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Page revised in August 2009.
Palazzo Pontificio sul Quirinale (Book 4) (Map B2) (Day 3) (View B7) (Rione Trevi) (Rione Monti)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
Palazzo del Quirinale
Palazzo della Consulta
Scuderie (stables) del Quirinale
The Plate (No. 61)
Book 4 opens with the Palace of the Pope on the Quirinale hill. Between the end of the XVIth century and 1870 the Popes usually lived in this palace. The hill was also known as Monte Cavallo because of four ancient statues which portrayed demigods Castor and Pollux in the act of taming their horses (It. cavalli).
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Houses for the servants of the Pope; 2) Tower of the Swiss Guard; 3) Palazzo della Consulta; 4) Scuderia e Corpo di Guardia (stables and barracks); 5) Via Pia (the street opened by Pope Pius IV and leading to Porta Pia). The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Trevi (left) and Rione Monti (right).
The main change relates to the obelisk which was erected by Pope Pius VI in 1786. It was placed between the two groups of statues which were slightly moved so that their bases diverged.
In 1866 the houses for the servants of the pope (No. 1 in the plate) were pulled down by Pope Pius IX who levelled the square and built a large terrace with a fine view over parts of Rome.
Palazzo del Quirinale
The ancient Romans had built stairways to facilitate the access to a temple to Serapis which stood on the Qurinale; these were not maintained and in 1348 their stones were used to build the steps leading to S. Maria in Aracoeli. In the early XVIth century the landscape of the hill was marked by monasteries and medieval towers (some of which still exists i.e. Torre Colonna and Torre delle Milizie).
In 1550 a small villa, which stood on the right corner of today's Palazzo del Quirinale, was rented by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, who embellished it with gardens, although not to the extent he did at Villa d'Este in Tivoli. In 1566 Pope Pius IV spent the summer at the villa and Pope Gregory XIII did the same in 1572 and in 1573; the former improved the access to the area by opening Strada Pia, the latter enjoyed his stay so much that he decided to build a permanent summer residence there for the popes.
Work started in 1583 and a new palace was built by il Mascarino; at the time of the death of Pope Gregory XIII in 1585 the right section of the palace and the loggia were almost completed. In 1589, during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V, Domenico Fontana enlarged the palace by extending it westwards. With Pope Clement VIII Palazzo del Quirinale became the papal residence for long periods.
Pope Paul V asked Carlo Maderno to design a portal and a balcony above it from which the pope could bless the crowds. The portal was decorated with two fine statues (by Stefano Maderno and Guglielmo Berthelot) portraying St. Peter and St. Paul. However the fact that the two saints appeared in a relaxed attitude and in an informal position was not regarded as an example to follow.
Palazzo del Quirinale was built by many popes, but Pope Paul V placed his heraldic symbols almost everywhere.
In 1626 Pope Urban VIII fortified the palace by building a round tower near its entrance and high walls on its western side. These defences proved insufficient in February 1798 and in July 1809 when the French assaulted the palace and captured the pope.
After 1870 Palazzo del Quirinale became the Royal Palace of the King of Italy and it is now the residence of the President of the Italian Republic (see more on the current use of the palace in a page covering its gardens). In recent years the palace was repainted with the colours it had in the XVIIIth century; see a page showing how it was ten years ago.
Palazzo della Consulta
Pope Clement XII is known for the many monuments he built during his pontificate among which Fontana di Trevi, the new fašade of S. Giovanni in Laterano and Palazzo della Consulta. All these works were financed by the reintroduction in 1732 of Gioco del Lotto; in order to justify the game from a moral viewpoint the pope established that its revenue should be used for the construction of public facilities.
Palazzo della Consulta was designed by Ferdinando Fuga and it was built between 1732 and 1737. The building served different purposes and this explains why it has three entrances in the main fašade: the central one gave access to the offices of Tribunale della Consulta, a court in charge of ruling on non-religious matters, and of Segnatura dei Brevi, the Papal Chancery. Lateral entrances were reserved to Cavalleggeri and Corazze, two military corps in charge of the defence of the area. This explains why they were decorated with military symbols.
The palace is still used by a court, the Constitutional Court of the Italian Republic which establishes whether a law complies or not with the Constitution of the Italian Republic. It intervenes when the compliance of a law is challenged in the course of a trial and the judge deems that the request is not totally void of justification.
Scuderie del Quirinale
Pope Clement XII built also new stables on the southern side of the square; these too were designed by Ferdinando Fuga, who however followed a previous project by Alessandro Specchi. The terrace was linked to the square by two elliptical staircases which were pulled down in 1866 (they are visible in the small map).
The building is now used for temporary exhibitions (click here to learn about the upcoming exhibitions - external link).
The monument in the centre of Piazza del Quirinale consists of three components: a) a fountain with an antique granite basin which was in front of S. Maria Liberatrice in the Forum and was moved here by Pope Pius VII in 1818; b) two colossal statues of the horse tamers Castor and Pollux; they were largely restored during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V (in particular the left horse); c) the obelisk which originally stood in front of Mausoleo di Augusto (to see all the obelisks of Rome click here).
Not all sources agree on the origin of the statues in Piazza del Quirinale: a traditional opinion supports the idea that they decorated the baths built by Emperor Constantine on the sites of today's Palazzo Rospigliosi and Palazzo della Consulta; a more recent theory believes that they were placed at the entrance of a temple to Serapis built by Emperor Caracalla; Serapis was the combination of two gods: the Egyptian Osiris and the Greek Zeus (Jupiter); many Roman emperors promoted its worship as a symbol of religious unity.
This second theory is also used to explain why the horse tamers are not portrayed according to their traditional iconography which showed them wearing a helmet or a felt cap. The two young men resemble Alexander the Great and we know that Caracalla so much admired that great leader that he tried to introduce the Macedonian phalanx formation in the Roman army; according to this theory the statues are a double portrait of Alexander the Great in the act of taming Bucephalus, his preferred horse.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 4: Palazzo Rospigliosi
Next step in Day 3 itinerary: Giardino Pontificio sul Quirinale
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Giardino Pontificio sul Quirinale
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Chiesa e Monastero di S. Andrea al Quirinale