Where is it? The centre of town by definition! It is the archetype of the capital or centre of power of a state or region. The name of this hill is responsible for the head cities of countries being called “Capitals”.
The origin of the name is uncertain but possibly refers to the head of a pre-roman divinity being dug up in ancient times. Head in latin is “Caput” and the divinity was supposedly “Olum”. Caput+Olum=Caputolum and so on to Capitolinum. It is now known as the Campidoglio.
Although it is the smallest of the hills of Rome, the Capitoline hill has always been the focus of the city’s government. In roman times it was fortified as a citadel dominated by the temple to the Capitoline triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva). The hill is made up of two lobes with a dip in the middle. The central dip is nowadays the central square. In ancient times this part of the hill was called “Asylum” and according to mythology was regarded as a sacred place where one was allowed refuge. The city dungeons were below the hill (under it) and may still be visited. Amongst its more famous lodgers we have St. Peter.
Nowadays the city council sits in the wonderful renaissance style Palazzo Senatorio. It was here that in 1955 the Treaty of Rome was signed to create the European Community.
The square and buildings around it was redesigned by Michaelangelo in the 15th Century. He set the wonderful ancient Roman statue of the bearded emperor Marcus Aurelius in the centre. The other buildings (Palazzo dei Conservatori) contain the Capitoline Museums – well worth a visit.
The front of the square looks down towards the relatively modern Victor Emmanuel monument aka “the type-writer” (started towards the end of the 19th Century). Round the back (once used to be the front) you look over the Roman Forum. A balcony round the back was where the Seers would do their bird watching from and foretell the future of the city.