Some dictionary material on the Quirinal temple of the Sun / Serapis

I was able to acquire access to a couple of reference tomes, and see what they had to say about this huge but mysterious temple.  Here’s the first of them.  Sadly the figure was not well reproduced in my copy.

From L. Richardson, A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, 1992, 341-2:

Remains of a very large temple that faced east stood south of Montecavallo until the seventeenth century. Together with its stair, this extended from Piazza della Pilotta to the fountain of Montecavallo (Fig. 72). The rear corner of the temple, built of blocks of peperino and carrying the marble entablature and a corner of the pediment, against which was built a medieval defense tower, was known variously as Torre Mesa, Torre di Mecenate, and Frontispizio di Nerone. Remains of a great stair leading to the temple from the plain below still survive in the gardens of Palazzo Colonna and the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana, and records of these have been left by artists, notably van Heemskerck, who gives a panorama of what was to be seen in the sixteenth century (2.81 v, 82 r). There are also a plan by Palladio (Zorzi pls. 153-55 ) and drawings of the entablature and corner of the pediment by Serlio and the Anonymous Destailleur (RomMitt 52 [1937]: 95 fig. 1). Fragments of the architecture, including an architrave block, parts of the frieze, and the corner block of the pediment, still lie in the gardens of Palazzo Colonna.

This complex was the subject of a famous debate toward the end of the nineteenth century between Hulsen, who wished to identify it as the Temple of Serapis (see Serapis, Aedes), built by Caracalla, and Lanciani, who held it to be the Temple of Sol (see Sol, Templum) built by Aurelian. Each advanced relays of argument for his identification, and since then topographers have generally held for one theory or the other. Most recently Nash (2.376-83) and Lugli (Lugli 1938, 304-7 ) have sided with Hulsen, whereas M . Santangelo (MemPontAcc, ser. 3.5 [1940-41]: 154-77 ) has sided with Lanciani. Only H. Kàhler (RomMitt 52 [1937]: 9 4 —105) has been bold enough to reject both identifications, yet he is unquestionably correct. The architectural ornament of the temple is unmistakably Hadrianic (cf. PBSR, n.s., 8, vol. 21 [1953]: 118-51 [D. Strong]). Moreover, the pronaos, as Palladio has drawn it, is a close congener of the pronaos of Hadrian’s Pantheon, with its lines of columns leading back to important niches between pronaos and cella. It has been argued that the brickwork in the walls of the monumental stair approaching the temple is typically Severan (see Lugli 1938, 306-7), but there seems to have been no confirmation of this from the evidence of brickstamps. If it is Severan, it must be a later addition to a Hadrianic building.

Palladio shows the temple as peripteral, sine postico, pseudo-dipteral, with twelve columns on the façade and fourteen down the flanks. It is mounted on a platform with seven steps running around the three colonnaded sides. The pronaos is deep, with eight columns in pairs behind the third, fifth, eighth, and tenth columns of the façade. These flank niches in the cella wall, semicircular to either side, and rectangular for the door in the middle. The interior is believed to have been hypaethral, with colonnades down the sides in two storeys, Ionic below, Corinthian above. The total height of the main order has been calculated as 21.17 m (Alberti), the entablature as 4.83 m. It was a huge temple, on the order of the Temple of Venus et Roma, and set at the back of a large precinct finished, at least along the back, with a wall behind an addorsed colonnade, in the bays of which were niches, alternately rectangular and semicircular. At the front of the precinct were found the statues of the horse tamers that still adorn Montecavallo, although perhaps they belonged to the Thermae Constantinianae (MemPontAcc, ser. 3.5 [1940-41]: 158, 161 [M. Santangelo]).

The approach from the plain of the Campus Martius was complicated, and the drawings of it are difficult to read. It consisted of a double stair on each side of an open court, the inner stair on each side steeper than the outer. The stairs were roofed, so there was a subtle element of surprise introduced, but there were windows along the sides, so one could admire the view along the way. At the top one had to make a detour to enter the precinct, where the view of the flank of the temple would be enhanced. The stairs were carried on vaults, and a number of vaulted chambers filled the back of the court between them. It is not clear what the use of these rooms may have been. Lanciani (LS 1.38) believed that blocks of these stairs were robbed in 1348 to build the stair leading up to the church of S. Maria in Aracoeli.

