Thursday, December 17, 2009

Column of Trajan

The Column of Trajan represents the pinnacle of Roman monumental architecture; in one single, long comic strip-like spiral, the emperor Trajan's architects and sculptors tell the story of the conquest of Dacia by Roman legions in the 2nd Century AD. The next four pictures show a progression of the column.

According to legend, the height of the Column of Trajan was determined by the height of the hill that was hauled away from the construction of the basilica and forum of Trajan.What is cool about the column is that it shows Roman military tactics, such as the testudo, shown above, where legionnaires would lock their rectangular shields together to provide protection as they assaulted the walls of a fortress.Above, the god of the Danube River looks up in curiosity as humans march across a bridge built over his body.In the base of the column, the ashes of the emperor Trajan and his family were interred. There is a staircase up to the top, but it is not open to the public. Below is just one of the massive columns that made up the basilica around the Column.See the site, in the middle of Rome, here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Capitoline Hill

The Capitoline Hill was the center of the ancient Roman government and religion, functioning not only a citadel on one of its two summits, but also the location of the most important temple in Roman, the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Nowadays, it is a centerpiece of the architecture of the Renaissance, designed by Michelangelo and completed bit by bit over several centuries.The Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli, or "Altar of Heaven" surmounts the peak of the Capitoline that once held the Arx, or citadel of ancient Rome. This was the location of the famous geese sacred to Juno, who warned the Romans of a night attack up the steep slopes of the hill by Gallic raiders. The temple on the Arx was dedicated to Juno Moneta, or Juno of the Watch; money was minted in the precincts of this temple, hence our English words "money" and "monetary."But the real highlight of the Capitoline is the great Piazza Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo and flanked by the Capitoline Museums on the left and right and the City Hall of Rome built on the foundations of the Tabularium, the hall of records of Rome.The square is irregular, so Michelangelo gently rotated the new building on the left, the Palazzo Nuovo to create an optical illusion that the piazza was perfectly square.The optical illusion works, coupled with the elaborate oval pavement of the piazza.Above is the statue of Marcus Aurelius, who serves as the focal point of the center of the piazza; saved from destruction because it was incorrectly attributed to be Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, it became one of several Roman statues placed in the piazza, creating a link from ancient Rome to the Renaissance Rome. What you see here is actually a reproduction; the real one is in the Capitoline Museums.Here is a statue of a river god, one of two ancient Roman river god statues now placed on the Campidoglio.This is the famous Dioscuri statue, salvaged from ancient Rome and mounted at the top of the stairs along with its mate on the other side.The picture above illustrates just how tall of a hill the higher of the two summits of the Capitoline really is.The Capitoline Hill is still a sleepy enclave in the center of the city, made up of a lush park and winding footpaths up to the summit where the Temple of Jupiter once stood.
This is the infamous Tarpeian Rock, or close to it, as the area is prone to landslide so much of the area was blocked off, where traitors were thrown to their death. The rock is named after the treacherous Tarpeia, who was promised by the Samnites, Rome's enemies, gold bracelets if she opened the gates of the citadel. After she committed the act, the Samnites crushed her to death under their shields, which were decorated with gold bracelets. A great example of your typical ironic Roman morality tale.This mysterious cut in the rock is a mystery to me; it does illustrate how rugged and shear of a rock formation the Capitoline Hill is. Here is an aerial view of this wonderful cultural site.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Capitoline Museums

What better place to start my tour of Rome than the center of ancient Roman power: the Capitoline Hill. Above is a view of the middle of the Capitoline Hill today. Originally it was a two peaked hill, with the most important temple in Rome, the Temple of Jupiter Best and Greatest capping the taller of the two summits. The other summit, now crowned with a church, was the location of the Arx, the citadel of Rome. In between, in the saddle, was the Tabularium, the Roman hall of records. The Tabularium now provides the foundations for Rome's city hall, and the nearby Capitoline Museums exhibit some of the greatest of Rome's treasures excavated nearby in the Roman Forum.Above is the famous Capitoline Venus, sculpted by a Roman copyist inspired by the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles. Long viewed as the ideal female nude, it stands in its own private alcove.Above is just one example of the many river god statues found throughout Rome. River gods always appeared with long, flowing beards and reclining, surrounded by the attributes of their respective river.Above is a low-relief sculpture from the Forum of Augustus, if I remember correctly. Originally, it would have been elaborately painted, like almost all ancient sculpture.Above is the colossal head of Constantine the Great, found in the ruins of the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius. It is truly a sight to behold, as one can only imagine how the original, gigantic statue would have dominated what was a giant building. Below is the right hand of the colossus.Below are the ancient foundation stones of the Temple of Jupiter Best and Greatest. The blocks are made of tufa, a tough local stone used for the less glamorous portions of buildings such as the foundations. The temple is now gone except for small portions.Below is a gallery of ancient Roman portrait busts, featuring a whole range of sculpture from the Roman Republic to the Late Empire.Below is a sculpture frieze from the triumphal arch of Marcus Aurelius, depicting the famous Stoic emperor sacrificing on the Capitoline Hill.And finally, an oddity. Here is a stolen Egyptian column that the Romans brought to Rome two thousands years ago. Carved from hard, Egyptian granite, it surely impressed the Romans as much as it does today.Here is a modern aerial view of the Capitoline Museums on the Capitoline Hill.