ROMAN ITINERARIES – TREVI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 8
TREVI DISTRICT – ITINERARY 8
After having walked up and down the lower part of the area, the Trevi District Itinerary 8 will lead us to the discovery of one of the most fascinating parts of Rome, the Quirinale Hill.
The route starts from Largo Magnanapoli, from where the wide Via XXIV Maggio starts, which is the demarcation line between the two districts, Monti (to which all the right side belongs) and Trevi, which occupies the left side of the road. In order to be able to carry out a single discourse on the whole area, the description will cover here both sides.
Largo Magnanapoli – Via XXIV Maggio – Piazza del Quirinale – Via del Quirinale – Via dei Giardini – Via della Consulta – Via Ferrara – Via delle Quattro Fontane – Via Rasella – Via del Boccaccio – Via degli Avignonesi – Via del Traforo
CHURCH OF ST. SYLVESTER
The name of the street (May 24th) was given to it in this century, to remember the date of Italy’s entry into the war in 1915, but originally it was simply the first stretch of the Quirinal street, which led from Magnanapoli to the Pontifical Palace.
The first stop is the Church of St. Sylvester, whose modest 19th Century façade is on the left, just after the crossroads with Via della Cordonata: an authentic jewel that can be accessed not from the main door, but from the side door, at number 10, open at very limited hours.
THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
The church has very ancient origins: some maintain that it was founded even during the pontificate of Pope Simmaco I, at the end of the 4th Century AD, but this is only a hypothesis. It seems much more likely that it was built between the 9th and 11th Centuries and dedicated to St. Sylvester because of the relationship existing, according to tradition, between the Pontiff and Emperor Constantine, who was miraculously cured of leprosy and then baptized.
In the Middle Ages it was called in different ways: “in Biberatica” (toponym that had been given since Roman times to the western side of the hill) or “in Caballo” because of the proximity of the marble group of “Dioscuri” (Castor and Pollux) found, together with their horses, in the nearby Baths of Constantine. After being granted by Pope Julius II to the Dominicans in 1507, it was completely rebuilt by Pope Clement VII in 1524. In the modest church and in the small garden in front of it, around 1538, some personalities of the Roman cultural world gathered in a sort of religious cenacle, where the realization of an internal reform of the church was discussed. The organizer of this unique gathering was a monk, Lancellotto Politi da Siena, and among the participants there were also Michelangelo Buonarroti and Vittoria Colonna.
After being abandoned by the Dominicans, the building passed to the Theatines, who owned it until the end of the 18th Century: it was they who starved to decorate the interior, which houses countless art treasures of great value.
After 1870, the church was requisitioned and used as the headquarters of the Military Genius: a few years later, after the works for the enlargement of via XXXIV Maggio, two chapels and the entire front were demolished, rebuilt in its present form in 1877 by Andrea Busiri Vici.
The structure of the 19th Century facade is not very different from the original one, with a simple and decent appearance.
THE DECORATIONS OF THE CHURCH
The interior, with a strongly irregular plan due to the mutilations suffered, needs instead a very accurate description. It is accessed through a staircase, built by Busiri Vici, necessary to overcome the difference in height of about nine meters determined by the leveling of via XXIV Maggio. The first thing that strikes you is the beautiful 16th Century wooden ceiling, made at the expense of Antonio Florenzi from Perugia: in the center you can admire two large ovals, which contain two reliefs with the “Key Delivery” and the “Madonna and Child“.
Particularly interesting is the first chapel on the left, decorated between 1525 and 1527 and depicting one of the most interesting sacred rooms of the early 16th Century in Rome. The frescoes on the walls are by Polidoro da Caravaggio and Maturino da Firenze, two of the most promising students of the great Raphael, and depicted some scenes from the life of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Catherine, the two saints who appear portrayed on either side of the altar.
The vault houses other frescoes with scenes from the life of St. Stephen, by the painter Giuseppe Cesari, better known as the Cavalier d’Arpino, who painted them towards the end of the 16th Century. Interesting is also the floor, partially covered with polychrome panels on which there are the signs of the Tuscan Medici family: probably, these are the leftovers of those made by Luca della Robbia for the paving of the Vatican Loggias.
The next chapel is a sort of painting museum of the second half of the 16th Century: on the walls two frescoes by Jacopo Zucchi, the vault painted by Raffaellino da Reggio and on the altar a valuable “Nativity” by Marcello Venusti, a follower of Michelangelo.
