There is the Palace of the Senators or the Capitol, beyond those stairs, with the tower rising above it. When on the Janiculum Hill (Position 2) we saw this tower, but we were not able to distinguish its clock. On our left, above the shrubbery, we catch sight of the Capitoline Museum ; and on the right, a small section of the Palace of the Conservators. Ah ! This is Rome indeed ! It seems as though we must have felt that this was Rome if we had never seen a single object or building here before. But in what place ought we to get a greater multitude of suggestions of the Roman spirit? This slight elevation has the greatest past of all the Seven Hills of the Eternal City. And then it is in the midst of world-famed places. Let us think of our surroundings here, for we are in the very heart of Rome. We are looking toward the southeast. Directly off to our right, as we noticed on the general map, is the Tiber with its island. Back of us is the Pantheon, with the whole field of the Campus Martius, and further back are the Castle of St. Angelo, St. Peter’s and the Vatican. To our left, half a mile away, is the royal palace of the king, but just beyond this Capitol building is the Roman Forum, and only half a mile away in that direction is the Colosseum. Beyond this Capitol, to the right, is the Palatine Hill, and still farther to the right are the great Circus Maximus and the Aventine. And yet, with so much of importance all about it, this small hill upon which we are gazing has been able to attract and hold the interest of the world for many centuries. Only a small part of the structures that we see here has come down to us from ancient times. This place had a very different appearance when it was the scene of many of Rome’s earliest glories.
The Capitoline Hill has always consisted of three distinct parts, two summits with a depression in the center. The depression (98 ft.) is the part just before us. The eminence situated off to our left, to the north, is known as the Aracoeli (164 ft.), and to our right or south, is the site of the Caffarelli Palace (156 ft.).
After establishing himself upon the Palatine Hill, it is said, you remember, that Romulus founded an asylum on this hill for fugitives of all kinds. Later the Sabines came and attacked the fortress thus set up. A girl, Tarpeia, was attracted by the ornaments worn by the soldiers, and in return for a promise of what they wore on their arms she opened the gates. The story is that she was crushed by the shields, also worn on the soldiers’ arms. The hill now became known as the Mons Tarpeius, and remained in control of the Sabines for some time until the death of their king, Tatius, when Romulus again extended his government over it. The last of the kings, Tarquinius Superbus, built the great temple of Jupiter on the southern eminence off to our right. Some tell the story that while they were digging the foundations the head of a man was found, which one of the Etruscan augurs said meant that Rome was to become the head of Italy. The people accepted this interpretation and at once changed the name of the hill to Capitolinus (caput, head), a name which it has held ever since. The temple was dedicated in 509 B. C., the first year of the Republic, and was really three temples in one, the shrine of Jupiter being in the center, with one for Juno on one side and for Minerva on the other. This was the most sacred of all the shrines of ancient Rome. It was burned down during the Civil War in 83 B. C., and again during the struggle between the Emperors Vespasian and Vitellius. It was rebuilt by Vespasian, only to be destroyed again in 80. Domitian was responsible for a magnificent reconstruction, which remained until it was plundered by the Vandals in 455 A. D.
The Temple of Jupiter was the most important structure to be found here in ancient times. But another building of great importance, the Tabularium, stood during the last years of the Republic where the Capitol building before us now stands. In fact, this present Capitol rests on the old walls of the Tabularium. These vast walls, consisting of gigantic blocks of peperino, reveal to us the grandeur of the later Republic. The Tabularium was built to contain the public records which were engraved upon brass tablets before being deposited here for safe keeping. Prior to this they had been kept in the various temples where money and jewelry were often deposited. It seems that in addition to the use of the temples for religious rites they were also employed in a sort of utilitarian way for the safe-deposit companies of Rome. The remains of the Tabularium have been used also as a prison, and, more recently, as a salt-cellar, salt at one time being a government monopoly, and the great masses of this commodity stored here have eaten into the stones in a most curious manner.
The northern summit of the Capitoline, situated to our left, was known more specifically as the Arx, probably for the reason that it was the most strongly fortified. There was the Temple to Juno Moneta.
During the time of the Tribunes it was made famous, you remember, by an attempt of the barbarians to capture the city. The Gauls crept up to the top of the hill where a flock of geese, sacred to Juno, was kept. The geese commenced a vehement cackling which aroused Marcus Manlius, who re-sided near by. He, becoming alarmed at the sound, ran to the spot and pushed over the edge of the hill the first Gaul he met, and the others who were climbing up behind all fell in a heap at the bottom. A goose was ever after carried in triumph by the Romans in commemoration of the event.
The one thing that distinguished this hill from the early days of Rome until far into the Empire was its sacredness to the gods. Nothing in honor of men could be raised upon it. It is very difficult for us to realize with what reverence the Romans turned their thoughts to this place. The first person who dared to trespass on these sacred precincts with a personal memorial was Nero, who erected an arch in his own honor, of which, however, there is now no trace.
