The square and the flight of steps (cordonata)
The flight of steps leading up the Capitoline
The piazza's trapezoidal area is marked out by the presence of the two opposite-facing Museums whose symmetrical façades contrast with that of Palazzo Senatorio, which, together with the two museums, make up the backdrop to this square.
Michelangelo originally designed the pedestal of the gilded bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius so as to make it the centre-piece of the piazza, imagining it to be in the middle of an oval space filled with a star-shaped pattern. The paving of this area, which was originally bare earth, was carried out immediately but it was not until 1940 that the star-shaped motif was added.
The flight of steps leading up the Capitoline from Campus Martius was also constructed, marking a definitive shift of the hill's main axis-line towards the modern city, and away from its ancient position facing the Roman Forum.