THE BANDINI CHAPEL
But the real masterpiece of the church is undoubtedly the Bandini Chapel, in the left arm of the transept, built by Ottaviano Mascherino between 1580 and 1585 by order of the Florentine banker Pier Antonio Bandini.
The architectural structure, octagonal and ending with a graceful little dome, is very similar to the Chigi Chapel of St. Mary of the People, designed by Raphael.
In the pendentives of the dome are four frescoes with biblical scenes painted by Domenichino and datable to the third decade of the 17th Century, while in the four niches open to the walls are placed as many stucco statues, depicting St. Martha and St. Joseph, by sculptor Francesco Mochi (right) and St. John the Evangelist and St. Mary Magdalene (left), perhaps the first works made in Rome by the famous 17th Century sculptor Alessandro Algardi.
On the altar you can admire the valuable large painting of the Assumption, made by Scipione Pulzone.
Back in the nave, take a last look at the carved stalls of the choir, of the early 17th Century, and the marble monuments located on the counter-façade: that of Cardinal Cornaro, attributed to Della Porta, and the other made by Domenico Fontana and dedicated to Prospero Farinacci, the famous jurist who defended Beatrice Cenci.
THE PALLAVICINI – ROSPIGLIOSI PALACE
Near the Church of St. Sylvester there was, at the end of the 16th Century, a mysterious episode: the discovery of dozens and dozens of skeletons stacked one on top of the other in a large vaulted room, which had been part of the Baths of Constantine, which came to light during some excavation work done on behalf of the owner of the land, Bernardo Acciaiuoli.
On Bernardo Acciaiuoli’s land now stands one of the most important noble palaces of Rome, that of the Pallavicini-Rospigliosi, separated from the street by a high wall. It is accessed through the door at number 43, in front of the Church of St. Sylvester.
The Palace occupies that area of the hill where the Baths of Constantine were located, and its construction was ordered by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, to the architect Flaminio Ponzio. The works began around 1605, but after only seven years Ponzio died and was replaced by Carlo Maderno.
Another architect, Giovanni Vasanzio, was responsible for the design of the garden, which was originally to include three terraces, each with a richly decorated “casino“. Today, unfortunately, only two remain, while the third was demolished during the work on Via Nazionale.
In 1616 the building was sold to Giovanni Angelo Altemps, who kept it for only three years before reselling it to the Bentivoglio family.
After three other changes of ownership, the building was purchased in 1704 by the Rospigliosi Pallavicini family, who still own it today. The latter had a series of conspicuous enlargements carried out and placed their collection of paintings, one of the most important in Rome, in the large internal halls.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE PALACE
Crossed the entrance on Via XXIV Maggio, you enter a large courtyard: immediately on the left is the Casino of the Dawn, a low building with a loggia consisting of three rooms, decorated on the outside with numerous excavated marble inserted in the facade.
On the vault of the central room is frescoed the famous “Aurora” (Dawn) by Guido Reni, executed around 1612, which is one of the masterpieces of the Bolognese artist. On the walls of the three rooms, some paintings are part of the collection, including the “Four Seasons” by the Flemish painter Paul Brill.
At the end of the courtyard you can see the massive bulk of the Palace, with simple and austere lines, with the facade made first by Ponzio and then by Maderno. Behind it, at the end of a sort of secret garden, there is a scenic nymphaeum, designed by Vasanzio in 1611, called “the Theatre“, with statues of the rivers Po and Tiber.
Overlooking the garden is the “Loggia of the Muses“, which takes its name from the fresco painted on the vault by Agostino Tassi and Orazio Gentileschi, author of the “Muses” in the pendentives.
In the private apartments of the palace, which still retain the precious original furnishings, is located the famous painting gallery, which includes more than five hundred works, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Rubens, Bassano, Van Dick, Poussin, Tintoretto and others.
THE QUIRINAL STABLES
At the corner with the Quirinal Square you can see a long and low building that housed the Stables of the Papal Palace. On the site, purchased in 1625, a long and low building was built for the coachhouses of the papal court, replaced by a more articulated construction begun during the pontificate of Innocent XIII on a project by Alessandro Specchi. When the Pope died in 1724, everything stopped, and the works were resumed six years later and entrusted to Ferdinando Fuga, who completed the construction without making major changes to the original project.
The building, once finished, could accommodate more than 120 horses on two floors.
