After yesterday’s drizzle and rain, today dawned clear and cool and sunny. We walked from our apartment to the Vittorio Emmanuel monument, which has got to be the silliest memorial to a dull man that ever was. (Though when I mentioned this to one of our guides she pointed out that the monument is as much about Italy’s independence as about VE himself.) Nevertheless, it gleamed in the sunlight and the flags unfurled beautifully in the slight breeze. Nearby is Trajan’s column, though it’s almost impossible to see the details from any distance, especially the higher areas. But having read about it somewhere, I was able to imagine the images of the Dacian conquest curling around the column from bottom to top. The statue of Trajan was replaced by a pope some 500 years ago with a statue of St. Peter, oh, well. From here we made our way up and up the steep Capitoline Hill to the Capitoline Museums. Along the way were good views of the Roman Forum, which I am only now beginning to understand despite reading about it for months. Here is the first view, showing the remains of the temple to Castor and Pollux (lots of twinning in Rome) and the ubiquitous umbrella pines. Next up is the Arch of Septimius Severus, celebrating victories over the Parthians.
Even when you’re not entirely sure what you’re seeing, the scale and mass of these arches and columns are arresting. This is the the remains of the Temple of Saturn, I do believe. When you finally reach the top of the Capitoline Hill, you are rewarded with Michelangelo’s Campidoglio, featuring the marvelous statue of Marcus Aurelius (a copy) in the center. Once inside the courtyard of the museum, we saw bits of the enormous statue of Constantine (we saw the original location of the statue on Thursday) and posed next to a foot, a bicep, a toe.
Inside the Capitoline are some iconic sculptures, including Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf (the twins are apparently not original, added later according to one account); oh, and a view of the city through an old wavy window; a death mask of Michelangelo; and Bernini’s Medusa.Walking further along, we came to a modern wing that houses the original Marcus Aurelius, beautifully displayed in a vast open space with lots of light pouring in. Note that his hand gesture indicates that he is pardoning the barbarians, one of whom originally was crouched at his feet. Stirrups had not yet come to the Roman Empire, so you will see his feet dangling free. He really is breathtaking.
From here we went to the adjacent tabularium, Rome’s archive, which affords some of the best views of the Forum anywhere, especially on a clear day like today. Returning to the Capitoline, we revisited the Dying Gaul (whom we saw in the National Gallery in DC when it was on loan a few years ago), complete with his Gaulish hair and torc; some gorgeous ladies with very special hair;
the delicately beautiful Capitoline Venus, slightly blurred here; and the mosaic of doves from Hadrian’s villa.
We rewarded our art study with a good sandwich lunch in the cafe and enjoyed beautiful views over the old city. On our way back down from Michelangelo’s Campidoglio we saw the insulae tucked under the hill. These were the original apartments lived in by so many Romans. The higher up you were (some were more than five stories high), the poorer you were – less safe in case of fire, for example. Like so many ancient buildings, these are now many feet below the current ground level.
We were not done with our day, but let’s stop here for now and catch our collective breath.