Why visit the Capitoline Museums Rome?
I find this museum is often not on most people's lists of things to see in Rome, especially for first-time visitors.
But to me, it's one of the best and most important museums in Rome.
Read on to find out what's inside the world's oldest museum and what you should see there!
You see that statue of Marcus Aurelius standing in the center of Piazza Del Campidoglio on the Capitoline hill?
It's a replica.
The original is inside the Capitoline Museums.
Want to see the original bronze she-wolf or lupa, the symbol of Rome?
Along with colossal statues, the only equestrian statue existing from Antiquity and a stroll past numerous emperors, they are all inside the museums' wonderful rooms.
Looking for some Caravaggio paintings?
You'll find two inside the museums.
There is an extraordinary wealth of art and other wonderful statues in these galleries and it's worth taking the time to visit them.
Here's everything you need to know about visiting the Capitoline Museums in Rome:
They are called the Capitoline Museums (plural) because they are comprised of three separate but connected main buildings:
The collections began in 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection of important ancient bronzes to the people of Rome.
Over the years, the collection grew and today the Capitoline Museums boast statues, art, jewelry, coins, and many more artifacts, mostly from ancient Rome.
In 1734, the museums opened to the public on the Capitoline hill under Pope Clement XII.
This was an important moment as it meant that art was able to be seen and enjoyed by the people, not just the art owners and elite.
The museum also boast a stunning collection of medieval and Renaissance art, mostly inside the painting gallery.
The Capitoline Museums are owned and operated by the municipality of Rome and are considered to be the oldest museum collection in the world!
There are many beautiful rooms and stunning masterpieces inside the Capitoline Museums from different eras, including ancient Rome but also the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Here are just a few of the special things to look for when you visit the Capitoline Museums:
The huge statue of the Emperor Constantine originally occupied the west apse of the Basilica of Maxentius on the Via Sacra, near the Roman Forum.
The large head, arms and legs of the statue were carved from white marble, while the rest of the body consisted of a brick core and wooden framework.
It was possibly covered with gilded bronze but if so, the statue was likely pillaged in Late Antiquity for the bronze to be used elsewhere as none remained.
The fine marble fragments of the statue were rediscovered in the Basilica of Maxentius in 1486.
They were later displayed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori courtyard at the ground floor of the museum.
While only the head and other fragments remain, these wonderful statues fill the courtyard with a sense of how special this museum is!
The Capitoline She Wolf is a bronze statue that is the cause of some controversy.
The story of the She Wolf saving the lives of Romulus and Remus, having found them abandoned on the bank of the River Tiber, is well-known in Roman myth.
Yet the date of the famous bronze Capitoline Wolf is subject to much debate.
The description in the Capitoline Museum catalogue explains that while the statue is attributed to the 5th Century BCE, more recent analysis has suggested it may be of later medieval origins.
There is some doubt as to whether the Romans would have used the She Wolf as a symbol of the city in ancient times.
However, it has great symbolic value and is an interesting representation of Rome's founding myth, complete with the children Romulus and Remus beneath the wolf.
Among the most impressive of the bronze statues in the Capitoline Museums is the statue of Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 CE.
The great leader is depicted upon a horse in magnificent detail.
Larger than life in size, the original sculptor is unknown.
However, we know that Michelangelo was commissioned to restore the statue in around 1539, shortly after the equestrian statue was moved to the wonderful square on Capitoline Hill.
The great artist and sculptor recognized that the place for the central statue to stand should be in the middle of Piazza Del Campidoglio, where it dominated the surroundings.
A fine and remarkable piece, there were once 22 recorded equestrian statues in Rome, of which this representation of Marcus Aurelius is the sole surviving example.
The original was restored and moved into the central glass covered hall in the 1980's, when the replica was also created and placed in the Piazza del Campidoglio outside.
The Hall of Emperors has a series of imperial marble busts from the Albani collection.
They were purchased in 1733 for the Capitoline Museums by Pope Clement XII, becoming the foundation of the collection.
