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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
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
Today's view
Palazzo del Quirinale
Palazzo della Consulta
Scuderie (stables) del Quirinale
The obelisk

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 view in July 2009

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.

View over St. Peter's, Palazzo di Montecitorio and Colonna Antonina.

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

Overall view

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.

Main entrance

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.

Heraldic symbols: (left) side entrance; (right) small columns at the main entrance

Palazzo del Quirinale was built by many popes, but Pope Paul V placed his heraldic symbols almost everywhere.

Projecting tower built by Pope Urban VIII

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

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.

(left) Detail of the coat of arms by Paolo Benaglia; (right) detail of the decoration of a side entrance by Filippo della Valle

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

Main fašade

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).

(left) Coat of arms of Pope Clement XII; (right) coats of arms of Pope Pius IX

The building is now used for temporary exhibitions (click here to learn about the upcoming exhibitions - external link).

The Obelisk

(left) View from Via XX Settembre; (right) detail of the obelisk

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).

Details of the statues

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:

Palazzo Pontificio sul Quirinale
Prese un tal nome questo colle dal tempio di Quirino, di cui fra poco mostreremo il sito; ora si dice Monte Cavallo dalle maravigliose statue che nella magnifica piazza si vedono voler frenare due gran cavalli. Furono questi dalla Grecia portati a Roma da Costantino Magno, e posti nelle sue terme, che furono qui presso, donde Sisto V. li trasport˛ per ornamento di questa piazza. Questi per l'iscrizione, che vi sta da piede si comprende essere opere di Fidia e Prassitele fatti ad emulazione, per rappresentare Alessandro Magno domante il suo Bucefalo: ma comecchŔ quelli scultori vissero molto tempo prima di Alessandro, si crede o che non rappresentino Alelssandro, o che siano stati fatti da altri autori pi¨ moderni di quelli, appropriandosene il nome, ed il credito.
Il palazzo pontificio, che quivi si vede, fu principiato dal gran Pontefice Paolo III. per godere l'amenitÓ del sito, e la salubritÓ dell' aria; da Gregorio XIII. proseguito con magnificenza sotto la direzione di Flaminio Ponzio Lombardo, e poi da Ottavio Mascherino fu fatta la nobilissima scala a chiocciola ornata di colonne,come quella del celebre palazzo di Caprarola fatta da Giacomo da Vignola. Il portico, la galleria, ove Ŕ l'orologio, e l'appartamento nobile furono eretti da Domenico Fontana sotto Sisto V. e Clemente VIII. ma poi fu compito il tutto colla gran sala, e cappella da Carlo Maderno sotto Paolo V. Indi Urbano VIII. lo ridusse in isola, e Alessandro VII. vi aggiunse gli appartamenti per la famiglia sulla strada pia con disegno del Cav. Bernini, che finalmente dal Pontefice Clemente XII. furono distesi fino alle quattro fontane. Contiene questo magnifico palazzo un gran cortile cinto di portici lungo passi 150., e largo 70. A destra evvi la scala regia a due branchi, uno, che porta alla sala, ed appartamenti del Sommo Pontefice, e l'altro, all' altra sala, e cappella Pontificia, in cui si fanno tutte le funzioni pubbliche dal Papa, e Cardinali. In fondo evvi la scala a chiocciola e il grande orologio coll'immagine della ss. Vergine ed il Bambino Ges¨ in atto di dar la benedizione, opera di Carlo Maratti, messa in mosaico. Nelle sale, e gallerie, negli appartamenti, e cappelle segrete, ancora nella sala regia, prima della gran cappella sonovi delle pitture de' pi¨ eccellenti virtuosi de' nostri secoli, ed in tanta quantitÓ, che difficile sarebbe il registrarle in questo breve trattato; onde riuscirÓ pi¨ aggradevole rimetterli alla fedele narrazione del Custode, ed alla oculare osservazione del mio Lettore.
Palazzo della Consulta
Il Pontefice Clemente XII. eresse con disegno del Cav. Fuga sulla gran piazza di Monte Cavallo il palazzo per il tribunale della Consulta, colle abitazioni del Segretario, e sotto Segretario, ed altresý del Segretario de' brevi; e nei pianiterreni fece fare i quartieri della compagnia de' Cavalli leggieri, e Corazzieri.
Scuderia Pontificia
Da Innocenzo XIII. furono smantellate alcune grosse mura per piantarvi la grande Scuderia, che poi fu terminata da Clemente XII. con disegno del Cav. Fuga. E' questa divisa in due piani, ed Ŕ capace di 128. cavalli, e dell' abitazione di tutti gli ufiziali. Inoltre evvi nel pianterreno il quartiere Reale coperto con nobili portici, e steccati di ferro.

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