CHRONICLES AND HISTORY FROM THE QUIRINAL PALACE
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
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.
THE COURTYARD OF HONOR
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.
FOUNTAIN OF THE 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