Capitoline Hill

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Piazza del Campidoglio, on the top of Capitoline Hill
Piazza del Campidoglio, on the top of Capitoline Hill

The Capitoline Hill (Capitolinus Mons), between the Forum and the Campus Martius, is one of the most famous and highest of the seven hills of Rome, the site of a temple for the Capitoline Triad: the gods Jupiter, his wife Juno and their daughter Minerva. The temple was started by Rome's last king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, and was considered one of the largest and the most beautiful temples in the city. When the Celtic Gauls raided Rome in 390 BC, the Capitoline Hill was the one section of the city to evade capture by the barbarians.

The Capitoline echoes with famous events in Roman history; it was here that Brutus and the assassins locked themselves inside the Temple of Jupiter after murdering Caesar; here that the Gracchi plotted and died; here the triumphant generals overlooked the city for which they fought; here that the Gauls, creeping to the Citadel, were let in by the infamous Vestal Virgin Tarpeia, daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, who was later the first to die on the rocks. Political criminals were murdered by being thrown off the steep crest of the hill, to fall on the dagger-sharp Tarpeian Rocks below. When Julius Caesar suffered an accident during his Triumph, clearly indicating the wrath of Jupiter for his actions in the Civil Wars, he approached the hill and Jupiter's temple on his knees as a way of averting the unlucky omen (he was murdered six months later)[1].

From 1536 until 1546 Michelangelo transformed the Campidoglio as Romans had come to know it with his three palazzi that enclose a harmonious and urbanely coherent trapezoidal space, approached by the ramped staircase called the "Cordonata", which reversed the classical orientation of the Capitoline, overlooking the Forum, and turned it to face Papal Rome. See Michelangelo at the Campidoglio. The three palazzi are now home to the important Capitoline Museums. The church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli is besides the square. On its foot, the remains of a Roman insula with more than 4-stories are visible from the street.

The English word capitol derives from Capitoline Hill.

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