Quirinal Palace (palazzo del Quirinale)
The Palazzo Quirinale, official home of the President of the Republic, overlooks the city from atop the hill for which it is named.
This area was already inhabited during ancient Rome. Below the Corazzieri Barracks that are attached to the palace, traces of the Servian Walls – the oldest in the city – have been found, along with a temple podium. Emperor Vespasian's house may also have stood here.
On the piazza stands the imposing Monte Cavallo Fountain with the two giants, Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri. Originally from the Baths of Constantine, the statues are Roman copies of the Greek originals. The obelisk, though, came from Augustus' Mausoleum. Created in 1818, the fountain and the statues initially faced the Palazzo della Consulta but were re-oriented towards the Quirinal.
The Palazzo of the Quirinal was built in the late 1500s as the summer residence of Pope Gregory XIII. The Pope sought a place to rest that was healthier than the Vatican or the Lateran Hills. The work was entrusted to the architect Ottavio Mascarino.
In 1587 Pope Sixtus V purchased the land where the palace stood from the Papal State and at that point decided to expand the building. The work was awarded to Domenico Fontana, the trusted architect who was already busy with other jobsites in the area.
The work was finished by Pope Paul V, who entrusted the work to the architect Flaminio Ponzio and then, upon his death, to Carlo Maderno. The latter created the wing overlooking the Via del Quirinale, with the Paolina Chapel, the Sala Regia, and the Papal Apartments.
These buildings were so much higher than the rest of the palace that it became necessary to extend the existing façade; you can still make out these modifications on the face of the building today.
Pope Urban VIII built an addition, added new land purchased from the surrounding area, and increased the size of the palazzo towards the east. The garden almost doubled in size, and the Pope built a large perimeter wall, of which little remains.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini participated in the expansion project in the second half of the 1600s, and it was ultimately completed by Ferdinando Fuga in 1700.
After 1870 however, with the end of the Papacy's temporal power and the Breach of Porta Pia, the Palazzo del Quirinale became the residence of the Savoys. Pope Pius IX was the last pope to live there.
In 1947 the palazzo became the residence of the President of the Republic, together with relating apartments and offices. The first two Italian presidents, however, lived elsewhere.
Inside the Scalone d'Onore (monumental staircase hall) there is an impressive fresco by Melozzo da Forlì that was formerly located in the apse of the Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli in Rome. Now it is on the landing and is most visible to visitors as they leave the palace. The Pope wanted to use the sacred themed painting as a reminder to guests that have visited the palazzo that they have just received the Papal blessing.
The palace hosts numerous collections of all kinds of art: from paintings to statues, tapestries to clocks, furniture to porcelain, not counting the collections of Murano glass chandeliers and the carriages.
Another Quirinal jewel is the Garden, which is considered a kind of “island” that overlooks Rome from a privileged vantage point. The layout has changed many times over the course of the centuries, depending on the period taste or that of the “illustrious tenants” of the palazzo.
Today, the garden has a 17th-century flavour that fuses with the “Romantic” style of the late 18th-century, surrounding the Coffee House of that era. It was created by Ferdinando Fuga and was used to receive the Pope.
On the piazza immediately opposite is the palazzo of the Scuderie del Quirinale (Quirinal Stables). It is famous for exhibitions that are among the most beautiful and celebrated in the capital.
It dates back to the 1700s and it too is the work of Ferdinando Fuga. It is clear from the name that it was used for horses. In 1938, due to the change in the means of transportation, it was converted to a garage.
Between 1997 and 1999, the Friulian Gae Aulenti, the architect responsible for the marvellous renovation of the Museo D'Orsay in Paris, created an exhibit space there that connects modern ideas with the palazzo's historic spaces.