Some works carried out in the 19th Century have unfortunately completely distorted the original appearance of the building: a graceful corner porch and the double flight staircase at the center of the facade have been eliminated, where now you can see an inscription that recalls the completion of the construction, which took place in 1730 under the pontificate of Clement XII.
Above the access portal there is a second coat of arms, that of Pius IX, in memory of the 19th Century arrangement of the building. Today, the Quirinal Stables host important temporary exhibitions of great value.
THE QUIRINAL SQUARE
You can now enter the large and scenographic Quirinal Square, dominated by the bulk of the homonymous building and open with a panoramic terrace overlooking the lower part of the city.
The history of this illustrious square is lost in the mists of time: we know that in archaic times the top of the hill, called Collis Salutaris, was occupied by a temple (built in 311 BC by Consul Caius Junius Bubulco), dedicated to the cult of the goddess Salus, linked to the prosperity of the state and the community.
In imperial times, when this cult lost its original importance, the entire western part of the hill was occupied instead by the imposing Temple of Serapis, one of the largest in the entire city (17,000 square meters), built under the empire of Caracalla around 211 AD.
The building must have had a truly spectacular appearance, and was accessible from the slopes of the hill through a system of steps: with the marble of which it was composed, a series of buildings were built throughout the Middle Ages, including the Aracoeli staircase.
Throughout the Middle Ages, instead, the first summit of the Quirinal must have had a very picturesque appearance, due largely to the presence of the two colossal statues of the “Dioscuri“, placed in the center of the clearing from time immemorial, so that the entire district took the name of “Mount Horse“.
This somewhat wild character was maintained throughout the 16th Century, when, among the ivy-covered ruins, many humanists of the caliber of Bartolomeo Sacchi, known as Platina, and Pomponio Leto, founder of the Roman Archaeological Academy, settled. Until the middle of the 16th Century, the lack of easy connections between the top of the Quirinal and the lower part of the city made its building development difficult: the Dioscuri’s widening had in fact the function of a road junction, surrounded by ruins and flanked by vineyards, religious buildings and private villas. Around 1550 there were the Palace of the Bishop of Terni, the vineyard of the Cardinal of Vercelli, some more modest houses, some granaries, the Colonna Garden and finally, in the place where the papal palace would later rise, the vineyard of the Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, later sold to Ippolito d’Este.
Between the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th Century, several Popes faced the problem of connecting the hill with the rest of the city, since the only two roads that carried out this function were hardly passable, since they were characterized by a steep slope. Several solutions were proposed: Paul IV asked Michelangelo to reunite the first Church of St. Sylvester with the Palace of St. Mark (the current Venice Palace), through a gigantic staircase with three consecutive ramps. Pius IV instead thought to improve the road layout of Via Alta Semita, later nicknamed Strada Pia, but even this undertaking had no immediate impact on the urbanization of the square.
A first levelling of the square was given in 1590 by Pope Sixtus V who, with an elaborate project of reorganization of the area, also removed some remains of the Temple of Serapis, partly reused for the Cesi Chapel in St. Mary Major and for the floors of the Colonna Palace. The subsequent works of enlargement of the Quirinal Square, wanted by Pope Urban VIII in 1625, gave a coup de grace to the remains of the temple, of which today only a few fragments remain in the garden of Villa Colonna.
The most intelligent operation, however, was to bring the Felice Water to the square, through a conduit made precisely for this purpose: on that occasion, a fountain was placed between the two giants.
In the following years, the work on the Pontifical Palace, carried out under the pontificate of Paul V, significantly influenced the layout of the widening in front of it. However, it was only in the 18th Century that the Quirinal Square reached a layout almost identical to the present one: in 1722 the construction of the stables began, and a few years later (1732) Ferdinando Fuga built the Palace of the Consulta.
The last touch was given during the pontificate of Pius VI Braschi, with the new arrangement given to the group of “Dioscuri“, while the projects elaborated during the Napoleonic domination (never realized), which involved the entire top of the hill and even provided for the realization of a majestic triumphal arch in front of the Quirinal Palace, deserve a mention.
THE FOUNTAIN OF THE DIOSCURI
Today, in the center of the square, is the scenic Fountain of the Dioscuri, composed of two marble giants with the granite obelisk from the Mausoleum of Augustus.
The two giants should be identified with the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux, represented as horse tamers: their first origin would be the temple of Serapis, and already in the 16th Century it was said that the twin virile statues (copies from Greek originals), were mirror images of the young Emperor Alexander the Great, while taming his horse Bucephalus.
