City blog. Rome based.

The Capitoline Hill in Rome: the greatness of a small hill [VIDEO]

History books tell us that Rome was founded on seven hills.

First Romulus created a small village on the Palatine Hill; later this village incorporated others, to form the city of Rome.

Not far from the Palatine Hill is a small hill, the smallest of the legendary seven.

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  • Palatine
  • Capitol
  • Quirinal
  • Aventine
  • Celio
  • Viminal
  • Esquilin

In ancient times the Capitoline Hill was imposed on the others not for its size, being on the contrary the smallest and lowest in Rome, but for its sacredness. It was, in fact, the most important from a ceremonial point of view.

The Roman Capitol was not characterized by the presence of houses or residential areas. The centrality of this small hill was, on the contrary, due to the presence of a temple, the most important in Rome: the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (the most powerful and most important of all), also known by the name of:

Capitoline Jupiter

The temple of Jupiter on the Capitol must have been of considerable size, dominating the square of the Roman Forum from the top of the Capitol.

Why was the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol Hill so important?

The importance of the temple of Capitoline Jupiter was given by the very centrality of the god Jupiter in Roman culture. Jupiter was in fact among the most powerful gods, connected with the earth, with the State and with the Roman government: the temple of the Capitol was the place of the official ceremonies of the Roman religion and Roman administration.

The triumphs, the great ceremonies celebrating the victory of the Roman leaders, ended right in front of the temple of Jupiter on the top of the Capitol hill after having crossed the valley of the Roman Forum.

Nothing remains of the original temple of the sixth century BC, but some indication provided by the historians of the following centuries.

It was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the Roman history. Today only part of the base is visible inside the Capitoline Museums.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Capitol gradually lost its ritual importance and the temple was dismantled.

The medieval Capitol

During the Middle Ages, the Capitol became the center of city life. The old temple of Jupiter disappeared, and the new layout of the hill was around a central square, flanked by a church (Santa Maria in Ara Coeli) and an administrative building: the Palazzo Senatorio, built over the Tabularium, the national archive of Roman times.

Michelangelo for Paul III

In 1500 something new hit the Capitol: in 1536 Pope Paul III Farnese commissioned the great Michelangelo to make a restyling of the Piazza del Campidoglio (the Capitol square).

At the pope’s request, Michelangelo placed the bronze equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the center of the new square. The same artist also designed the base of the statue.

Michelangelo is also the designer of the Cordonata, the access stairway to the Piazza del Campidoglio. The balustrade is decorated with ancient statues, and the cordonata was designed to be traveled on horseback or in a carriage.

The statue of Marcus Aurelius

The statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the center of the square is the only bronze equestrian statue in Rome.

In ancient times at least 22 statues of this kind were all around the city of Rome, but destroyed after the end of the empire. The metal that made up these statues was very precious, and these were melted down to recycle the bronze.

What we can admire in the center of the Piazza del Campidoglio, however, is not the ancient statue, but a copy made around 1980.

Too fragile and damaged to be still exposed to the open air, in 1978 the local administration decided to remove the gilded bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius and replace it with a copy.

The visitors to the Capitoline Museums [you can read this post or watch this video about the Capitoline Museums] can admire every day the ancient statue of the victorious emperor on horseback, with evident traces of gilding.


The Capitoline Hill is a place of history, art and culture.

The history and events of the city of Rome involved the hill since ancient times, without any interruption.

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One comment

  1. “You, O hospitable god, will by no means now banish a stranger
    From your Olympian heights back to the base earth again.
    “Poet, come to your senses!”—Forgive me, Jupiter, is not
    Rome’s Capitoline Hill second Olympus to you?
    Suffer me, Jupiter, here and let Hermes guide me at last then
    Past Cestius’ Tomb gently to Orkus below…”

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