A marvellous photograph of the remains of the Quirinal temple staircase in 1930

The massive temple on the Quirinal hill in Rome is now gone, but substantial remains still exist of the twin brick staircases, and the stair-well, down the hill.  Unfortunately they stand in the gardens of the Colonna palace, which is not very accessible; and on the other side is the Gregorian University.

However the Gregorian University was only constructed in the early 1930s.  A marvellous photograph exists, showing the site under construction.  Behind it, clearly visible, is the huge square carcass of the stairwell, and the twin staircases on either side!

The picture was printed by Rabun Taylor in his marvellous article arguing (convincingly) that the temple was built by Hadrian, and the stairwell by Severus.[1]  Here it is:

For convenience, here’s an extract highlighting the staircases on either side.  The house built into the Roman arches in between is later.

It’s worth repeating one of the renaissance drawings of the same area (by Giovanolli).  It is incredible to think this mostly still exists!

  1. [1]R. Taylor, “Hadrian’s Serapeum in Rome”, American Journal of Archaeology 108 (2004), 223-66; p.228 fig.6. Online here.

A renaissance engraver: some notes on G. da Sangallo and the Quirinal temple

A kind correspondent (R. Fassaert) has sent me an image of one of the plates in the new Atlas of Ancient Rome, featuring the huge temple on the Quirinal Hill in Rome, about which I have written a series of posts.  The temple was thought to be Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun; then a Hadrianic Temple of Serapis; and the authors of that Atlas propose that it was a temple of Hercules and Dionysius.

“Tab.192” includes a plan and section by a certain “G. da Sangallo”.  The image I have is low-resolution, but looks intriguing:

Of course it may be to some extent a reconstruction.  But where is it from?

In common with many other sources, the Atlas leaves the reader at a loss.  Engravings apparently magically appear.  But I wondered if anything might be online.

The author turns out to be Giuliano da Sangallo (or San Gallo), who died in 1516.  Italian Wikipedia has an article on him, from which I learn that he was a true renaissance man, who started with wood-carving and went into architecture and much else.

The notes tell me that manuscript of sketches is preserved in the Vatican in Ms. Barberini lat. 4424.  My friend J.-B.Piggin provides a link to the manuscript online, which is here.  It’s also now possible to save individual pages to file, which is most useful, as we shall see.

On first sight it did not contain what we were looking for.  But a further search for da Sangallo and the Quirinal[1] led me[2] to a really useful article at Academia.edu by Dr Cammy Brothers, precisely about Da Sangallo and the temple on the Quirinal hill.[3]  This tells us that there are 7 drawings, all in the Barberini codex: on fol. 10r, 60r, 60v, 68v.  The plan and section are folios 65r and 65v.

But looking at the manuscript, the reader is puzzled.  Folios 65r and 65v are blank.  Fol. 10r contains nothing relating to the Quirinal temple.  68v is blank.  The page numbers are corrupt.

Like all these online interfaces, it is hard to use as first.  But it got easier as I worked with it.  I found, by scanning through the thumbnails, that the images of the section and plan are in fact folios 57r and 57v.  The top of 57r is a bunch of figures from the arch of Severus in Rome.  So here’s the bottom of that page:

G. da Sangallo, Codex Barberini lat. 4424, fol. 57r, bottom: a section of the Quirinal Hill temple

I cannot make out the writing, however, even at maximum resolution, however.

Here’s the plan of the temple, on the next page, slightly edited.

G. da Sangallo, Codex Barberini latin. 4424, fol. 7v. Plan of the Quirinal temple.

Can any reader make out the writing?

Folio 60v does indeed show the pediment of the temple, before its demolition, on the left.

(One must deplore the vandalism of the circular Vatican logo across the picture, and I hope that the curators recognise how obnoxious this is, and remove it.)

It is perhaps likely that Dr Brothers did not consult the manuscript, but rather the reproduction by C. Hülsen (1910).[4]  Maybe this had different folio numbers.

I cannot recommend too highly the article by Cammy Brothers. It is a treasure trove.  It contains reproductions of other drawings, and also calculations of the size of the monument as it then was.  It also contains computer-generated reconstructions.  In short it is a very useful article indeed, which I only encountered by accident.

The Barberini codex is not the only online item by G. da Sangallo.  Wikipedia also told me of a “Sienese sketchbook” (Taccuino senese), held at the Biblioteca degli intronati in Siena.  Rather to my surprise, this also proves to be online, although in a 1902 anastatic copy, at Google Books here.  But it had no material on the temple.