In the 16th Century a tradition also ensured that the authors of the sculptures were Phidias and Praxiteles: after having been transferred from Greece to Rome and placed in front of the Domus Aurea, Constantine had them placed on the Quirinal as an ornament of his Baths. For this reason, the inscriptions “Opus Phidiai” and “Opus Praxitelis” had been placed on the pedestals of the giants, as well as other inscriptions indicating that the male character portrayed was Alexander the Great. These last inscriptions were eliminated by Pope Urban VIII Barberini, who left only the indications, still perfectly visible, related to the names of the sculptors.
After the barbarian invasions, throughout the Middle Ages the giants lay abandoned in a small road that descended towards Magnanapoli. Only during the 15th Century it was noticed that they were very damaged and they were restored in an approximate way, until Pope Sixtus V decided to enhance them by inserting them in the reorganization of the Quirinal Square.
The statues were then completely restored, under the direction of the architect Domenico Fontana, by three sculptors: Flaminio Vacca, Leonardo Sormani and Pier Paolo Olivieri.
The new scenic location of the two “Giants of the Horse Mountain” was further enhanced by a fountain placed right in front of the statues, fed by the Water Felice, which the Pope himself had brought to the Quirinal.
At the beginning of the 18th Century the architect Carlo Fontana made a particularly daring proposal: the transfer of the fountain, which was to be replaced by the Colonna Antonina. Fortunately, the project was never realized.
It was only in 1782 that the architect Giovanni Antinori, commissioned by Pius VI, proposed to erect at the center of the two giants the underground obelisk near the Mausoleum of Augustus and to replace the Sistine Fountain with an ancient granite basin that Giacomo della Porta had adapted as a drinking trough for cattle in the Roman Forum.
On the erection of the obelisk (which was not very simple, since it was broken into three pieces) circulated some funny legends, the most famous of which recalls the inscription that was affixed one night on the pedestal of the statue attributed to Phidias: “opus Fidiae” (work of Fidia) became “opus perfidiae Pii Sexti” (work of the perfidy of Pius VI).
THE PALACE OF THE CONSULTA
In front of the fountain stands the majestic Palace of the Consulta, built by the architect Ferdinando Fuga by order of Pope Clement XII between 1732 and 1737, on land that was previously occupied by a 16th Century building, known as the Palace of the Cardinal of Vercelli, Sebastiano Ferrero.
The funds necessary for the construction were obtained from the proceeds of the lottery, which had been reactivated by Pope Clement XII, after Benedict XIII had forbidden it. The building housed the Tribunal of the Holy Council, which dealt with civil, criminal and mixed cases. During the French occupation, in 1798, it became the seat of the Prefecture of Rome, then, at the end of the Napoleonic domination, it returned to its main function, which it maintained until 1870. After that date, it changed destination several times: first it was used as the residence of the hereditary Princes of Savoy, then, in 1874, it became the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and then, since 1955, it hosted the Constitutional Court.
Although it has a representative role, the building is characterized by architectural criteria of functionality, brilliantly conceived by Fuga. The large, two-storey facade is marked by high pilasters: three large portals, all surmounted by pediments. On the lateral ones there are two trophies by Filippo Della Valle (1735), while the central one is occupied by two statues by Francesco Maini, representing “the Justice” and “the Religion” (1739). On the top stands the coat of arms of the pope flanked by winged figures.
From the central doorway you enter the rectangular courtyard of honor, dominated by the monumental staircase with double ramp. In the internal halls there are still the remains of a fresco decoration of the 18th Century, the work of painters such as Antonio Bicchierai and Bernardino Nocchi.
Immediately past the Consulta, enter the public garden, which occupies an area where in the 16th Century there were two churches, the Holy Sacrament and St. Mary Magdalene, which were demolished during the visit to Rome of the German Emperor William II in 1888.
The equestrian monument to Charles Albert, in the park, is by Raffaele Romanelli (1900).
THE QUIRINAL PALACE (INTRODUCTION)
The area where the Quirinal Palace stands today was occupied, at the end of the 15th Century, by the villa of the highly erudite Cardinal Oliviero Carafa, including a vast vineyard, where the cardinal had collected a large number of epigraphs, ancient fragments and statues.
In 1545 the villa passed to a descendant of the cardinal, Pirro Carafa, who for economic reasons rented it to Orazio Farnese, who welcomed there with great honors Pope Paul III, his relative.