The arguments in favor of identifying this as the Temple of Salus are simply that it is in approximately the right place with respect to the Porta Salutaris and would have a certain prominence, consonant with its having been repeatedly struck by lightning. We know of no Hadrianic rebuilding of the Temple of Salus, but coins bearing the image of Salus and the legend Salus Augusti are particularly numerous in Hadrian’s principate (see, e.g., B. M. Coins. Rom. Emp. 3. cxlviii-clxix).

RomMitt 52 (1937): 94-105 (H. Kahler); Lugli 1938, 304-7 ; MemPontAcc, ser. 3.5 (1940-41): 154-77 (M. Santangelo); PBSR, n.s., 8, vol. 21 (1953): 118-51 (D. E. Strong); Nash 2.376-83 ; M. A. Marwood, The Roman Cult of Salus (BAR, Int. Ser. 465 [1988]): especially 2-15 .

[Lugli, G. I monumenti antichi di Romae suburbio. Vol. 3, A traverso le regioni. Rome 1938.
MemPontAcc = Memorie: Atti délla Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia.
PBSR = Papers of the British School at Rome.
RomMitt = Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung.]

From my diary

I’ve been at home this week with a cold, so I have been distracting myself by searching on my phone for material about the Quirinal temple.  But I shall have to go back to work on Monday, I think, boxes of tissues and all.

A colleague is looking for manuscripts online containing Chrysostom’s Expositio in Psalmos. (Pinakes list here).  It’s not clear that anything much is online, even now.  The Vatican digitisations seem to have skipped these mss.  I looked at the British Library, French National Library, and Spanish; nothing much.

Getting up, I look out of the window.  Rain is falling through the sunlight.

I’ve still got quite a bit of material about the Quirinal temple to post.  But I do not know whether I shall get to it or not.

I also have a pile of books which I wanted to turn into PDFs.  These will have to wait.  I also would like to get back to translating Eutychius, but this too must wait.  I’ve been collecting some recent scholarship on the quotations in the works of Eusebius of Caesarea.  But again I haven’t got to it.  So much to do.

During the week I am again in a hotel.  Sadly I find that in the evenings I must just relax, rather than sit at the computer, as I have done all day.  Oh well.  We can only do what we can do.

Peruzzi’s drawing shows the real arrangement of the stairs at Aurelian’s temple of the sun / Serapis on the Quirinal

At the back of the great temple on the Quirinal – often thought to be Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun, sometimes Caracalla’s Temple of Serapis – a great staircase ran down the hill to the plain.  Portions of the sides of this still remain; but the actual arrangement of this is unclear.  The steps themselves vanished in the 14th century, so even 16th century drawings must be treated with care.

Yesterday I found a 16th century drawing of this temple and staircase by Sallustio Peruzzi (Click to enlarge).

Plan and elevation (Sallustio Peruzzi)

It is entirely consistent with Palladio’s plan, which leaves the disposition of the staircase unclear.

However Palladio also gives a nonsense reconstruction of the stairs, which is not consistent with his own plan:

Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun – staircases, as given by Palladio in 1570

It has misled the authors of the recent Atlas of Ancient Rome, whose diagram shows a block:

As I remarked earlier, the slope of the hill is gentle, and this enormous construction is simply unnecessary, and unevidenced.

Peruzzi is almost certainly right, I believe.  His view is also consistent with this drawing of the stair side-walls from the period.

So… unless any further evidence is forthcoming, that’s how I think it should be seen.  Palladio’s block is just an architect’s fantasy, and should not be considered.

“Numerous 16th century drawings” of the Temple of the Sun / Serapis in Rome

Let’s look for more evidence about the temple.  I learn that the ruins of Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun (or possibly Caracalla’s Temple of Serapis) on the Quirinal are depicted in “numerous” 16th century drawings, under the names of the “Torre Mesa” or “Torre di Mecenate” or “Frontispizio di Nerone”.[1]

Of course such a claim deserves to be tested – with a Google search!  Here are some results.

“The Temple of Serapis (or Frontispizio di Nerone) Rome”, from the circle of Circle of Willem van Nieulandt the Younger (d. ca. 1635), oil, 80×103 cms. Via here:

This is infinitely clearer than the black-and-white images that we have all seen.

A less clear item is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in high res here: an anonymous Dutch pen and ink drawing with red wash, 16th century, 22×33.4cm.  This is labelled “Palazzo Nerone”, which is perhaps the name of the miserable shack erected in the ruins of the stairwell of the temple.

