We present the first episode de­voted to this sym­bol of Ital­ian his­tory, which, de­spite its solemn ap­pear­ance, never fails to of­fer a mul­ti­tude of anec­dotes, tied to the great fig­ures who have passed through its cor­ri­dors

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial - Maria Cristina Bagolan

When King Vic­tor Emanuel II ar­rived to the Quirinal Palace one morn­ing at 4 am to­wards the end of De­cem­ber 1870, it was a cold and par­tic­u­larly dreary day. Even though it was very late in the evening, many Ro­man cit­i­zens waited for him on the road that leads from Ter­mini sta­tion to the Quirinal Palace, and the sov­er­eign re­turned the ges­ture of af­fec­tion by trav­el­ing in an open car­riage.

The city was flooded by one of the pe­ri­odic over­flows of the Tiber River. Af­ter a long jour­ney, the king came out of the char­iot and solemnly said, “Here we are and here we will be!” at least ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment. Th­ese are the same his­tor­i­cal words spo­ken by Ro­man soldier and states­man Mar­cus Furius Camil­lus (Fu­rio Camillo) dur­ing the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 B.C. But, to tell the truth, the king was ex­hausted by the jour­ney and com­pletely rain-soaked. So what he re­ally said was “aifin suma! (Fi­nally we are!)”, in au­then­tic Pied­mon­tese di­alect. This non-ro­man, crowned king was also rather in­tro­verted and al­ler­gic to pub­lic ap­pear­ances.

Af­ter rest­ing briefly and vis­it­ing the hard­est hit ar­eas of the city, that same evening the king re­sumed his jour­ney for Florence and did not set foot in Rome again un­til July 2, 1871.

It seems that the king, again in di­alect, said that that, “Am pias nen, a l’è na ca’ d’preive” (I do not like it, it’s a house of priests) when talk­ing about the Quiri­nale: but since there was no money to build his own palace there, that is where he had to live. He opted, how­ever,

to re­side on the ground floor, us­ing an open-air ac­com­mo­da­tion in the gar­den, in a se­cluded spot, so that he could “es­cape” as of­ten as pos­si­ble from his much-de­spised Rome. The apart­ment, now open to vis­i­tors, is par­tially fur­nished with orig­i­nal pieces. Judg­ing from the es­tate in­ven­tory drawn up posthu­mously — he died on Jan­uary 9, 1878, and was 58 years old — we know that Vic­tor Emanuel II loved musky per­fumes, read nov­els, pre­ferred sports­wear, and hated go­ing to the tai­lor ... And he was, among other things, a great lover. His shy con­sort, Maria Ade­laide of Haps­burg-lor­raine, was only 32-years old when she died, fol­low­ing eight preg­nan­cies. But the king had a re­la­tion­ship with Rosa Ver­cel­lana, known as “the beau­ti­ful Rosina,” a life­long com­pan­ion, with whom he had two chil­dren. How­ever, the “fruit of his ado­ra­tions” from his many es­capades, de­spite not be­ing for­mally ac­knowl­edged, were fol­lowed with con­stant at­ten­tion. In short, he proved a true “fa­ther ... of the home­land”.

De­spite this, his re­la­tions with Pope Pius IX were am­i­ca­ble: the pon­tiff, god­fa­ther of the king’s daugh­ter Maria Pia, vis­ited and wrote of­ten. In turn, the king’s sec­re­tary Natale Agh­erno, trusted rel­a­tive of the beau­ti­ful Rosina – fre­quently vis­ited the Pope’s sec­re­tary, Car­di­nal An­tonelli. Thanks to the sov­er­eign’s in­ter­est, Pius IX man­aged to solve nu­mer­ous is­sues at hand.

When Vic­tor Emanuel II ar­rived to the palace that De­cem­ber, he was cer­tainly faced with to­tal des­o­la­tion: aban­doned, stripped by Pope Pius IX af­ter the tur­bu­lent Septem­ber events lead­ing to Italy’s uni­fi­ca­tion, the palace had been com­pletely emp­tied ex­cept for a few chests bear­ing the pa­pal coat of arms and smat­ter­ings of fur­ni­ture. The Quirinal we know today, along with be­ing an un­par­al­leled his­tor­i­cal palace and trea­sure ch­est of won­ders - from Ro­man arche­o­log­i­cal items to now serv­ing as the mod­ern res­i­dence of the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic - over the cen­turies has hosted nu­mer­ous his­toric events. Artists’ sto­ries and abun­dant, some­times amus­ing, anec­dotes liven up the somber as­pect of this palace for vis­i­tors from around the world.


Ris­ing from the top of Rome’s high­est hill, the Quirinal has served as one of the city’s most el­e­gant res­i­dences since an­cient times. With its tow­er­ing po­si­tion and ac­claimed fresh air, the palace has served as a pub­lic and re­li­gious build­ing through­out its his­tory.

In the IV cen­tury B.C., the tem­ple of the god Quirino (hence the name of the hill), and the tem­ple of the God­dess of Health were built here, and cer­e­monies were cel­e­brated for the wel­fare of the state. But Con­stan­tine’s Baths and The Tem­ple of Ser­apide, built by Em­peror Cara­calla in 217 A.D., were also there. In fact, two enor­mous sculp­tures of the Dioscuri - now seen on the square in front of the palace – come from the tem­ples. The hill’s other name, Monte Cavallo, comes from sculp­tures of Cas­tor and Pol­lux two char­ac­ters of Greek and Ro­man mythol­ogy, twin sons of Zeus and Leda, (com­monly re­ferred to as the Càs­tori) who firmly hold rear­ing horses by their bri­dles. Pope Pius VI, placed the stat­ues on the sides of the obelisk in 1786, while Pius VII re­placed the orig­i­nal basin with a gran­ite basin from the Ro­man Fo­rum.