The busts are displayed in chronological order, from Augustus to the emperors of late antiquity.
The Hall of Greek and Roman Philosophers contains the busts of poets, philosophers and orators from the classical era.
Many of the portraits are late reproductions and were carried out after the lifetime of the characters they represent, giving them a sense of authority they maybe didn't have in reality!
Originally known as 'The Dying Gladiator', this spectacular and rather beautiful marble sculpture was identified as a Gaul or Galatian in the 19th century.
Attributed to the artist Epigonus, it dates back to the 1st or 2nd century CE.
The dying man's pose is recumbent, supporting himself with his right hand and looking down.
It is a copy of a bronze sculpture from the Hellenistic period, the original of which is lost.
The original is thought to have been commissioned by Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate a victory over the Galatians, a Celtic race of the era.
The Capitoline Venus depicts the Goddess in a pose popular at in ancient times.
She stands upright, having just bathed, one hand almost covering her breasts, the other her groin.
This pose is often repeated in art history and known as 'Venus Pudica' or the 'Modest Venus'.
As with several sculptures in the Capitoline Museums, this Venus is believed to be a copy of a lost Hellenistic period original, dating from the 3rd or 2nd century BCE.
Slightly over life size, this example was discovered in gardens belonging to the Stazi family.
Pope Benedict XIV purchased the Capitoline Venus from the family in 1752 and promptly gifted it to the museums.
It remains to this day in its display niche, known as 'the Cabinet of Venus.'
One of two important works by the great Caravaggio in the Capitoline Museums is this captivating painting depicting a young, nude St John the Baptist.
Usually John the Baptist was shown with specific items, helping non-literate people identify him, but Caravaggio's version does not have these.
Thought to have been created between 1602-03, this masterpiece was intended for private ownership rather than to be displayed in a church, so the typical religious additions were not included in the picture.
The Fortune Teller painting is classic Caravaggio.
He was remarkable in his time for often painting ordinary people rather than religious subjects, showing them as they actually were rather than an idealized version.
In this painting the young Romanian girl, the Fortune Teller of the title is holding the hand of a Roman noble, presumably telling his fortune.
The magic of the painting is that it takes a minute to realize that she is removing a ring from his finger, taking the scene to another level of interest.
Boy with a Thorn, or the Spinario, is a fascinating bronze sculpture in the Capitoline Museums.
One of several examples of a popular figure from the Hellenistic period, it is believed to date to the 3rd century BCE and depicts a young boy removing a thorn from his foot.
This example has been identified as a Roman copy, and is a particularly fine one.
The subject is a messenger, a simple shepherd boy, who ran to the Roman Senate to deliver his message.
Only after his duty did he stop to remove the thorn.
The ancient Senate commissioned the statue to commemorate the event and so it was preserved for us thousands of years later!
A popular figure in classical sculpture, the Medusa in the Capitoline Museums is by the great sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
It is unusual that rather than showing the snake-haired mythical character as vanquished, it shows her as a living being.
The Great Hall of the Capitoline Museums is often called the Hall of the Horatii and Curiatii, after one of the spectacular frescoes by Giuseppe Cesari in this space.
The magnificent cycle of frescoes in this exceptional room was commissioned in 1595 and finished in 1640 after a break of twenty years.
There are six artworks that tell the legend of the founding of Rome, beginning with the tale of the She Wolf and finishing with Romulus Tracing the Boundaries of Rome.
The Great Hall was originally the space where public hearings of Rome's governing council were held and is an amazing room to spend time in.
The Bronze Hercules in the Capitoline Museums is believed to date from the 2nd century BCE and is a typical depiction of the young mythological figure.
It is thought that the statue was originally located in a temple dedicated to Hercules that was originally in the Forum Boarium near the Tiber river.
Hercules is sculpted with exaggerated muscular features and (deliberately to enhance the height) a head slightly smaller than the proportions we would expect.
