A bit of history
The Capitoline Museums claim to be the oldest museum in the world. The reason?
In 1471, Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection of ancient bronze sculptures to the people and city of Rome. The collection – which included the Capitoline She-wolf, Spinario and the great head and hand from the Colossus of Constantine – was displayed on the Capitoline Hill, the heart of Ancient Rome and centre of the medieval administration at the time.
In the centuries that followed, more and more sculptures – and later also paintings – were purchased or donated to the city. The vast collection was amassed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori until 1654 when the Palazzo Nuovo was built and the many works were split across multiple buildings.
Although the museum has its origins in the 15th century, the Capitoline Museums were only officially opened in 1734.
(I’ll have to do a bit more research to check whether, despite this, they can still be considered the oldest museum in the world, as I thought that accolade belonged to the Louvre!)
The painting gallery was officially opened in the middle of the 18th century. In the years that followed, the interior of the Palazzo dei Conservatori was renovated and redesigned many times. Ultimately, however, there just wasn’t enough space, so the Tabularium was opened to the public and used to house some of the many works of art.
In 1997, while parts of the museum were under renovation, some pieces were also moved to the Centrale Montemartini. This temporary exhibition space – located a little further afield in the Testaccio district of Rome – proved such a success that in 2005 it was made an official part of the Capitoline Museums.
That same year, the Palazzo Clementino, which adjoins the Palazzo dei Conservatori, was also incorporated into the museum. Among the highlights on display in its newly renovated galleries is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.