In Roman antiquity the Capitolium was considered the centre of Rome. It was the site where the city’s three main temples were located. Unfortunately hardly anything is left of the temples of Jupiter, Juno Monets and Minerva.
Crossing the Piazza del Campidoglio from the Cordonata, at the end of the square there are steps on the left and on the right. The ones on the left lead to the back entrance of the Santa Maria in Aracoeli Basilica and the ones on the right to the Capitolium.
Both sets of stairs were designed in the 16th century by Vignola. The steps on the right also end at what is called the Portico di Vignola.
Construction of the three temples was started during the reign of the first Etruscan king, Tarquinio Prisco. Although the work continued under his successor Tarquinio il Superbo, inauguration did not take place until the beginning of the Republic (509 BC).
The size of the Capitolium (53 by 63 metres) would indicate that the building was meant to impress. It took over the role of religious centre from a building on the Monte Cavo (in what is now called Rocca di Papa). At this point Rome also became the capital of the Lega Latina.
Parts of the foundation of the buidling can be seen from the Museo Nuovo Capitolino. Underneath the Palazzo Caffarelli in the Via del Tempio di Giove, protected by a glass vitrine, the tuff stone podium on which the temple stood can be viewed.
The temple had six columns at both the front and on each side. There were no columns at the back, where the alcoves containing the Gods’ statues were located. Jupiter was the most important god and the symbolical father of the city, Minerva was the goddess of wisdom and Juno was supposed to warn the city against immenent danger.
Juno‘s temple was also where the holy geese used to live. The birds were kept there as a reminder of the cackling when the Gallic tribes attacked Rome in 390 BC.
Three times (83 BC, 69 AD and 80 AD) the temple was destroyed by fire. Each time it was rebuilt.
Drie keer (83 voor Chr. en 69 en 80 na Chr.) werd de tempel door brand verwoest en evenzoveel keren weer opgebouwd.
Treasures, including a golden quadriga (which was really made of bronze), were supposed to be stored in the Capitolium. Underneath the temple gold and silver pieces donated by the population were preserved. (In 1919, when the Palazzo Caffarelli was destroyed, a diviner was even hired to try and find this treasure.)
The square in front of the Capitolium was called Area Capitolina. Landslides have caused most of this area to collapse, however. The only surviving part is the area where the garden of the Via del Tempio di Giove is located.
The monuments that used to decorate have disappeared, apart from one square construction, which was however split into two parts when the Via del Tempio di Giove was constructed. It is supposed to have been the podium of a temple dedicated to Zeus the Protector, which had been built by Domitian after he had survived an attack by the Vitellians on the Capitolium.
According to another theory the building was the Tensarium, a sort of garage for the holy carriages used by the Gods on special occasions.