This bronze is most likely a copy of 4th century BCE examples as it is closely linked to the style of the great Greek sculptor of that era, Lysippus.
The Lapidarium or Galleria Lapidaria is a lengthy tunnel connecting the two elements of the Capitoline Museums.
Along the tunnel is the museum's fascinating collection of ancient written artifacts displayed in an underground gallery.
This was built upon the ancient Roman Tabularium, the ancient state archive.
The Lapidarium is also the ideal place to view the Roman Forum with its ancient ruins adjacent to the museum.
This is an opportunity for history buffs to view rare and unique documents from Rome in antiquity within the ancient public Roman archive.
The museum complex is really quite large and a thorough visit can take anywhere from 1-3 hours.
You'll need an hour at a minimum but I think 2 hours is a good amount of time.
As with most museums of this scale, once you are inside for a couple of hours, your energy and interest may start to flag a bit.
It's actually one of Rome's best-kept secrets!
You can book directly on the Capitoline Museums' official website here, choosing the date and entry time that suits you.
The current cost of adult tickets is €17.
The entrance price does sometimes change depending on what exhibitions are currently active, as there can be a small additional charge for those.
You can book tickets in advance but you can also purchase them on site.
A lot of the time you can purchase them on site without too much of a wait, but the queues can get really long on weekends and holidays.
And frankly, Rome has been so busy lately that I am seeing lines at the Capitoline Museums on pretty much any given day of the week when I walk past.
If you book online, you will be able to skip the line of people waiting to purchase tickets, which can be a huge time saver when it's busy.
The Capitoline Museums have free entry for:
Free admission to the Musei Capitolini is also available to everyone on the first Sunday of every month.
Expect really long lines and crowds as you cannot pre-book for the free Sunday.
If you prefer to explore at your own pace, the Rome Civic Museums system has its own free app you can download before visiting which includes a guide to the exhibits.
There are also plenty of descriptive signs as you move through the museums.
I will always recommend booking a guided tour, especially if it's your first time visiting.
By now you might already know what I am going to say.
If you read other pages on this site, you'll know how much I love all the museums and sites we have in Rome.
But this museum in particular is so worth a visit if you have time!
If you came to Rome looking for ancient Roman art and architecture, there is an absolute wealth of it in this space.
Not only that, but you'll find these museums usually fairly uncrowded once you're inside, which makes for a much more pleasant visit than the Vatican Museums lately.
Sorry, you know how much I love those museums, too, but they've become a really intense place to visit recently!
Finally, you will see things many people never see because they skip this museum.
I truly believe a visit here will enrich your visit to Rome.
The Museo Centrale Montemartini is a sister collection to the Capitoline Museums, housed in a disused power plant slightly out of the center of Rome.
The monumental complex opened in 1997 when many sculptures and archaeological artefacts were transferred from the Capitoline Museums, which at the time were undergoing a major restoration.
These art galleries allowed visitors to continue to view important statues and remains while the Capitoline was closed.
What is particularly fascinating in that the contemporary era machines in the old power plant have been restored to display condition.
An initial exhibition combining the ancient and the modern was named 'The Machines and the Gods' and opened in October 1997.
Originally intended as a temporary exhibition, the response from the public was overwhelming, and it was quickly decided to make it a permanent museum.
The Museo Centrale Montemartini has been expanded over the years and continues its original relationship with the Capitoline Museum, displaying exhibits in storage and out of sight for many years.
Tickets can be purchased that allow entry to both museums, and I recommend going for this option to see ancient statues in a unique and spectacular setting.
Open daily from 9:30am-7:30pm with last admission one hour before closing time.
The Capitoline Museums are on the Piazza del Campidoglio, also known as Capitoline Hill.
To reach the museum by metro, take the Metro B Line to the Colosseum (Colosseo) station, then it is a short 10-minute walk along the Roman Forum towards Piazza Venezia and around to the steps up the hill.
The entrance to the Capitoline Museums is located up the staircase on the right of the Altare della Patria monument in Piazza Venezia.