Five years later, the villa was rented again to Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, son of Alfonso I of Ferrara and Lucrezia Borgia. Under Ippolito, a period of great splendor began for the villa, with large collections of antiquities, refined art collections and important works of extension of the building, purchasing surrounding land. The park soon became famous throughout Rome for the beauty of its fountains, decorated with ancient statues, with a grandiose hydraulic system created by Girolamo da Carpi and Pirro Ligorio.
The history of the villa changed after the ascent to the papal throne of Gregory XIII, who in 1572 thought to build a building on it to make it the summer residence of the Popes. The Pope’s trusted architect, Ottaviano Mascherino, began to design the building, and already in 1584 the building was well advanced, partially decorated inside as well.
On the death of Pope Gregory XIII, the successor Sixtus V began work to transform it (thanks to the work of the architect Domenico Fontana) into a real palace, worthy of the Head of the Papal States. Fontana built a long porticoed wing towards the square, while on the Pia road a long and narrow building was added for the Swiss Guard, the first nucleus of what would later become the “Long Sleeve“.
The first Pontiff to reside permanently for long periods in the palace was Pope Clement VIII, in 1595.
The extension works were resumed in great style by Paul V who, without taking care of expenses, had Flaminio Ponzio build the wing towards the garden, parallel to the one on the square wanted by Sixtus V. Inside the building, the pope had two chapels built on top of each other: the Chapel of the Crib, on the first floor, frescoed by Baldassarre Croce, and the Chapel of the Annunciation, on the main floor, decorated by Guido Reni.
After Ponzio’s death, Carlo Maderno took over, who was responsible for the reconstruction of the side on the Strada Pia, extended to create a large room for the Pauline Chapel and the Royal Hall. Also by Maderno is the large portal on the square, executed in 1615 and decorated the following year with the statues of Saints Peter and Paul, by Stefano Maderno and William Berthelot.
During the 17th Century, other important additions to the complex should be mentioned, first of all the strengthening of its defensive capabilities, also carried out by Maderno by order of Pope Urban VIII: the Pope had a solid wall built along the entire perimeter of the gardens and the massive circular tower where the artillery necessary to guard the entrance to the building was placed.
A little more than ten years later, in 1638, Bernini was commissioned to design the Blessings Loggia opened on the front towards the square, while under the pontificate of Alexander VII some internal halls were decorated by Pietro da Cortona.
In the 18th Century the Palace finally became the Pontifical Residence, preferred by Clement XII to the Vatican itself. In this century there were no major changes, apart from the addition, at the bottom of the “Long Sleeve“, of the building of the Secretary of the Cipher (1730-1732) and the construction, in the gardens, of the “Coffee House”, commissioned by Benedict XIV.
A curiosity: the interior decoration of the Palace was constantly changing, based on the tastes of the different Popes, some of them more lovers of luxury, others decidedly more austere. Benedict XIII, for example, donated the luxurious furnishings of his predecessor Clement XII to the wife of James III of England.
In any case, all the art treasures accumulated by the Popes during three centuries came to a bad end when in 1798, following the capture of Pope Pius VI by the French troops, the Quirinal was swept away by the revolutionary wave of Jacobins: the building was completely sacked by the army which, as the chronicles of the time tell, also took away the doors.
After this disastrous parenthesis, in 1800 the Quirinal hosted again a pontiff, Pius VII, who did not have an easy life: having condemned the Napoleonic regime, he was arrested by the Emperor’s militia on the night of July 5th 1809 and deported.
Two years later, Napoleon Bonaparte declared the Palace an “imperial building” and entrusted the architect Raffaele Stern with the task of making all the necessary modifications to adapt it to its new function. Fortunately, in 1814, Pope Pius VII returned triumphantly to the Quirinal Palace, which covered the Napoleonic decorations with the famous phrase “we will cover their idols with our Madonnas“.
Throughout the 19th Century the Palace was the protagonist of many important historical events, including the conclave opened after the death of Pius VII, which took place in the halls of the Palace and which saw Pope Leo XII elected. This was repeated three more times, until the election in 1846 of Pope Pius IX, who pronounced the famous blessing to Italy from the Blessings Lodge, welcomed by the Liberals.
In 1848, however, the Quirinal was hastily abandoned by the Pope, fleeing the Roman Republic, and for three months Giuseppe Mazzini settled in the papal apartments, before being expelled by the return of the Pope.
We arrive at 1870, and the famous Porta Pia Breach.