After the fall of the Empire in 476, most of the hill was practically deserted. The monastery of S. Maria de Capitolio secured possession for several centuries and finally built the church which now stands on the northern summit, and which has been known as the Church of S. Maria in Aracoeli since the fourteenth century.
But too many glorious memories were associated with the hill to permit it to remain deserted. As soon as the city began to reassert itself again and to recall its former greatness and developed a spirit of municipal independence, a new palace – Novum Palatium – was constructed. The first mention we have of the building was in 1150; several restorations followed in the fourteenth century, and it is this restored building which we now see before us, although the front or façade was built in 1592 from slightly altered designs of Michelangelo. Thus after untold vicissitudes, at this late hour of time, this hill is still, in fact as well as name, the Capitol.
In olden times the only approaches to the Capitoline were from the opposite or eastern side. This marble ascent which rises before us, a grand monumental entrance to the Palace of the Senators, was constructed under the direction of Michelangelo and is now the main ascent for pedestrians. The steps to the extreme left are the approach to the Church of S. Maria in Aracoeli, which we have already referred to as standing beyond the limit of our vision in that direction. On the right of the main staircase is the Via delle Tre Pile which now forms a driveway leading to the Capitol. In constructing this driveway in 1871 some remains of the ancient Servian wall were uncovered.
Notice these two Egyptian lionesses on the balustrades at the bottom of the steps. Just at the feet of that lion to the left Rienzi, the Tribune, fell. There is a bronze statue of Rienzi, though we cannot see it from here, in that garden behind the lion, and in the garden there is also a cage containing two live wolves, kept in commemoration of the legendary nurse of Romulus and Remus.
The structure beyond this arbor on the left is, as we have already said, the Capitoline Museum, built in 1644. It is in a room in that building you remember that Hawthorne placed the opening scene in his romance of the Marble Faun.
Besides this famous Faun of Praxiteles and the Venus of the Capitol, the Museum contains the equally famous Dying Gaul, reproduced so often in pictures. For years it was called ” The Dying Gladiator,” though it is no gladiator at all who sinks in the throes of agony upon the shield, but rather one of the rude, yet lion-hearted warriors belonging to that vast horde of barbarians who swept down upon Rome, breaking her power into fragments. The collar or strip about the man’s neck is not a mark of gladiatorial humiliation, as was formerly thought, but the torques, a symbol of distinction in battle given for conspicuous bravery, as is the Victorian cross among English soldiers. The work is of Greek origin and dates perhaps as early as the third century B. C. Mrs. Oliphant’s exclamation when she looked at the statue, “Why doesn’t he die!” speaks out its vivid portrayal of the man’s agony.
The Palace of the Conservators, a small section of which is seen to the right of the central stairway, was first erected in 1450 and later rebuilt after plans of Michelangelo in 1564-68. It contains, besides the Picture Gallery of the Capitol, a number of antique marbles and bronzes, the fruit of recent excavations. At the top of the ascent we see the two colossal statues of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, which were found in the Ghetto, and were made to commemorate the Roman victory at Lake Regillus. They belonged originally to the decorations of some monumental entrance. Pope Sixtus V placed them on the terrace of the Capitol.
Now, use your eyes to good advantage and you will observe beyond the base of the left-hand stone a round stone post. That is an ancient milestone and was once used to mark the seventh mile on the Appian Way.
Beyond the middle of the top of the staircase and the main entrance to the Palace of the Senators is seen the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the only equestrian statue that has been preserved to us since the days of Imperial Rome. In a moment or two we shall go near enough to examine it minutely.
Before we go, however, we must take time to observe the striking contrast between some of the people in the group before us, in their poverty and ignorance, and the architectural splendor by which they are surrounded, suggesting the words of the late Premier Crispi, one of her own great statesmen. ” Italy is made, but it yet remains to make the Italians.”
Some of the company are beggars. Indeed, who in Rome does not beg? And these broad, snowy steps are the favorite rendezvous for the whole fraternity. Some of these Roman beggars have been known to have accumulated quite a snug fortune. The story is told of an Italian nobleman who discharged his servant on account of repeated faults, but regretted it afterwards out of sympathy for the fellow’s large family. Coming down these very steps some time later, the nobleman was accosted by a miserable looking beggar whose voice sounded familiar. Scrutinizing the man’s face, the nobleman recognized hit former servant and in pity for his forlorn appearance, ffered to reinstate him in his former position, on condition that he would mend his ways.
” Many thanks to your excellency,” the fellow replied, ” but I really can’t afford it.”
” Can’t afford it? ” exclaimed his lordship. ” What do you mean by that? ”
” Why, you see,” came the response, ” I make twice the money begging.”
If you give them a large gratuity they thank you for it most profusely, and if but a small one, they say with a patient, patronizing air, ” Thank you, signore, God will reward even you ! ”
Our next position is beyond the head of this main stairway not far from that right-hand statue. From that point we shall look toward the northeast. On the map of the Roman Forum that position is given by the number 25 and the two red lines that branch from it.