Capitoline Hill and Museums, Rome, Italy

A statue of Dioscure bordering Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy

A huge statue of Dioscure bordering Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. Photo by Pascal Reusch.

Why visit the Capitoline Hill?

This small bump in the Italian landscape is the most important of the seven hills of Ancient Rome, the focal point of politics and religion for the entire Roman Empire over many hundreds of years – even before the republic kings built temples here – and today the best possible starting point for a self-guided tour of Rome, encompassing some of the city’s prime sights, buildings, museums, statues and history of the eternal city. Not only does the Capitoline have a massive historical background but it is also a very short walk to other major Rome attractions such as the Forum and the Field of Mars (Campusa Martius).

But don’t expect the hill to be scattered with ancient ruins, they were replaced by Medieval and Renaissance palaces over the years that are now home to the magnificent Capitoline Museums.

Ancient Santa Maria in Aracoeli church, Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy

Santa Maria in Aracoeli, on the top of Rome’s first base, between Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (photo below) and the Capitoline Museums.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli

This Santa Maria – and there are many Santa Marias in the city – is an exquisitely different form from the rest. Built around 1260 the wonky steps were added in 1348 to celebrate the end of a plague. Emperor Augustus later had an altar constructed called Ara Coeli, the Altar of Heaven, thus the church’s name.
The interior is also fine, with huge columns, a gilded ceiling and impressive frescos, if you can make it up the 124 steps.

Museums, Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy

Access to the Piazza del Campidoglio and Capitoline Museums up the Cordonata steps.

The Capitoline Museums

Piazza del Campidoglio was designed by Michelangelo and gives (paid, but worth it) access to the grand Capitoline Museums that are replete with extraordinary sculptures including giant body parts, a porky Venus, a young and effete Hercules, Medusa and her snake hair, an Etruscan bronze of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome), varied centaurs, kids playing with snakes and much more, but also some fine Renaissance paintings.

Apart from the terrific art and historic, central location the museums are cool and uncrowded, an excellent place to chill, literally and metaphorically.

 The Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Conservatore, Rome, Italy

The Capitoline Museums, Musei Capitolini, Palazzo Conservatori entrance.

The Capitoline Museums are contained in three spectacular old buildings surrounding a central piazza designed by Michelangelo in 1536.
The museums’ magnificent collections include ancient Roman statues, a collection of medieval and Renaissance art and jewels, coins, and other items of the ancient Roman era.

The three main Capitoline buildings (2 of them Musei Capitolani)

Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy

Palazzo Nuovo.

• Palazzo Senatorio, built in the 12th century and modified according to Michelangelo’s designs, this is the city hall of Rome, built on top of the ancient TabulariumThis is not a museum. Ghe other two palazzos are museums.

• Palazzo dei Conservatori, built in the mid-16th century and redesigned by Michelangelo, the Conservatori Museum has housed many of Rome’s most important sculptures since the 15th century.

• Palazzo Nuovo, built in the 17th century and identical to the Palazzo dei Conservatori across the palazzo. Nuovo also leans towards statues, sarcophagi, busts, mosaics and other Roman artifacts can be found on two floors of the Palazzo Nuovo, open Tuesday-Sunday 9. 00 – 20. 00. Last admission 1 hour before closing.

More recently the 16th century Palazzo Caffarelli-Clementino, just off the piazza next to the Palazzo dei Conservatori, was added to the museum complex.

Some popular museum sights

Bizarre Fertility Goddess, Palazzo Nuevo, Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy

On the Palazzo Nuovo side there’s this fertility goddess, one of the BugCrew’s favourite oddities.

Hercules, Palazzo Nuevo, Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy

And a superb Hercules in the Palazzo Nuovo Museum.

famous She-Wolf sculpture in Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy

The Palazzo Conservatori’s famous 400 BC Etruscan she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, though in fact the boys were added much later in 1510 to accord with the myth of the upbringing of the founders of Rome.

Medusa, Capitoline Museums, Rome

Medusa and her serpentine hair, a sculpture by the astonishing Bernini. Musei Capitolini. Photo by Jastrow.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, Rome, Italy

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II on the north side of Capitoline Hill. Original photo by Max Ryazanov, fiddling by bugbog.

The Capitoline Hill’s north slope is dominated by this 19C wedding cake built to celebrate Italy’s first king, Victor Emmanuel, the ruler who united Italy. The monument is also known as Altare della Patria, Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II and Il Vittoriano, among other things. We find the structure over-grandiose and quite inappropriate to the wonderful Roman structures in the vicinity, such as the Colosseum that is visible on the left in the photo.

More views from the Capitoline Hill

Romance on Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy

A narrow view from the Capitoline Museums over the Forum.

In case you were wondering, the brides and grooms that have appeared in some of these photos were unconnected to us and just happened to be around on a sunny Rome Saturday.

Triumphal Arches, Rome, Italy

A view of the Forum and two of the three remaining triumphal arches, those of Titus and Septimus Severus.

Triumphal arches were a Roman concept built to commemorate a great military victory, bearing bas-reliefs scenes of the conflict and the victorious heroes. The returning army would march through the arch dragging the spoils of war and captives while the grateful population cheered in welcome.