Piazza del Campidoglio (begun 1538) was the result of Michelangelo's plan for the revival of the Capitoline Hill, a site of great importance since antiquity.
It began with the creation of a focal point flanked by three new or restored buildings. At the center of the oval courtyard stands a statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the only bronze statue from antiquity known to have survived intact. The base of the statue was designed by Michelangelo.
In dismal condition since its medieval use as a headquarters for the Roman guilds, the site needed inventive thinking to complete its transformation from ruin to the heart of Roman socio-political events. Michelangelo accepted the challenge with a vigor that resulted in what would become groundbreaking contributions to urban planning. The dazzling starburst pattern Michelangelo imposed on the square enhanced the dynamic interplay between the surrounding buildings and the square's center.
Michelangelo dramatically reconfigured this building, which was largely still standing when the project began. Moving its tower to a central position that more forcefully corresponded with the sweep of the two flights of stairs leading to the building's entrance, the artist created a striking counterpoint to the two other palazzos. Today, the building serves as the city hall of Rome.
Michelangelo created a new façade for the Palazzo dei Conservatori (begun 1538), which was largely in ruins when the artist began reshaping the square. The building shows Michelangelo's use of a "giant Corinthian order," consisting of huge pilasters on tall bases that unite the two stories. The flat roof and level entablature are signature features of Michelangelo's architectural designs.
At the point of the Palazzo dei Senatori stairs (begun 1538) where the two flights of stairs meet is a niche containing the statue of the goddess Roma. Seated triumphantly, a globe in her outstretched hand, she symbolizes the far-reaching power of Rome.
At the center of Piazza del Campidoglio stands a bronze statue from Roman antiquity. Find out how Michelangelo helped enhance its appearance on the next page.