a trophy of flags and the coat of arms of Pope Pius VII; below, under a frieze of flowers, an inscription to the Virgin and patrons, with the names of the Capitoline magistrates and the Pope.
On the tower of the Senatorial Palace there is also a clock, which in 1922 replaced the oldest one that had been placed on the tower in 1806, when it had been removed from the nearby façade of St. Mary in Aracoeli. The mechanism had been built by Raffaele Fiorelli and the dial indicated until 1857 only the canonical six papal hours, then being equipped with today’s twelve hours.
THE CAPITOLINE MARBLE LION
The interior of the Senatorial Palace, which in the Middle Ages had five towers (still clearly visible), preserves in the atrium a room with two aisles of the 12th Century that at that time overlooked the street thanks to a portico. In front of it there was the so-called “place of the lion”, so called for a sculptural group of Roman age representing a lion biting a horse, which you will see inside the Capitoline Museums, next to the original statue of Marcus Aurelius. At that time, that marble lion indicated the place where death sentences were read and where the criminals, on market days, were put in the pillory.
THE MAIN ROOMS OF THE SENATORIAL PALACE
The Senatorial Palace is rarely accessible, because inside it there are the Offices of the Mayor of Rome: if you could have access to its interior, you could start your visit with the Carroccio Hall, where there is the inscription that remembers how Frederick II of Swabia had donated to the Romans the cart, taken from the people of Milan in 1237. Then there is the Chapel of Mercy, where the people condemned to death were gathered in prayer shortly before the execution and then the Council Hall, decorated with ancient coats of arms, inscriptions and the flags of the Town Hall and the twenty-two districts. In the short sides of the hall you can admire the statue of Julius Caesar, datable to the II Century AD, and that of a commander of the Roman Imperial Fleet, datable to the I Century AD. Next to it is the Hall of Flags, with the table where the triumvirs of the Roman Republic used to meet and where the flags of the districts of Rome are kept. Through a short corridor, you can finally conclude your visit at the Protomoteca, adorned with the busts of important Italian personalities, once exhibited in the Pantheon and then transported here so as not to museum the gigantic Roman temple now transformed into a church.
THE CAPITOLINE MUSEUMS
Looking at the façade of the Senatorial Palace, you will find on the right the Conservators’ Palace, rebuilt under Pope Nicholas V on the site of the oldest fortress, characterized by a medieval portico on the front. The Conservators, elected at the beginning by the people and the nobles and subsequently only by the nobles, constituted a College and had the responsibility of the city administration. Just under this medieval portico once stood the first sculptures that later formed the core of the Capitoline Museums collection.
On the façade, in 1471, there was the famous bronze she-wolf, which in that very year was enriched by the twins cast by Antonio del Pollaiolo. The she-wolf, together with the Spinario, the Camillo and the remains of the colossal bronze statue of Constantine, was donated to the Conservators in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV.
Michelangelo Buonarroti designed the arrangement of the entire square with two new side buildings, perfectly symmetrical and definitely more “modern” than the old medieval architecture. The new Conservators’ Palace was begun by him in 1563 and subsequently completed by Guidetto Guidetti and then by Giacomo Della Porta, who completed it in 1568. In this way, to the internal rooms that had already been decorated at the beginning of the 16th Century, such as the Hall of Hannibal or the Hall of the Geese, were added the Hall of Triumphs (painted by Jacopo Ripanda), the Hall of Captains (decorated by Tommaso Laureti) and the marvelous Hall of Horatii and Curiatii, an artistic masterpiece by Cavalier d’Arpino. The she-wolf and the other bronzes donated by Pope Sixtus IV were then transferred inside the palace together with the Consular and Triumphal Fasti, found in the Roman Forum and placed initially by Michelangelo in the courtyard, before being reassembled in 1586 inside the She-wolf Room.
Many other Popes contributed to the increase of the collection. At the end of the 15th Century, Innocent VIII brought to the Museum the marble remains of Constantine’s acrolite, coming from the ancient Basilica of Maxentius, which still today are on display in the courtyard. In the 16th Century, Pius V moved numerous statues there from the Vatican. Later there was the so-called Castellani Donation in 1866, with numerous Etruscan pieces that flowed into the collection, and after 1870 the archaeological material from the excavations of the municipal areas was added. In 1925 a new section was added, which took the name of Mussolini Museum, and in 1950 the so-called New Section was finally inaugurated.
THE MASTERWORKS OF THE CAPITOLINE MUSEUMS
As you can easily guess, therefore, the Capitoline Museums represent without doubt the oldest museum in the world. Now enter the portico, and observe the ancient accesses to the headquarters of the Corporations of the Universities: the pharmacists, the textile merchants, the butchers, the carpenters, the innkeepers and the blacksmiths. The fifth door was first opened on the original seat of the Capitoline Protomoteca, while today it is used for the celebration of weddings.
