At the top of the cordonata, the stepped ramp leading up to Piazza del Campidoglio, stand two colossal statues of Castor and Pollux.
In Greek and Roman mythology Castor and Pollux were twin brothers, who were also known as the Dioscuri, from the words dios (gods) and kuroi (youths). Their mother was Leda, wife of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, but they had different fathers. Castor was the king's son, but Pollux was the son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Thus Castor was mortal, while Pollux was a demigod.
The Disocuri are also known as the Gemini (twins). When Castor was killed Pollux asked his father to let him share his own immortality with his brother and they were duly transformed into the constellation that bears their name.
The Dioscuri were excellent horsemen and are always portrayed with a pair of horses.
The statues were unearthed in 1561 on the site of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, which stood next to the Circus Flaminius. They were erected in Piazza del Campidoglio in 1583.
The youths can be seen again in Piazzale del Quirinale, where they make up the Fontana dei Dioscuri.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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