As Italy prepares to elect a new President by the end of January, we take you inside what has been the official residence of the presidents of the Italian Republic since 1947: the magnificent Quirinale Palace.
Set on the Quirinal Hill, the highest of the seven hills of Rome, the building - which extends over an area of 110,500 square meters, making it the 6th largest palace in the world (the White House is 20 times smaller) - has housed 30 Popes, four Kings of Italy and 11 presidents of the Italian Republic.
The palace was originally built as a papal summer residence in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII, who wanted a location removed from the humidity and smell of the river Tiber and the unhealthy conditions of the Lateran Palace. The site had been in use since Roman times: here, the Romans built temples to several deities, including Quirinus, after whom the hill was named, and later a complex of Roman baths. Because of its high position, it became a popular residential location with the Roman patricians, who built their luxurious villas here. In fact, the Quirinale Palace was built over the remains of one of these villas, owned by the Carafa family.
After the death of Gregory XIII, the palace was acquired in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V, who appointed Domenico Fontana with designing the façade and enlarging the structure. The current aspect of the palace is largely due to Pope Paul V, who commissioned the completion of the work to architects Flaminio Ponzio and Carlo Maderno.
The Palace, besides being used as the location for papal conclaves a few times in the 19th century, housed the central offices responsible for the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. After Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1871, the palace became the official royal residence of the Kings of Italy. Following the abolition of the monarchy in 1946, the Palace became the official residence and workplace for the Presidents of the Italian Republic.
The 1,200-room palace is composed of the main building, built around a majestic courtyard, with the most beautiful halls serving as the representative offices and rooms of the Presidency of the Republic. The offices and apartments of the head of state are housed at the bottom of the Manica Lunga, the 360-meter-long south-eastern side of the building, while on the top are the opulent imperial apartments, which were specially arranged and furnished for two visits of German Emperor and King of Prussia Wilhelm II in 1888 and 1893; they now house the foreign heads of state visiting the Italian President.
The Quirinal Gardens, laid out in the 17th century, extend over four hectares, and were modified over time depending on the needs and taste of the papal courts.
Not just the presidents' estate, the Quirinale Palace is also a museum open to the public, housing many works of art, furniture, tapestries, decorations and architectures of great historic and artistic value, spanning a period that goes from the Renaissance through the 20th century.
The Quirinale Palace is open most Sundays, from 8:30 am to 12 pm. Visit the official website for the detailed schedule. You can also take a virtual tour here.