Piazza del Campidoglio - the central area of the Capitoline Hill is the work of genius Michelangelo Buonarroti. Both the geometric figures in the square and the exterior of the facades of the surrounding buildings were designed by the great Renaissance artist. Michelangelo also designed the magnificent Cordonata staircase that leads to the square. At the height of his fame, the great architect was hired by Pope Paul Farnese III, who wanted the symbol of the new Rome to impress Charles V, who was expected in 1538. This gave him the opportunity to build a monumental civil square for a large city, as well as restore the greatness of Rome. The first projects of Michelangelo for the area and remodeling of the surrounding palaces date back to 1536. His plan was extremely extensive. He emphasized the appeal of the classical orientation of Capitoline Hill in a symbolic gesture that turned the Roman community center away from the Roman Forum in the direction of papal Rome and the Christian church in the form of St. Peter’s Basilica. This half-circle turn can also be seen as Michelangelo’s desire to turn to a new, developing part of the city, and not to the ancient ruins of the past. Although the overall design was completed in the middle of the XVI century by order of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The actual completion of Piazza del Campidogli dates from the 17th century. The statue of the rider, which stands in the middle of the square, is a statue of Marcus Aurelius of the II century. This is a copy of the actual statue, which is located in the Palazzo Nuovo.
Since the Middle Ages, the Campidoglio area was the seat of the civil administration of the city.
On the remains of the Tabularium stood a fortress of the Corsi family, which the Roman people seized in 1114; it was destined to the seat of the city senate and enlarged in the 14th century. The unpaved open space in front, which housed the people's meetings, was flanked by buildings destined to be the seat of the Banderesi, that is, the captains of the city militia.
In 1453, Pope Nicholas V had the Palazzo dei Conservatori built at Rossellino, heavily restructuring the Banderesi houses to create the seat of the new judiciary. Rossellino created a building with a round arched portico on the ground floor and a facade with crusader windows and coupled loggias; the orientation of the pre-existing buildings was preserved, following clearly perspective intentions, according to a design principle identical to that which Rossellino implemented later in Pienza, creating a trapezoidal square. The renovation works also involved the Palazzo Senatorio, but were interrupted by the death of the pope.
The Palazzo dei Conservatori was almost completely demolished in 1540 by Michelangelo, but the fifteenth-century arrangement is documented in the drawings by Maarten van Heemskerck executed between 1536 and 1538.
In 1534-38 Michelangelo Buonarroti completely redesigned the square, drawing it in all its details and turning it no longer towards the Roman Forum but towards St. Peter's Basilica, which represented the new political center of the city.
It is said that the rearrangement of the square was commissioned by the then Pope Paul III, who was ashamed of the state of the famous hill (since the Middle Ages the place was in such a state of neglect that it was also called "Colle Caprino ", as it was used for grazing goats) after the triumphal route organized in Rome in honor of Charles V in 1536.
Michelangelo preserved the oblique orientation of the pre-existing buildings, obtaining an open space with a slightly trapezoidal plan (the Palazzo Senatorio and that of the Conservatories form an angle of 80 °), on which he aligned the new facades, in order to expand the perspective towards the visual focus. consisting of the Palazzo Senatorio. For this purpose, he had the idea of building a new palace - called for this Palazzo Nuovo - to close the perspective towards the basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli and to pave the square thus obtained by eliminating the existing dirt road.
He redesigned the Palazzo dei Conservatori, removing all the previous structures and harmonizing it with the Palazzo Senatorio. To the latter he added a double staircase which was used to access the new entrance, no longer facing the forum but towards the square; he also modified the façade, in order to make it uniform with that of the Palazzo dei Conservatori and that of the Palazzo Nuovo facing the church of S. Maria dell'Aracoeli, inserting giant pilasters (which appeared for the first time in public buildings), a cornice with a balustrade (another novelty element) and a tower.
At the Palazzo dei Conservatori he added a porticoed facade and here too he inserted giant pilasters (which punctuates it in a rhythmic and regular way) and a balustrade cornice with statues.