The Quirinal hill was once a cliff. It was a Ro­man hill par ex­cel­lence and held great strate­gic im­por­tance. So much so that it was strongly for­ti­fied from early on and in­cluded a town called Ser­viana (IV cen­tury B.C.) within its walls.

The main road was made up of a route lead­ing right at the top (today’s Via del Quiri­nale - via XX Set­tem­bre), that ran west - east to the town of Sabina. Over time, the en­tire area - al­ready rich in tem­ples and spas - be­came a no­ble res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood, packed with fa­mous dwellings (Cicero’s close friend Ti­tus Pom­po­nius At­ti­cus, ple­beian fam­i­lies Flavia and Claudius, the poet Mar­cus Va­lerius Mar­tialis).

In the Mid­dle Ages it be­gan fill with churches, no­ble palaces and tow­ers, while the an­cient build­ings were left to fall to ru­ins and their mar­ble stripped and re­cy­cled for new con­struc­tions. Thus, in the early six­teenth cen­tury, around the square and along the Quirinal Road, no­ble palaces,

vil­las and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions were built, in­clud­ing that of Car­di­nal Oliviero Carafa, whose vine­yard-graced home be­came the first ful­crum of the Palace.

In 1550, Villa Carafa was rented to Car­di­nal Ip­polito d’este (owner of Villa d’este in Tivoli) who trans­formed the vine­yard into an elab­o­rate gar­den, en­riched it with foun­tains, wa­ter el­e­ments and an­cient sculp­tures.

The beauty of the Car­di­nal’s vine­yard par­tic­u­larly struck Pope Gre­gory XIII (157285), who ex­panded the small villa at his own ex­pense, en­trust­ing ar­chi­tect Ot­ta­viano Mas­carino. From 1583 to 1585 he built an el­e­gant villa with a porch and log­gia fa­cade, in­ter­nally con­nected by a splen­did el­lip­ti­cal el­lipse scale and de­signed the so-called “tor­rino”, the belvedere or look out tower that crowns the build­ing.

So the first villa sprung from a heart’s de­sire, “by a long­ing for re­fresh­ment, the plea­sure of be­ing im­mersed in a sea of green and de­lights, in a place where it was pos­si­ble to over­look the whole city and its sky­line, not only from the look­out tower’’. St. Peter’s Cathe­dral, in fact, was at the level as the Tiber river, in the area called Prati di Castello (Cas­tel Sant’an­gelo) - which gave its name to the present Prati neigh­bor­hood. It was a marshy area prone to malaria out­breaks, which is why many pon­tiffs, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer, sought more ac­com­mo­dat­ing places. And Gre­gory XIII, had spot­ted his gem... But it was his suc­ces­sor, Sisto V Peretti (1585-90), who bought Villa Monte Cavallo as a sum­mer home from Car­di­nal Carafa’s heirs. How­ever, since it was too small to ac­com­mo­date the pa­pal court, hired ar­chi­tect Domenico Fon­tana to cre­ate an ex­ten­sion: a long wing lead­ing from the square and a sec­ond build­ing on the Quiri­nale Street, form­ing a large in­ter­nal court­yard. Sisto V also ren­o­vated the outer square, restor­ing the “Dioscuri” sculp­ture, adding a first foun­tain. Since the Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cil’s cof­fers were empty, the Pope im­posed se­vere penal­ties on tax evaders (in­clud­ing the death penalty) and called many of his con­stituents from the Marche re­gion to Rome to serve as debt col­lec­tors. Their bru­tal means lead to the say­ing “Bet­ter to have a corpse in the house than a Marchi­giano on the doorstep”. Six­tus V died at the Quirinal and the Palace’s ren­o­va­tion project was com­pleted by his suc­ces­sors. Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant works were com­mis­sioned by Pope Cle­ment VIII (1592-1605), greatly im­prov­ing the gar­den by con­struct­ing, among other things, the mon­u­men­tal Foun­tain of the Organo, adorned with mo­saics, fres­coes, stat­ues and an­i­mated by the sound of a wa­ter or­gan.


The ar­chi­tec­ture of the palace as seen today was com­pleted dur­ing the pon­tif­i­cate of Paolo V Borgh­ese (1605-21). Ar­chi­tect Flaminio Ponzio was re­spon­si­ble for the con­struc­tion of the wing to the gar­den in­clud­ing, among other things, the Stair­case of Honor (Scalone d’onore), the Great Hall of the Cuirassiers (today’s Salone delle Feste) and the Great Chapel, fres­coed by Guido Reni. When Ponzio died (1613), ar­chi­tect Carlo Maderno, who was re­spon­si­ble for the whole wing on the Quiri­nale path, took over. In this part of the palace, Maderno ob­tained ren­o­vated im­por­tant rooms, such as the Sala Re­gia (now Salone dei Co­razz­ieri), the Pauline Chapel and the pa­pal apart­ments. Pope Paul V called in a team of the best painters to reach his de­sire for the high­est artis­tic achieve­ments, such as the fres­coes in the Re­gia Hall or the gilded stucco dec­o­ra­tions of the Pauline Chapel.

“Fon­tana dei Dioscuri”, Quiri­nale Square in Rome

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