After many indecisions regarding the choice of the palace that should have hosted the King in the new capital, the Quirinal was chosen (at the request of the King himself, who sent a telegram). The official settlement took place in 1871, preceded by the arrival of Princes Umberto and Margherita di Savoia. For the Palace began then a golden period: the princess was very fond of the mundane life, and organized every Wednesday great dances, while the following day was dedicated to literary meetings, which were attended by several important men of culture.
In 1896, however, with the ascent to the throne of Victor Emmanuel III, the illuminations of the dances were extinguished forever: the royal family moved to a villa outside Porta Salaria and the palace was used only as official seat.
During the First World War the building was used as a military hospital: in the large frescoed rooms, removed the furniture and precious furnishings, were placed rows and rows of cots for the wounded.
In 1946 finally the Quirinal Palace hosted Umberto II of Savoy and his family for a few months before the advent of the Republic. From that year, the Palace became the official seat of the Presidents of the Italian Republic.
THE QUIRINAL PALACE
We’ll give you just a brief description of the interior, as the Quirinal Palace can be visited only at certain times and following a predetermined route.
From the large portal of Maderno that overlooks the square, surmounted by the elegant Blessings Loggia designed by Bernini, you can access the large rectangular courtyard.
On the left, at the end of the two long porticoed wings, there is the 16th Century Mascherino Palace, built on behalf of Pope Gregory XIII, which ends with an elegant turret, decorated with a mosaic designed by Carlo Maratta, depicting the “Virgin and Child“.
The dozens and dozens of halls contain many masterpieces of art, among which are worth mentioning:
- the “Blessing Christ” by Melozzo da Forlì, placed at the top of the staircase of honor, part of an ancient fresco whose further remains can be found today in the Vatican Art Gallery (visit it with the extended version of the Vatican Museums Tour);
- the frieze of the Corazzieri Room, frescoed by Agostino Tassi and Giovanni Lanfranco;
- the large marble lunette depicting the “Wash of Feet“, sculpted by Taddeo Landini in 1578 for St. Peter’s Basilica and then transported to the Quirinal in 1616;
- the Pauline Chapel, of the same size as the Sistine Chapel, with colored marble floor and splendid decoration of the vault;
- the Annunziata Chapel decorated by Guido Reni with works of refined elegance.
THE QUIRINAL GARDENS
Almost completely unknown (even to the Romans) are the Quirinal Gardens, which are the remains of the large park of the villa of Ippolito d’Este and which still maintain a remarkable charm. Among the most interesting things, it is worth mentioning the “Coffee House“, built by Ferdinando Fuga in 1741 for Pope Benedict XIV, which contains three rooms with a rather simple structure, with vaults decorated with stuccoes by Cocciolini, in which are inserted some paintings by Pompeo Batoni, van Bloemen and Masucci. Interesting are the two views of Rome by the painter Pannini, placed on the walls of the left room.
THE “LONG SLEEVE”
Now take Via del Quirinale, whose left side is flanked by the long building called “Long Sleeve“, which ends at the corner with Via dei Giardini, whose history we briefly summarize. A first stretch of the building, which originally overlooked Via Pia (today Via del Quirinale) was built by Sixtus V to be used as barracks for the Swiss Guards.
Later, between 1656 and 1659, Alexander VII commissioned Bernini to rearrange the entire wing. The final segment, which develops for a length of 9 windows, was added by Alessandro Specchi on behalf of Innocent XIII in 1721. A further addition was made by Ferdinando Fuga between 1730 and 1732, who concluded the long prospectus of the “Long Sleeve“, on which opens a very long theory of windows all the same.
Fuga included in his work also the so-called “House of the Captain of the Swiss“, which in 1870 underwent a radical transformation because it was chosen by Victor Emmanuel II as his private home. In that occasion were destroyed the 18th Century decorations, the Little Chapel of the Swiss and the beautiful fountain that adorned the courtyard. All this was replaced by a bedroom, a bathroom and a fumoir for the king, plus three rooms decorated by mediocre painters of the time.
With the advent of the Republic, the building was destined to be the home and study of the President of the Republic and therefore cannot be visited.
THE CHURCH OF “LITTLE ST. CHARLES”
You arrive now to the already examined facade of St. Andrew at the Quirinal, a masterpiece by Bernini, separated by a small garden from another masterpiece of Roman Baroque architecture, the Church of St. Charles at the Four Fountains, one of the last works made by Francesco Borromini before he committed suicide in 1667.