It all goes to show that, with a little effort, it really is possible for a non-specialist to locate these drawings.  How fortunate we are to live in the age of the internet!

Let’s finish with a striking image, not of the Quirinal temple, by Da Sangallo which I found on Wikimedia Commons.  Apparently it depicts the ruins of the Basilica Aemilia in 1480!

The Basilica Aemilia in 1480, by G. da Sangallo.

But once again this is actually from the Barberini Codex, fol.28r.[5]

It is nice to make use of a Vatican manuscript from a hotel room.  This would hardly have been dreamt of, even a few years ago.

  1. [1]“giuliano da sangallo quirinale”
  2. [2]Via the German Wikipedia article on the temple of Serapis.
  3. [3]Cammy Brothers, “Reconstruction as design: Giuliano da Sangallo and the ‘palazzo di mecenate’ on the Quirinal Hill”, Annali di architettura: Rivista del Centro internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio di Vicenza 14, 2002, 55-72. Online here.
  4. [4]C. Hülsen, Il libro di Giuliano da Sangallo: codice Vaticano Barberiniano Latino 4424, I-II, Lepizig, 1910.
  5. [5]Little as I like Wikipedia, I think I will add a note to the Wikimedia Commons page, if I can.

A fake item on eBay

There are many antiquities for sale on eBay.  But it is very much “buyer beware”.  One item caught my eye a couple of weeks ago:

“ROMAN Ancient Artifact BRONZE PLATE with INSCRIPTION Circa 200-400 AD -4234″… “Circa 200-400 AD. WEIGHT:23.3 g. A Certificate of Authenticity will be issued on request but it will cost extra. CONDITION: FINE.” … “Business seller information: GsalesR.  Contact details: Georgi Kolev, 98 Clacton Road, Walthamstow, London, London E17 8AR, United Kingdom”.  It was sold for a mighty £150, around $220.

The inscription reminded me of something, and, after a while, I found it.  The inscription is identical with that on a slave-collar, in the museum in Rome in the Baths of Diocletian:


I have run away. Catch me. If you return me to my master Zoninus, you will receive a solidus.

So did Zoninus really have this on more than one slave?  Or, more likely, did some enterprising modern chap stamp out an “ancient” artefact, and stick a copy of the inscription on it?  Just how did “Georgi Kolev” of Walthamstow come to have this, and many other Roman items, all dated 200-400 AD?

I think a reasonable man will assume that this is a fake.  Indeed probably all of this seller’s items are fakes.

I am reminded of the wise words of Amelia Edwards about Egyptian antiquities dealers in A Thousand Miles Up The Nile:

Forgers, diggers, and dealers play, meanwhile, into one another’s hands, and drive a roaring trade. Your dahabeeyah, as I have just shown, is beset from the moment you moor till the moment you pole off again from shore. The boy who drives your donkey, the guide who pilots you among the tombs, the half-naked Fellâh who flings down his hoe as you pass, and runs beside you for a mile across the plain, have one and all an “anteekah” to dispose of. The turbaned official who comes, attended by his secretary and pipe-bearer, to pay you a visit of ceremony, warns you against imposition, and hints at genuine treasures to which he alone possesses the key. The gentlemanly native who sits next to you at dinner has a wonderful scarab in his pocket. In short, every man, woman, and child about the place is bent on selling a bargain ; and the bargain, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, is valuable in so far as it represents the industry of Luxor – but no farther. A good thing, of course, is to be had occasionally ; but the good thing never comes to the surface as long as a market can be found for the bad one. It is only when the dealer finds he has to do with an experienced customer, that he produces the best he has.

Genuine items do appear on eBay.  But caveat emptor.

From my diary

There’s no news on any of my projects.  I’m still busy earning a living, and I have had no time or energy to do anything else.

A copy of Sevcenko’s edition and translation of The Life of St Nicholas of Sion has reached me.  It made interesting reading, as clearly the cult of Nicholas of Myra was in full swing at that period.  It was also interesting how readable the Greek text was, on facing pages!  My eye kept drifting across there – far from a normal event with parallel texts – and finding stuff that I recognised.  Larger text and better spacing draws you into it.

Today I booked the flights for a short trip to Rome in late October.  I had to choose between the Crowne Plaza hotel, which looked fine but was not very close to the city centre; and another right in the centre but 50% more.  In the end I chose the latter.

It was interesting to see that lastminute.com really offered some excellent deals.  Even more interesting, however, was to compare a bundled flights+hotel with booking separately.  The bundled format was only $50 cheaper, once you worked it out for exactly the same flights, and prevented you from booking upgrades with the airline.

