Mini Pod 26: Getting to know the “Capitoline Zone” of Rome
Greetings, and Welcome back to Get Ready for Rome.
This is the third of what I expect will be six or seven Mini Pods devoted to an actual visit to Rome. To make them as useful as possible for anyone who visits the city, I am loading my written transcript of this broadcast with hotlinks to other sites that may help you navigate the city, get a basic introduction to one monument or another, or figure out when a site is open or closed. If you want access to these links or to my text, just click the “Podcasts” tab of the Get Ready for Rome website and look for the relevant Mini Pod or Episode. The more recent ones are at the top, and this is Mini Pod 26.
As previously said, we will today visit the Capitoline Zone of Rome. This is the area on and around three of Rome’s Seven Hills, namely, the Capitoline, the Palatine, and the Caelian Hills. It is on the left bank of the Tiber River, just east of Tiber Island, and both legend and history agree that this was the area in which Rome was first settled. Later, some of Rome’s noblest speeches were delivered here, as also some of her most vile deeds were committed here.
Now let’s think about how to visit this Capitoline Zone.
We will have arrived jetlagged in the early afternoon and will plan only to relax and get settled for a few hours. Then, in the early evening, we’ll get a preview of some of the sites of Ancient Pagan Rome, several of which we will visit more carefully tomorrow. Since our apartment is on Via Cavour, one of the Four Roads I introduced two pods ago, we will head for what I’ve called our “Fixed Point,” the Capitoline Hill and its Vittoriano or Wedding Cake. On route, we will pass the Column of Trajan and the Imperial Forums, including the Forum of Augustus discussed in Episode 30. Then, we will take a look at the Theater of Marcellus, which was a precursor for the design of the Colosseum, and then we’ll walk up Michelangelo’s staircase leading to the Capitoline Hill—that is, in Italian, to the Piazza del Campidoglio. From several vantage points on its backside, which used to be its front side, we will look down on the Forum and, with the help of a site plan, try to figure out what’s what from among the major ruins. This will be good preparation for our visit to the Forum on the next morning. Perhaps we’ll have the time and strength on this first night to walk over and take a look at the Arch of Constantine, which is next to the Colosseum. Episode 8 and Episode 21 will help our observations. Or perhaps we’ll just head out for dinner.
Then we’ll get started on the next day, which I’ll call “Day One.”
Day One in the Capitoline Zone: The Forum and other sites near the Capitoline Hill:
It’s currently all or nothing: you can’t buy a ticket for just the Colosseum, there is only a Combined Ticket for visiting the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum, and the Palatine Hill. I’d do the Forum first, since it gets hot and unpleasant in the afternoon.
I always find the Forum difficult: so much has gone missing that it can seem like just a pile of rocks, and yet enough remains that the magnificence of Ancient Rome is also discernable. I look forward to this visit because with every new visit I’m better prepared to understand what I’m looking at. On my first visit, it was just rocks and ruins that signified little for me.
I have always found that the events that happened in the Forum are more gripping than what I can see there, and I think other visitors might agree. I remember with pleasure how tourists in the Forum would leave what they were looking at to listen to our students as they reenacted Marc Antony’s Funeral Oration over Caesar’s hacked up body, and the Forum echoed with 100 students shouting “The will! The will! We will hear Caesar’s will!” That was a death that could breathe life into the Forum’s heaps of rocks.
Time permitting, I’d like to get back to the Capitoline Museums, which include a lot of ancient sculpture; some frescoes showing the post-renaissance enthusiasm for classical themes; a gallery that includes paintings by Guido Reni, Pietro da Cortona, and Caravaggio; a beautiful view over the Forum; and more. On its very top, it also has a great café with a wonderful view of Rome. It is open every day until 730 pm, and I’m thinking a visit late in the afternoon would be best, after a break from the morning’s visits to the Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum.
I’d also like to fit in the Museum for the Imperial Forums and Trajan’s Markets, which is currently offering also an exhibit on Napoleon and Rome, but it won’t be easy, though it too is open until 7:30.
Churches are free, and the main ones in this zone are Santi Cosma e Damiano, San Clemente, Quattro Santi Coronati, Santo Stefano Rotondo, and the Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
One of my priorities for this trip is to see all Roman churches with apse mosaics, so I’ll put Santi Cosma e Damiano and San Clemente at the top of my list. There may not be time for the others. Time permitting, I’d head for Santi Quattro Coronati, which includes an important fresco of Constantine and St. Sylvester, which I discuss in Episode 47. Quattro Coronati also had an important history as a fortified convent and home to the papacy.
San Clemente and Saints John and Paul both have archeological museums under them (Museum of Roman houses). The one under San Clemente is especially worth a visit and will also give you an idea of the high water table in the area, which makes it difficult to build secure foundations.
What I’ve mentioned is already too much for one day, so unless someone in our group voices a special interest, there won’t be time for Nero’s Golden House even though it’s right next to the Colosseum.
As the sun sets, I hope we take off for a good wander through Zone 2, the Campus Martius. We would just start at our fixed point, the Wedding Cake, and then head down the Via del Corso, which was one of our “Four Roads.” Can’t go wrong after that: it’s all wonderful.
 See also https://www.teggelaar.com/en/rome-day-3-continuation-6/