After passing the security check, enter the majestic courtyard where, in addition to the marble remains of the colossal statue of Constantine, you can see numerous coats of arms and especially a part of the decoration that adorned the ancient Temple of Hadrian, in the Stone Square, with the personifications of some provinces of the Roman Empire (including Mauritania, Germany and Gaul).
Go up the staircase and stop at the intermediate floor to admire the four high-reliefs made of marble, three of them representing the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and one concerning the Emperor Hadrian, all coming from monuments and arches dedicated to them. Enter at this point in the Hall of Horatii and Curiatii where, in addition to the wonderful frescoes described above, you can admire in total contrast two statues, one in marble and one in bronze, depicting two of the most important Popes of the 17th Century: on one side, the severe and austere Innocent X, made by the Bolognese sculptor Alessandro Algardi, and on the other the candid and solemn Urban VIII, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This last statue was moved into the palace on the night of June 24th 1640, in the torchlight and with evident subterfuge, due to popular superstition that did not want the Popes portrayed as statues before their death.
Walk to the Hall of Triumphs, where you can admire the bronze Camillus, the powerful virile portrait of the so-called Capitoline Brutus with his incisive expressiveness and above all the Spinario, considered a small masterpiece. This statue, depicting a young boy taking a thorn off his foot, when he was in the Lateran, was placed on a column nicknamed as the “column of shame”, both because from below you could clearly see the genitals of the young man, and because under the column were placed in the pillory the perpetrators of minor crimes.
Continuing on your walk you will cross the She-wolf Room, the Hall of the Geese with the admirable Medusa’s Head carved by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and then the Etruscan section, the bronze horse from Vicolo dell’Atleta in Trastevere, the bust of Commodus dressed as Hercules, until you reach the great exedra in which are contained the famous marble lion, the bronze remains of the Colossus of Constantine and the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the masterpiece of the Museum.
THE CAPITOLINE PAINTING GALLERY
After having observed the remains of the podium of the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter, you can go upstairs to visit the Capitoline Painting Gallery, founded in the 18th Century by Pope Benedict XIV with the purchase of the Pio and Sacchetti collections. We admire paintings by Veronese, Titian, Antonello from Messina, Tintoretto, Jacopo Bassano, Rubens, Van Dyck, Annibale Carracci, Pietro da Cortona, Domenichino and Caravaggio.
THE LAPIDARY GALLERY
Going down to the lower floor, you will be able to walk through the Lapidary Gallery, before going up the stairs again to enter the ancient Tabularium. You will have the opportunity to admire the remains of the republican Temple of Veiove, an ancient deity linked to the cults of the underworld, whose mighty headless marble statue you will see on your left. Walking along the short corridor, surrounded by archaeological fragments, you will finally arrive in the Tabularium Gallery, to enjoy the splendid view from the top of the Roman Forum.
THE NEW PALACE
Going up from the opposite side of the Lapidary Gallery you will come out inside the New Palace, designed by Michelangelo to be identical to the one across the square. The great artist did not have time to see it completed, however, and it was raised only in the 17th Century, causing a strong diatribe between Pope Innocent X and the Capitoline Conservators: the Pope indeed charged the expenses for the construction of the building to the Capitoline Chamber which, in turn, reduced the salaries of the employees and fired many officials, triggering a sort of small revolution. The New Palace, completed in 1654, was used by the University of Arts and Crafts, the Academy of Drawing and also to collect the ancient statues in supernumerary in the Conservators’ Palace. In 1734, with the purchase of the Albani collection, the Pope Clement XII declared it a museum and inaugurated it as such.
In the small courtyard you will have the opportunity to admire the colossal statue of Marforio, representing an aquatic divinity and part of the famous “six talking statues of Rome”, placed here by the architect Filippo Barigioni. In the atrium you will also see the colossal statue of Mars and some Egyptian pieces from the area of the Temple of Isis in the Campus Martius.
Going up the staircase, enjoy the many works of art that adorn the rooms, such as the replica of the Eros of Lisippo, the Mosaic of the Doves, the Bronze Tabulae from the Tabularium, the Capitoline Venus, the rooms with the portraits of emperors and philosophers, the statue of Hercules Child in green basalt and especially the wonderful Dying Galata.
Consider spending at least half a day inside the Capitoline Museums, even if you will visit only a small part of them: it is, without any doubt, one of the most complete and challenging collections in Rome. Don’t lose the opportunity to visit it in a very deep way with the Museums and Galleries Tour of Rome Guides.