The real name of this wonderful church would be Holy Trinity and St. Charles Borromeo, but it has always been nicknamed “Little St. Charles” by the Romans: the nickname certainly derives from its small size, which is said to be smaller than one of the four pillars supporting St. Peter’s Basilica.
The history of St. Charles begins at the beginning of the 17th Century, when the Spanish Trinitarians (who still reside there today) decided to open a seat in Rome, but without having many economic means. Initially the friars erected a tiny chapel, but after a few years, as the order increased in importance, the Trinitarians bought some land in the immediate vicinity of the chapel, to build a real church and a convent, entrusting the direction of the works to Borromini.
The first building to be built was just the convent, started in 1634 and finished two years later. The church took a little more time: it started in 1638, was consecrated in 1646 when it was still without the facade, which was started only in 1664 and finished by the artist’s nephew Bernardo in 1670.
Borromini’s work, really brilliant, was immediately greeted with great enthusiasm, being defined “extraordinary, artificial and capricious“.
The façade, characterized by a skilful play of volumes and lines determined by the contrast between concave and convex surfaces, has two superimposed orders and is made entirely of travertine. In the center is the portal, flanked by two smaller columns and surmounted by the statue of St. Charles Borromeo, a work executed between 1675 and 1680 by Antonio Raggi, enclosed in a niche framed by the long wings of two cherubs. The other two statues placed in the niches at the sides represent St. John de Matha and St. Felix of Valois.
The facade ends with a balcony, interrupted in the center by an oval supported by two angels, in which once was painted a “Trinity” (now disappeared). Above the side windows are carved two deer heads, emblem of the order of the Trinitarians.
Inside, with an elliptical plan, characterized by an evident sobriety, there are some niches chiseled by refined stuccoes with decorative motifs. Decidedly particular is the vault of the dome, with octagonal and hexagonal coffers, among which are inserted other coffers in the shape of a cross, another emblem of the Trinitarians.
The visit of the church must necessarily include the entrance to the sacristy, where is kept the valuable painting by the Caravaggesque Orazio Borgianni, which depicts “St. Charles Borromeo who adores the Trinity” and the small, refined cloister of the convent, completed in 1644 also by Borromini. It is a real jewel, with a flattened octagonal plan, decorated in the center by a small octagonal well.
THE FOUR FOUNTAINS
The Church of St. Charles has a corner with the intersection of Via del Quirinale and Via delle Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains Street). The view of the perspectives at the end of the streets that make up the crossroads, the result of the urban plan conceived by Sixtus V, is truly spectacular: on one side the Michelangelo’s prospect of Porta Pia, on the other the two “Dioscuri“, while at the other two ends the obelisk of Spanish Steps and the one raised in front of the apse of St. Mary Major.
In 1589 Domenico Fontana smoothed the corners of the four corner palaces and placed some statues lying inside as many niches. The statues, executed in a rather rough way, take up again the classical typology of the river divinities, and represent the Tiber and the Arno (male figures) opposed to the Fortress and the Loyalty (female figures). To each of them has been coupled a fountain, built by some owners of existing buildings nearby.
Now take Via delle Quattro Fontane, going down towards Piazza Barberini. Along the way you will meet some important buildings including, in front of the entrance to the garden of the Barberini Palace, the 19th Century house (house number 159) where the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio lived with his wife Maria Hardouin.
Halfway down, on the right side of the street, is the monumental gate with eight travertine pillars, decorated with telamons, made in 1864 by the architect Francesco Azzurri. This is the majestic access to the Barberini Palace.
THE BARBERINI PALACE
“Quod non fecerunt barberi, fecerunt Barberini“: what the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did. This is the unfortunate motto with which the Barberini family is known in the history of the eternal city.
Yet their rise is relatively recent, compared to that of other Roman princely families such as the Colonna or the Massimo. The lineage that gave birth to the famous Pope Urban VIII comes from a Tuscan village, Barberino, where the family has been known since the 12th Century.
In the 14th Century, the Barberini family moved to Florence, where they began to trade in wool with discreet success, an activity to which they remained faithful for entire generations.
The first Barberini to spend part of his life in Rome was Antonio, who at the end of the 15th Century retired to live in the eternal city, in a house near St. John of the Florentines.
It was Maffeo Barberini, however, who gave glory to the house. After studying first in Rome and then in Pisa, he moved towards an ecclesiastical career, and in a short time, thanks to his exceptional diplomatic skills, he was appointed cardinal in 1606.
