A seat of power throughout the centuries, the Quirinale has been Papal residence, royal palace during the Savoy monarchy, and today seat of Italy’s Presidency. Many world leaders have walked along the paths of its beautifully tended gardens adorned with spectacular fountains.
Since the 15th century the Quirinal Hill had been loved by refined humanists who used its small gardens for their literary banquets. Due to its central location in the city and its healthy fresh air, since the 16th century the Quirinal Hill was considered an ideal pleasure-palace location by many powerful cardinals, including Ippolito d’Este (the owner of Villa d’Este in Tivoli). Later it also became the summer seat of the Papacy. With its towers and high walls, the complex encloses one of the most highly praised gardens of that period, laid out in different areas, each with a different view of the city, with wooden structures forming galleries and domes lined with plants so that guests could take a stroll in the fresh shade. The formal gardens were laid out with blooming flowerbeds – with many valuable bulbous plants in the 17th century – and with a rich decor of ancient sculptures, of which only a part have survived. There was also a thicket with a large variety of trees and a rock fountain with a mosaic flooring and water features. The surrounding walls were covered with espaliers of citrus fruit and pomegranates. Each Pope left a sign of his personal taste, with the help of important architects and sculptors, creating a stratified complex which nonetheless remained based on the 16th-century structure, even though many fountains mentioned in the historical records are no longer in place. It was only at the end of the 19th century, with the arrival of the Savoy royal family, that the symmetries of the paths and flowerbeds were substituted by a more open and articulated layout, following the picturesque style that had become popular, even if belatedly, in Italy.
The Fontana dell’Organo
Built by order of Clemence VIII and completed in 1596, the Fountain of the Organ is a large niche reached by the three flights of steps that fan out, built taking advantage of the sloping surface of the hill. The walls and the vault are decorated with polychrome stucco and mosaics depicting the Stories of Moses and the Creation. The fountain contains a recently-restored hydraulic organ and on either side of it there are two rooms that were used as fresh and cool spaces to find refuge during the hot summer season. One of the rooms is a reproduction of Vulcan’s smithy and can be seen from the overhead terrace.
At the side of the palazzo there is a small oval-shaped boxwood maze dating back to Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) with a small obelisk the centre and cypress trees at the entrance. A good view of its structure can be enjoyed from terrace above the Casina Svizzera, a small 19th century rustic construction.
The Coffee house
During Benedetto XIV’s papacy, in 1741 architect Ferdinando Fuga built an elegant pavilion anticipating Neoclassic architecture. The three-arched loggia is flanked by two protruding spaces richly decorated with views of Rome and evangelical scenes. The wide openings of the loggia allowed people to enjoy the garden even in winter. The back of the building offers a beautiful view of the city.