Palazzo del Quirinale or the Quirinal Palace is one of three current residences of the President of the Italian Republic. Located on Quirinal Hill, which is the highest hill in Rome, the palace has been in use since Roman times when temples were built upon it devoted to deities such as Quirinus.
The palace was built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer residence. The Pope, who wanted to find a location which was far away from the humidity coming from the Tiber River, chose the Quirinal Hill as one of the most suitable places in Rome. There was already a small villa on the site owned by the Carafa family and rented to Luigi d’Este. The Pope commissioned architect Ottaviano Mascherino to build a palace with porticoed parallel wings and an internal courtyard by incorporating the Carafa Villa. That project was not fully completed due to the death of the Pope in 1585. Two decades later, Pope Paul V commissioned the completion of the work on the palace’s main building.
The palace served as a Papal residence and housed the central offices responsible for the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. In September 1870, what was left of the Papal States was occupied militarily and annexed to the Kingdom of Italy. Some five months later in 1871, Rome became the capital of the new Italian state. The palace became the official royal residence of the Kings of Italy, though some of these, notably King Victor Emmanuel III (reigned 1900 – 1946) actually lived in a private residence elsewhere, leaving the Quirinal to be used simply as a suite of offices and for State functions. The monarchy was abolished in 1946 and the palace became the official residence and workplace for the President of the Italian Republic.
The palace’s façade was designed by Domenico Fontana. Its Great Chapel was designed by Carlo Maderno. It contains frescos by Guido Reni, but the most famous fresco is the Blessing Christ by Melozzo da Forlì, placed over the stairs. The palace is composed of the main building, which is built around the majestic courtyard, with impressive halls and rooms in a complex that includes 1,200 rooms covering 1.2 million square feet. It is about 20 times the size of the White House in Washington, D.C.
The palace grounds include a famous set of gardens laid out in the 17th century, covering almost ten acres. It is from a trap door located in the gardens that entry can be gained to the archaeological excavations that have unearthed the remains of the original temple to the god Quirinus from the Roman Imperial Age. To date, it has served as the residence for thirty Popes, four Kings of Italy and twelve Presidents of the Italian Republic.