Less than twenty years later, in 1623, he became Pope with the name of Urban VIII. From that moment on, a period of enormous prosperity began for his family, which culminated in the construction of the magnificent Barberini Palace, one of the most magnificent in Rome at the time.
On the site where the building now stands there was, in the 16th Century, the villa of Cardinal Pio da Carpi, bought in 1549 by Giacomo Cesi, resold a few years later to the Della Rovere family and then sold again in 1578 to Alessandro Sforza.
The complex, described by the chronicles of the time as “the most delightful place in Rome and all of Italy“, had to be truly spectacular.
In 1625 the Sforza family were almost completely broke, and were forced to sell the villa to Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who gave it to his brother Taddeo, nephew of Urban VIII, the following year.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE PALACE
The construction work began almost immediately, directed by Carlo Maderno, assisted by Domenico Castelli and Francesco Borromini. In 1629, the year of Maderno’s death, the Palace had only just begun: the construction was continued by an emerging young architect, the thirty-one year old Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who completed it in 1633, working in close collaboration with what would later become his rival, Borromini.
The front façade, towards the Four Fountains Street, consists of a central elevation with three orders of loggias flanked by two long and massive lateral foreparts.
The structure of the central body, made light by the abundance of windows, is contrasted by the lateral wings, much more compact, in which two orders of architraved windows open.
To the two sides of the atrium the two staircases, executed by the two rival architects, can be admired. On the left is Bernini’s monumental staircase, whose walls are decorated with statues from the Barberini collection and which leads to the upper floors, occupied by the National Gallery of Ancient Art.
Exactly on the opposite side is Borromini’s spiral staircase, an absolute architectural masterpiece, which originally allowed access to the palace’s library.
THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ANCIENT ARTS
The National Gallery of Ancient Art, housed inside Palazzo Barberini, occupies part of the main floor and the second floor. It houses paintings from the Corsini and Torlonia collections, donated to the Italian State at the end of the 19th Century and brought together in 1895.
Among these, there are masterpieces such as the “Madonna of Tarquinia” by Filippo Lippi, works by Titian and Tintoretto, two sketches by El Greco, the famous “Fornarina” by Raphael, the “Portrait of Henry VIII” by Hans Holbein the Younger and many other works.
In the museum itinerary of the Gallery there is also the majestic hall with the vault frescoed by Pietro da Cortona between 1633 and 1639, with what has been defined his greatest pictorial masterpiece: the “Triumph of Divine Providence“, commissioned by Pope Urban VIII and executed on the basis of a subject provided by the poet and man of letters Francesco Bracciolini, a close friend of the pontiff.
THE GARDENS OF THE BARBERINI PALACE
The garden of the palace deserves at least a look, because it houses two interesting curiosities: the “ruinante” (ruined) bridge, a fanciful invention by Bernini that connects some rooms of the south facade with the garden (built as a ruined bridge, with two arches that seem to be about to collapse at any moment), and the “mithraeum Barberini“, an underground temple dedicated to the Persian god Mithra, which came to light during some excavation works carried out in 1936.
THE FAMOUS SHOWS
We conclude the paragraph with a touch of worldliness: among the various parties given by the Barberini in the rooms of their sumptuous residence, we must remember the one that took place in the Courtyard of the Horsewoman, transformed into a theater on the occasion of the coming to Rome of Queen Christine of Sweden.
The show, which was attended by all the most prominent representatives of the Roman aristocracy, was staged on the evening of February 28th 1656. For the occasion on the sides of the courtyard were built two staircases in which more than three thousand people took place, rushed en masse to attend the carousel, which consisted of a parade of chariots with mythological subjects, escorted by trumpeters and knights with large hats of colored feathers. Scenographies and costumes, of which direct testimony remains in a canvas painted for the occasion, were designed by the family’s private set designer, Giovan Francesco Grimaldi.
Leave now the barberini palace, and overlook Via Rasella.
Via Rasella, which in ancient times was called “Rosella” because of the property of the Roselli family, has gone down in history for the terrible attack of March 23th 1944, organized by the armed groups of partisans against thirty-two German soldiers.
The following day the Germans, led by the SS officer Kappler, transported to the Fosse Ardeatine (a tuff quarry located between the catacombs of Domitilla and San Callisto on the via Ardeatina) 335 among political prisoners (civil and military), Jews or simple suspects (chosen together with the fascist quaestor Caruso) and slaughtered them, blowing up with dynamite the vaults of the tunnel to obstruct the access to the quarry.