Some of the enormous ruins left in the Colonna gardens may be seen here.  I am unclear what this image is, tho.

The following item is a reconstruction from 1879 “based on a 16th century drawing”:

Finally a mysterious fragment of a map, showing the corner of the temple, and also the adjacent Baths of Constantine, from here:

One item that has always bothered me (as showing the temple with the newly built Palazzo Quirinale, but with no idea where it comes from) is this:

Today I learn that this is “Il Quirinale con frontespizio di Nerone, Aloisio Giovannoli, 1616″.  Searching for this, I encounter an Italian blog discussing the removal of the stairs from the temple, to make stairs to the Ara Coeli on the Capitoline, in 1348.[2]  And this includes this plan of the temple, clearly showing the stairs!

Plan and elevation (Sallustio Peruzzi)

Peruzzi died in 1573.  It is frustrating that we do not know where this came from.  And I wish I could read any of the writing on this!

A treasure all the same.  Plainly there is more stuff out there to be seen.

UPDATE: Peruzzi’s drawing makes clear that Palladio’s drawing of the stairs must be fiction.  I draw together the real picture here.

  1. [1]E. Nash, A pictorial dictionary of ancient Rome, (1961), p.376.
  2. [2]Mastro Lorenzo e la scalinata del tempio di Serapide.” at Innamorati di Roma, 7 April 2015.

The stairs at the back of Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun

Relaxing in the bath after completing my last post, I had a sudden realisation.  I think that I know how the stair-complex worked at the back of the Temple of the Sun (or Temple of Serapis, as some think), on the Quirinal Hill in Rome.

The key to this is to think of the Spanish steps.  The height is about the same.  There’s no need for some complicated building.  All you have to do is to have the flights of steps on the hillside, going to and fro.

I’m no artist, but I hope this scribble will convey the idea:

Steps for “Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun” / “Temple of Serapis”, Quirinal Hill, Rome.

The steps start in the street at the foot of the hill.  Then they zigzag up the hillside, in pairs.  At the top, they go through the wall that ran behind the temple and encircled it.  On either side, the stairs are protected by two enormous walls, with arched openings in them to catch the breezes on a hot day.  There may not have been any roof.

If we look at the following image from the 16th century, we see very much what I have drawn above:

The source of this drawing is not known to me, but I was sent a photograph of it by a correspondent, who I believe saw it in the Colonna gardens.

Note how gentle the hill slope is!  There’s no need for some blocky building, such as this in the recent Atlas of Ancient Rome:

It’s just not that high a hill!  We don’t need all that superstructure.  (The little temple is imaginary).

This is where the artist has probably been misled by Palladio’s diagram:

This looks like a chunky building, with stair case above staircase.  But in reality we should think of these stairs as lying flat against the hill.  Because why wouldn’t you do that?

In fact this is what the Spanish Steps do, today:

This is, of course, only my suggestion.  But we do need to remember the slope is low, and gentle, and the walls alongside were long.  The squareish block-shape is contradicted by Palladio’s plan, and by common-sense.

Let’s refresh our memory with Palladio’s plan.

This seems baffling, especially when compared to Palladio’s diagram of the stairs.  But it does confirm the length of the stair building.

It’s a thought, anyway.  Probably an ignorant one, but certainly worth considering.

PS: Is “P129” perhaps “129 paces”?  If so, does that make the stairs 129 paces long?  And the temple building 203?  Is this plan actually foreshortened?

UPDATE: While searching for 16th century drawings, I found a new plan of the staircase by Sallustio Peruzzi.  This supports Palladio’s plan, and contradicts the picture of zigzag staircases utterly.  It is here.  I draw together the real picture here.

Palladio and the “Temple of the Sun” in Rome

I am not aware of any directory of sources for old prints and descriptions of Rome as it was in the 15-16th century.  This means that I discover such sources more or less by accident.  Earlier this week I came across another.

Palladio published in 1570 his book, I quattro libri, on architecture.  What I had not realised was that book 4 contains descriptions, with plans and measurements, of monuments in Rome.  This French site has downloads of the book, and also of a French translation.  The downloads are of inferior quality to the online images, for some strange reason.  Fortunately a later edition is accessible in high resolution at the Bavarian State Library.

The monuments of interest here are the so-called “Temple of the Sun” (often called the Temple of Serapis) on the Quirinal hill; and also the Baths of Constantine, next to them.  These were both standing to some extent in Palladio’s day.

