Rome – The renowned statue of Marcus Aurelius

What a wealth of architectural splendor is here spread out before us! Surely such a scene is worthy of the glorious memories that cluster so thickly about this historic spot. In the background is the Palace of the Senators, whose imposing façade was constructed by Rainaldi in 1592, after the designs of Michelangelo. The approach to the palace is by a double flight of spacious stairs, only one of which we see. We see here but half of the palace front. Before the steps and facing the piazza is a splendid fountain constructed by Sixtus V. It contains colossal figures of the Nile and the Tiber ; we see only the figure of the Nile. They stood during the Middle Ages on the Quirinal and they appear to be the work of the early years of the Empire. The Hall of this Palace of the Senators contains busts of Count Cavour, Garibaldi and others. In the upper rooms are the offices of the municipality, the local police courts, and above all is the observatory of the Capitol which is attached to the Chair of Astronomy at the University. The building is crowned, you observe, by a marble balustrade surmounted by statues of Italian celebrities. To the left in our field of vision is seen one corner of the Capitoline Museum or Gallery of Sculpture. The beauty and massiveness of the structure may well be inferred from the small portion we see. The building, with the Palace of the Senators before us and the Pal-ace of the Conservators behind us, forms a square whose splendor is unsurpassed in the whole world.

But after all, the chief attraction of this magnificent court is the famed equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, the one equestrian statue that takes us back to the days of Imperial Rome. There is great uncertainty as to the spot on which it originally stood. In the Middle Ages it formed part of the collection of bronzes in the Campus by the Lateran, together with other famous objects now in the Palace of the Conservators. It was removed to its present position by Paul III in 1538. The preservation of the statue was due to the mistaken notion that it was a statue of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. In those fanatical and iconoclastic days, had they thought it to be the statue of a pagan emperor, it would have most surely been destroyed.

In the stormy times of Cola di Rienzi, we hear of this statue figuring in a festival given in honor of Rome’s latest tribune. On this occasion it was said that wine was made to flow from the nostrils of the horse. This statue must have looked resplendent when gilded. This gilding has disappeared save some traces that still linger in the curly hair of the emperor and about the mane of the horse. It is a common saying among the Italians that the golden days of Marcus Aurelius, when the condition of the people was probably more prosperous than at any other time in their history, will never return until this statue is regilded. Hawthorne calls it The most majestic representation of kingly character that the world has ever seen.”

As we have said, on the opposite side of this Palace of the Senators, or Capitol Building, lies the Roman Forum. Before we pass through this building to look down upon that historic spot, let us take a general survey of the Forum map. It would be well, first of all, though, to glance at the general map of Rome where the boundaries of this special map are marked out, and note that the territory it covers extends from the Capitoline Hill about two-thirds of the way to the Colosseum in a southeasterly direction. Now turning to the Forum map we should observe that the sections covered with broken parallel lines, and having a mottled appearance, especially in the left-hand and upper portion of the maps show the territory now occupied by modern blocks and buildings. The finely dotted sections of the map show the location of modern streets and squares. The outlines of some of the ancient buildings and roads are traced over these modern blocks and streets, as for example, the Temple of Jupiter (Templum Jovis), to the left on the map, and the Capitoline road (Clivus Capitolinus), which ”round up to the temple from the Forum. But what we are most interested in is the section covered with many black lines and dots, heavy and light, which begins at the Palace of the Senators, above and to the left of the map center, and extends off toward the map limit on the right. That represents the territory where lies the Roman Forum proper and the course of the Sacra Via, territory that has been covered with important and beautiful buildings again and again in the long past. It is in this section that extensive excavations have been going on for many years. The more or less irregular black lines and dots scattered over it represent the fragmentary remains of the old structures. To one who has not made some study of the Forum all seems to be confusion at first, but with a little patience and careful attention we shall be able to gain a very clear idea of the main buildings whose ruins still remain. The Roman Forum proper is found in a small area near the center of the map, ex-tending roughly, we may say, from the temples of Concord and Vespasian to the Templum Divi Julii, or Temple of Julius Caesar. All ruins to the right of the Temple of Julius Caesar are of buildings standing out-side of the area of the Forum itself, but bordering along the Sacra Via or on the slopes of the Palatine. Very often in modern times, however, the name Roman Forum has been popularly applied to the whole area from the Capitol to the Colosseum.

But we are ready to look for our first position in the Forum. The heavy black lines just to the right of the Piazza del Campidoglio, in which we have been standing, show the ruins of the ancient Tabularium which now exist beneath, serving as a foundation wall for, the Palace of the Senators or Capitol. This modern Capitol building covers the entire space occupied by these ruins. Our next position is given by the two red lines which start from the lower or southern part of this area and extend to the upper and right-hand map margins, each line having the number 26 at its end.