Buonarroti also designed the staircase of the Cordonata and the balustrade which overlooks the underlying Piazza d'Aracoeli.
The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in gilded bronze, previously located in Piazza San Giovanni (where the obelisk is now located), was placed in the center of the square by Michelangelo himself, to whom Paul III had commissioned to study its precise location; the original statue, after a long restoration that has also brought to light traces of gilding, is now preserved in the Capitoline Museums, while a copy of it has been placed on the square.
The works went so slowly that Michelangelo (who died in 1564) could only see the completion of the double staircase that served as a new access to the Palazzo Senatorio, with the positioning of the two statues depicting the "Nile" and the "Tiber". The facade and the top of the tower were still incomplete, while the Palazzo Nuovo had not even been started.
Giacomo Della Porta
However, the works were completed according to the guidelines of the original Michelangelo project.
Giacomo Della Porta took care of it in particular, to whom we owe the reconstruction of the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the completion of the facade of the Palazzo Senatorio, including the placement, in the central niche, of a statue of Athena taken from the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which however in the 1593 it was replaced with another much smaller statue of Athena (so much so that it had to be placed on three pedestals to adapt it to the size of the niche), in red porphyry and white marble, reconverted as an allegory of the goddess Rome.
When, at the end of 1587, the branch of the new "Acqua Felice" aqueduct reached the Capitol, Pope Sixtus V launched a public competition (deliberately excluding Della Porta, as proof of the difficult relations existing between the two) for the construction of a fountain on the square. The project by Matteo Bartolani was the winner: it was a grandiose project, which however was only partially realized with the construction of two basins, one inside the other, leaning against the center of the facade of the Palazzo Senatorio, between the statues of the two rivers. and under the niche containing Athena, rectangular in shape with the longest side lobed.
But Della Porta was thinking of a different arrangement of the square. At that time he was also working on the fountain in Piazza San Marco, which featured, as a background, the imposing statue of Marforio; a few days after its placement, however, the statue was brought back to the top of the Capitol, where it came from. It is possible that Della Porta, with a sudden rethinking, wanted to propose to the Pope an alternative to Bartolani's project, which distorted the original Michelangelo's design: he thought of using Marforio as a background for an imposing fountain, which would have closed the left side of the square, the one towards the Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, in place of the Palazzo Nuovo. The Pope did not want to know, confirmed Bartolani's project and Marforio remained parked on the square.
The only two fountains that, in 1588, Della Porta managed to build for the Capitol are the two basalt lions on the sides of the base of the cordonata, transferred in 1582 from the remains of the "Temple of Isis", completed with two specially constructed marble vases. to collect water. The two original lions, transferred to the Vatican Museums in 1885, were then replaced in their place in 1955.
Only in 1594, with Pope Clement VIII, Giacomo Della Porta was able to create "his" fountain of Marforio (among other things, his last work): the entire sculptural group was placed in a basin equal to those used at the base of the Palazzo Senatorio, in front of an imposing façade. The structure, however, was dismantled about fifty years later, when work began on the construction of the Palazzo Nuovo, and then rebuilt in 1734 in the courtyard of the palace, where it is currently located, but without the front elevation.
The square was finished in the seventeenth century, although the pavement was made by Antonio Muñoz only in 1940, according to the original Michelangelo project deduced from a print by Étienne Dupérac.
The Cordonata is adorned with various sculptural works. In addition to the statues of the two lions placed at the base, towards the middle of the climb, on the grassy clearing between the Cordonata itself and the Aracoeli staircase, there is the statue of Cola di Rienzo; at the top are the statues of the dioscuri Castor and Pollux, coming from a temple of the Dioscuri in the Circo Flaminio, two trophies of marble weapons from the nymphaeum of Alessandro in Piazza Vittorio, called Trofei di Mario, and the original milestone column of the first mile of the Via Appia.
The Palazzo Senatorio is now the seat of the Municipality of Rome, while the Capitoline Museums, opened in 1734 (it is the oldest public museum in the world) are housed in the other two buildings, also joined by an underground gallery, the Lapidary Gallery.