It’s not really surprising that the oldest public museum in the world is in Rome. Or that it sits on Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills Rome was founded on. Nor that it holds some great masterpieces. One of the most famous is a sculpture on the first floor of the Palazzo dei Conservatori called Lupa Capitolina, a 5th century BC bronze wolf standing over Romulus and Remus, two mythical boys suckled by the wolf who went on to found the city of Rome around 750BC. After Remus died, Romulus went on to name the city after himself and create a senate and an army, becoming quite the dictator. Despite his methods, his vision was fulfilled and Rome became – and still is – a major world city. The twins were not an original part of the wolf sculpture but were added in the 15th century when Sixtus IV gifted his sculptures to the city and established the Capitoline Museums.
On the second floor is a wonderful collection of painting including masters such as Titian, Tintoretto, Van Dyke, Rubens and my favorite Caravaggio. Through a linking tunnel is the Palazzo Nuovo which is full of classical sculpture including pieces and mosaics from the villa of another great Roman dictator, Hadrian. (The remains of Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adrian) are in the nearby town of Tivoli and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)
The Musei Capitolini occupy two of the three palazzos edging the lovely Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo. You should definitely approach the square for the first time by climbing up the staircase Cordonato as Michelangelo intended; the staircase leads up from Piazza d’Aracoeli. The third palazzo houses the city council of Rome: Capitoline Hill is still the seat of power in Rome. And the heart of culture.