I am looking forward to Rome.  It’s been a long year.  Wish me luck with the weather!

A rather useful plan of the Quirinal temple

A correspondent, Rene Fassaert, has directed my attention to a 1910 two-volume item Monuments Antiques, which contains some architectural materials for ancient Greece and Rome.[1]  It’s online in very high resolution at the University of Texas here.

On p.172 of the second volume (p.77 of the PDF), there is a splendid plan of the massive temple on the Quirinal Hill in Rome.  This very clearly relates the great stairwell down the hill to the existing layout of the Colonna gardens.

The plate also contains a reconstruction of the whole plan of the temple.  For some reason the original had this upside down, so I have corrected it.

Here it is.  As ever, click on it for a larger image.

Much of the area of gardens to the left of the plan is now part of the Gregorian University.  But the plan is still useful as a guide to what might be where.

UPDATE: I have had to reduce the size of the image, as the downloads were too much for my site bandwidth.  You can of course follow the link to get the full size original.

  1. [1]Monuments antiques : relevés et restaurés par les architectes pensionnaires de l’Académie de France à Rome; / notices archéologiques par Georges Seure, 2 vols, 1910.

Another marvel through Google maps – the South Arcade of the Quirinal stairway!

After posting my last, I went back and played a bit more with Google maps on the Quirinal hill.  And I found … something marvellous!  Here it is:

This is part of the arcades of the Southern wall of the great stairwell that ran from the vast temple on the Quirinal – of the Sun, according to some, of Serapis according to others – down to the plain.  It’s clearly visible in an old drawing by van Heemskerk:

Southern outer wall, in old pictures

And in this:

Mercati (1629), Aurelian’s temple of the sun in Rome

And here:

But who would have thought to see that sloping arcade now?

Using Google Maps to “fly” around the ruins of the temple of Serapis on the Quirinal hill

This morning I accidentally discovered the 3D feature of Google Maps.  If you search for the Quirinal Hill in Rome, turn on the Satellite view, and then hold down the control key, you can “fly” around the area.  Not every area of the world is filmed in this detail; but for the gardens of the Colonna palace, where the ruins of the vast temple of the Sun (or of Serapis) lurk invisibly, it is just amazing!

Here’s a screen grab that I made just now.  The southern wall of the great staircase that descended from the temple to the plain is on the left, the northern wall is further away, and the massive chunks of the pediment are on the terrace to the right:

Ruins of the Temple of Serapis on the Quirinal

Here’s another view, taken the same way, but looking from the other side:

These make it quite plain that the temple itself mainly stood where the scuderia or stables of the Quirinal Palace now stand; and also that the intrusion of the buildings of the Gregorian University into the stairwell –  a modern thing – is very unfortunate.  Also obvious is how the Roman buildings have been reused.

Rather marvellous.  But these screen shots give no idea, really.  Fire up Google Maps, and start zooming and flying around!

The modern remains of the Quirinal hill temple of the Sun / Serapis – map and photographs

I’ve written a few posts now about the vast temple whose remains may still be seen on the Quirinal hill in Rome (but only if you know where to look, and can get into the gardens of the Palazzo Colonna).  Early engravers considered that this is the remains of Aurelian’s temple of the sun; German scholars of the early 20th century that it is the remains of Caracalla’s temple of Serapis; but the truth is unknown.

If you go to Rome, and walk over the Quirinal hill, as I have done, it is remarkably hard to work out just where it was.  So I was very pleased to come across a very useful map, on p.376 of Ernest Nash’s Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1961).  Here it is:

Map of the location of Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun / Serapis, with the Baths of Constantine.

The temple faced what is now the Quirinal piazza, and the long square box at the back is the stairways down to the plain.  Substantial remains exist of the outer walls of these staircases, which appear within the grounds of the Gregorian University, to the left, and the gardens of the Colonna Palace to the right.  I have never been able to get into either, I should add.

Nash’s entry is brief:

SERAPIS, Templum. The ruins of a building on the west slope of the Quirinal have been identified as the Temple of Serapis (CIL VI, 570), which was built by Caracalla in the VI Region (CodTop I, p. 107). Part of the ruins lies in the gardens of the Palazzo Colonna, and part in the Universita Gregoriana Pontificia. Until early in the 17th century, part of the rear wall of the temple cella was still standing, and it is known to us from numerous 16th century drawings as “Torre Mesa”, “Torre di Mecenate”, or ‘Frontispizio di Nerone” (s. Egger, Römische Veduten II, 86 88). A corner-piece of the marble pediment of the rear wall, and a fragment of the marble frieze, have lain in the gardens of the Palazzo Colonna since about 1630 when the wall was destroyed. A monumental double-stairway led down from the temple on the Quirinal to the Campus Martius; part of its enclosure walls and sections of four partition walls are still preserved.

