The seat of Roman government, the Capitoline is little changed from Michelangelo’s design and represents one of the earliest examples of modern town planning. The centrepiece of this piazza of three palaces is a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which stood unmolested for ages by the barracks of the imperial guard (later the Palazzo del Laterano) because it was believed to be a statue of Constantine, the first Christian emperor.
The Palazzo Senatorio incorporates remains of the facade of the Tabularium, a state-records office constructed in 78 bc and one of the first buildings to use concrete vaulting and employ the arch with the Classical architectural orders. After a popular uprising in 1143, a palace was built on the site for the revived 56-member Senate, supposedly elected by the people but by 1358 a body of one appointed by the pope; when it was rebuilt to Michelangelo’s design, it was called the Palazzo Senatorio (Senate Palace).
The palace of the municipal councillors, the conservatori, is on the south side of the square opposite the Palazzo del Museo Capitolino (Capitoline Palace), which, as a papal collection of Classical works offered back to the citizens of Rome by Sixtus IV in 1471, became the first public museum of sculpture in the Western world. Now occupying both the Capitoline Palace and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, as well as a later private palace, the museum contains only objects found in Rome, including the famed Romulus and Remus wolf, the “Capitoline Venus,” the “Dying Gaul,” and the “Boy with Thorn,” as well as the host of portrait busts that can, in imagination, repeople the Forum just below.
The hill was the fortress and asylum of Romulus’ Rome. The northern peak was the site of the Temple of Juno Moneta (the word money derives from the temple’s function as the early mint) and the citadel emplacements now occupied by the Victor Emmanuel monument and the church of Sta. Maria d’Aracoeli. The southern crest, sacred to Jupiter, became, in 509 bc, the site of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the largest temple in central Italy. The tufa platform on which it was built, now exposed behind and beneath the Palazzo dei Conservatori, measured 203 by 174 feet (62 by 53 metres), probably with three rows of six columns across each facade and six columns and a pilaster on either flank. The first temple, of stuccoed volcanic stone quarried at the foot of the hill, had a timber roof faced with brightly painted terra-cottas. Three times it burned and was rebuilt, always of richer materials. The temple that Domitian built was marble with gilded roof tiles and gold-plated doors. It was filled with loot by victorious generals who came robed in purple to lay their laurel crowns before Jupiter after riding in triumph through the Forum.
The Clivus Capitolinus, the antique pavings of which can be walked today, was lined with 40 elephants bearing torches to light the way for Caesar coming in triumph from Gaul. In this centre of divine guidance, the Roman Senate held its first meeting every year. When Petrarch was crowned with laurel among the ruins of the capitol in 1341, it was a harbinger of the Renaissance.
The church of Sta. Maria d’Aracoeli, built before the 6th century, remade in its present form in the 13th, is lined with columns rifled from Classical buildings. It is the home of “Il Bambino,” a much loved miracle-performing wooden Christ child who is called to save desperately ill children. At Christmas, adorned in jewels given by the grateful, he can be seen in the church’s celebrated manger scene, where he is serenaded by shepherd pipers. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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