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Accessible Rome - Capitoline Museums

Mary Murphy-Hanson

Accessible Rome: Getting around Rome in a wheelchair, for the disabled traveler. Read Wheelchair Travel for some basic information.

The Capitoline Museums are located in the Capitol area (Campidoglio). This area is close to many other sites, including the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita), and Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo). You can tour all of these in one outing.

Capitoline Museums

Mary at the Capitoline Museums

The Capitoline museums are the world's oldest national museums. Founded in 1471 by Pope Sextus IV they have had a long and storied history. The Capitoline Museums were the Smithsonian of the 14th through 18th centuries for Italians. Many expeditions and archeological digs through the centuries donated their findings to the museums. Included is the statue of the Dying Gaul; perhaps one of the greatest pieces of art in the world.

If you consider the Vatican Museums to be the "sacred" then the Capitoline became the "profane" when Pius V donated all pagan images from the Vatican to the Capitoline. This added over 140 ancient Roman and Greek sculptures to the collection.

The Capitoline Museums, located on the Capitol (Campidoglio) at the Piazza del Campidoglio, consists of two buildings: the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo (new palace). The "new" museum was constructed in 1654 and designed by Michaelangelo; only in Italy is the "new" over 350 years old.

There are two ways to access the Capitoline Museums.

  • From the Via Del Teatro Marcello. To the right of the Michaelangelo stairs is a roadway (with an extremely steep grade). You can push up to the Piazza del Campidoglio where you are faced with 3 stairs into the Capitoline Museum.
  • From the road on the far west side of the Forum that goes up the Capitoline hill past the Foro Romano (Roman Forum) overlook.

Map of Vatican City,  Touring Club Italiano, Milano - click for larger image

Map of Capitol (Campidogio), Rome Touring Club Italiano, Milano
accessible restroom  accessible elevator
wheelchair route on sidewalk in yellow, on street in orange
click for larger version

Palazzo dei Conservatori

Regardless of how you approach the museum you are faced with three stairs into the museum entrance. You'll need to have someone go in and acquire tickets and have the guard direct you to the handicap entrance. The handicap entrance has changed three times in the years that I have been visiting the museums. The current entrance is back down the road you came up and on the left side of the building, through a small door. From there, you access an elevator that takes you down to the courtyard where the enormous sculpted stone head/foot/hand of Constantine reside.

After visiting the courtyard, return to the elevator, go up one floor, exit, go about 100 feet to a second elevator, and go up another floor. You can access the entire Capitoline collection. Ask a guide or docent on any of the floors and they will assist you with changing floors in the museum as there isn't a continuous elevator between floors.

On the top floor of the Capitoline is one of the most popular restaurants in Rome. Not because of the food (which is typical museum food) but because of the great views.

Palazzo Nuovo

After viewing the portion of the collection that is housed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, exit as you came in through the handicap entrance, go back up to the Piazza del Campidoglio and go to the Palazzo Nuovo (the tickets you got at the main ticket office are good for both buildings). There is a ramp on the far right end of the facade. Go up this ramp, then cross all the way across the facade until you are by the bookstore entrance. They have a small portable ramp that they put out there for the wheelchair visitor.

To access the collections on the other floors, go down a hallway (two stairs with a ramp) to a modern glass elevator. This elevator takes you through the insula (ancient Roman apartment house) that is visible from the Via Del Teatro Marcello. You get a quick lesson in archeology as the elevator ascends through several layers of an archeological dig.

Accessible Restrooms

  • In the Palazzo dei Conservatori, the main building in the Capitoline Museums, ask one of the guards to take you to the accessible restroom. They are located in the back rooms of the Capitoline. You are escorted by a guard into an area the public seldom, if ever, sees. Egyptian gods, statues, a table by Bernini all clutter the pathway to the accessible restroom.

Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita)

From the Piazza del Campidoglio, go back down the hill to the Via Del Teatro Marcello. When you are at street level, take a left (south east) and follow the curve of the hill for about two blocks (there is a sidewalk). You'll see portions of the lovely park where the Capitoline is situated and end up at the Piazza Bocca della Verita (the Mouth of Truth).

As anyone who has seen the movie Roman Holiday knows, you must put your hand in the mouth. The Mouth of Truth is in the portico of a church. There is an extremely high (8 - 10 inches) lintel (think parking curb) blocking entrance to the portico and the church. You are going to have to be able to get out of your wheelchair and take one step over this lintel or have someone carry you. Once you are in the portico, the actual Mouth of Truth is accessible.

Steve at the Mouth of Truth, December 2003

Steve at the Mouth of Truth, December 2003

Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)

From the southeast corner of the Piazza Bocca della Verita exit on the Via dei Cerci. It is a short two blocks to the Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo). Use Via dei Cerci because Via Della Greca which turns into Via Del Circo Massimo is a fast and nasty road.

The Circus Maximus is a large grassy oval field with a running track in the center. Little remains of the original ruins. It is a popular space with runners but for a wheelchair to access it you need to push down a grassy hill. I've always wanted to push my chair where chariots raced. Unfortunately due to the physical difficulties accessing Circus Maximus, it will remain a dream unrealized.

What few people realize is that Piazza Navona is actually an ancient circo. Still all in all Navona lacks the "panache" of the Circus Maximus.

While on a map the logical way to proceed back to the centro storico from Circus Maximus would be to proceed along the Lungo Tevere, this isn't possible. The sidewalk is badly broken up by the Chestnut trees and in many places is impassable. Getting out into the road requires taking your life into your hands; this is a high speed three lane road going in a single direction. Instead, return up the Via Della Teatro Marcello and cross into the Ghetto through the Porta Octavia to return to the center.

Theater of Marcellus (Teatro Di Marcello)

At the bottom of the Campodoglio Hill on the Via del Teatro Di Marcello is the Theater of Marcellus (Teatro Di Marcello).

This ruin is very accessible from the Via Del Teatro Marcello road. You go down a hill, cross through the ruins and up a ramp where you exit into the Jewish Ghetto. You don't actually pass through the Porta Octavia (the ancient Roman Ghetto gate) but here is another place where history lives.

To continue touring in this area, see the Jewish Ghetto and Synagogue.


Mary Hanson is a wheelchair traveler with four months experience navigating Rome in a wheelchair. When she isn't visiting her heart in Rome, she resides in Phoenix with her husband Tom and her mutt Beau-dog.

© Mary Murphy-Hanson, 2005

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