A. Palladio, I quattro libri dell’architettura, 1570, I, pp. 64, 66; IV, pp. 41-47; A. Nibby, Rom Ant II, p. 715 f.; R. Lanciani, NSc, 1878. pp. 92, 369; L. Urlichs, RM III, 1888, p. 98; Ch. Hülsen, RhM XLIX, 1894, pp. 392-396; id., BCom XXIII, 1895, pp. 39 59; R. Lanciani, BCom XXII. 1894, pp. 297-307; XXIII, 1895, pp. 94-101; id., Ruins, pp. 428-432 (Bibl; p. 432); id., Storia II, pp. 154 f., 249 f.; III, pp. 203 205; IV, pp. 97 f., 155 f.; H. Jordan, Top I, 3, pp. 421 423; M. Marchetti, BCom XLII, 1914, p. 374; G. Cultrera, MemLinc 5, XVIII, 1923. p. 528 f.; Röm Gebalke I, pp. 73-84; Th. Ashby, The years work in class. studies XX, 1926-27, p. 103; P-A, pp. 487, 491 f; H, Kahler, RM LI1, 1937, p. 94 f.; G. Lugli, Mon III, pp. 279, 304-307; M. Santangelo, Quirinale, pp. 154-177; L. Crema, ArchRom, p. 521.

As we have seen, Palladio is definitely online, and doubtless most of the older items are too, although I have not looked.

Where Nash really scores is in a series of monochrome detailed photographs of the surviving walls of the temple stairwell.  I would really recommend consulting a printed copy – my copies are not very good quality.  But, such as they are, here they are:

Stairwell – the northern outer wall, from outside
The same northern outer wall, end on, and a transverse partition wall

The arch visible in the partition wall is also depicted in the views of the structure from the 16th century. This shows the northern wall to the left, the southern wall to the right (of which more in a moment), the now destroyed corner of the temple at the top right.  But it also shows the arches in the transverse, joining left and right.  How fascinating to know that these still exist!

The next photo must relate to the northern outer wall, but I’m not clear how!

Substructure of the stairways, visible in the Universita Gregoriana

It’s not quite clear to me where this “substructure” stuff is, except that it must be outside the northern outer wall of the staircase.  A bit mysterious, this.

The other side of the stairwell wall is also preserved, in the Colonna gardens:

Southern outer wall of the staircase and terraces

This is more intelligible if we look at a couple of old drawings, which Nash helpfully reproduces:

Southern outer wall, in old pictures

An image that I found online shows that, prior to 1630, at least one of the temple columns was preserved.  I’m not sure who this drawing is by – if it is Giovanello, I did not see it in the copy that I inspected – but I found it here.  It also shows the fragment of the rear of the temple, the transverse arches along the back of the temple, and the southern outer wall of the temple.

The decoration of the pediment and frieze is clearly shown; and fragments of both are preserved, in blocks too massive to be easily destroyed, in the Colonna gardens:

Temple of the Sun, fragments of the pediment and frieze

Since these items are extant, there ought to be modern photographs.  The first is a view of the ruins from the “scuderie” of the Quirinal palace – the stables, which stand much where the temple did, via Wikipedia here.  The brick pillar must be part of the old Colonna palace shown in the drawing.

Remains of the temple of Serapis, looking from the Quirinal stables building

Here’s a picture from here (a great collection of photos of the Colonna gardens) of the southern outer wall, with part of the old Colonna palace depicted in the drawing above:

The southern outer wall of the stairwell, and part of the old Colonna palace

There are a few photographs from the Gregorian University of the North Stairway wall.  Here’s the first, via here:

Tempio di Serapide Gregoriana.jpg

Next up is the northern outer wall, plus the surviving transverse.  This looks towards the Quirinal palace, to the upper left.  Via here.

Gregoriana Tempio di Serapide 4 verso Quirinale

Wikipedia has a nice collection of modern photographs here.  But I think we should stop at this point!

Also indicated on the plan, very usefully, is the location of the now vanished Baths of Constantine.  I believe that some foundations of these may still be seen in the palazzo built over them.  But that’s another story!

A useful list of Syriac and Arabic chroniclers

French blogger Albocicade writes to say that he has compiled a list of Syriac and Arabic chronicles on his blog.  I found this rather useful, to see it in a condensed form.  Better still, he has linked the entries to online versions of the text or translation.  Very useful, I think!

It’s here.