The material on the Temple of the Sun is in book 4, starting on p.41.

Here is Palladio’s plan of the temple:The key appears on the preceding page.  As my French is better than my Italian, I shall translate that:

At Monte-Cavallo (formerly known as the Quirinal Hill), the remains of the next building are seen, near the palace of the noble Colonna family, which is known as the “Frontispiece of Nero”.  Some are of the opinion that this was the tower of Maecenas, and that from here Nero took pleasure in watching the city of Rome burning. But they are deceiving themselves, because the tower of Maecenas was on the Esquiline Hill, close to the Baths of Diocletian. Others have thought that it was the house of the Cornelii.  Myself I believe that it must have been a temple of Jupiter: because when I found myself formerly at Rome, I saw the foundations of this edifice being excavated, where some capitals of the Ionic order were discovered, which no doubt were used inside the temple; and it was even remarked that these were those of the corners of the colonnades, because the middle part, in my opinion, was still to be discovered. The appearance of this temple was that which Vitruvius calls Pseudodipteros, that is, with false wings: its manner Pycnostylos, with thick columns: the columns of the portico on the outside, of Corinthian order.  The architrave, frieze, and cornice made up a quarter of the height of the columns. The mouldings of the architrave were of a very fine invention. On two sides the frieze was full of foliage; but on the face, although nothing could be made out, it was nevertheless visible that it had carried some inscription.  The modillions[1] of the cornice are quatriform, and there is one exactly in the middle of each column.  The modillions of the cornice of the frontispiece are all vertical, and thus they must be made like that.  Inside the temple there were porticoes, as I depict in my illustration.  Around this temple there was a great courtyard adorned with columns and statues: and on the facade were these two great horses, one by the hand of Phidias, and the other by Praxiteles, which have given the name to the place where they are presently, which is called Monte Cavallo.  One ascends by very convenient steps to this temple, which, in my opinion, must be the largest and richest edifice that there was in Rome.

I have made six plates of it.  In the first is the map of the whole edifice, with the back part where were the stairs, which ascending from one to the other led into the courtyard of the temple.  The elevation of this manner of stairs, with the plan, is at the end of my first book, where I deal with various kinds of stairs.  In the second, is the side of the temple from outside.  In the third, is half of the facade of the temple from the outside.  In the fourth, is part of the inside: and in both these plates, a small portion of the ornaments of the courtyard is seen.  In the fifth, is the side of part of it, from the inside.  In the sixth, are the ornaments.

A.  Is the architrave, frieze, and cornice.

C.  Is the base.

E.  The capital of the columns of the portico.

D.  The base of the pilasters corresponding to the columns.

B.  The cornice that is around the courtyard.

F.  Is the acroterion.[2][3]

The depiction of the stairs is to be found in book 1, page 66, and looks like this:

Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun – staircases, as given by Palladio in 1570

Palladio’s text for this picture is:

In the same city, those of the Holy Apostles Church, near Monte Caval, are still very magnificent: these staircases were double, and they have been an example to several who have since imitated them: they led to a temple at the top of the mountain, as we shall see in my book treating of the Temples. And this is the last design of the stairs in this manner.[4]

This is a monster staircase indeed.  How much of it actually still existed in 1570 we cannot say, but of course portions of the walls are extant, nearly indestructible, even now.

UPDATE: In my next post, I discussed how this arrangement of zigzag stairs might really have looked.  It’s not consistent with Palladio’s own plan, after all.  But while searching for 16th century drawings, I found a new plan of the staircase by Sallustio Peruzzi.  This supports Palladio’s plan, and contradicts the picture of zigzag staircases utterly.  It is here.  I draw together the real picture here.

I will give a PDF with the other 5 plates that Palladio gives, in case you want ready access.  They are not exciting; and of course they are reconstructions.  How much was to be seen at that date we may wonder.

I must look further at Palladio.  One thing that I have not been able to work out is his measurements.  In an early plate these appear as “M” or “MO”.  What that might be, I do not know.

  1. [1]A projecting bracket under the corona of a cornice in the Corinthian and other orders – RP
  2. [2]An acroterion or acroterium or akroteria is an architectural ornament placed on a flat base called the acroter or plinth, and mounted at the apex of the pediment of a building in the classical style. – So Google.
  3. [3]Slightly modernised, the French reads: “A Monte-Cavallo (anciennement appelle le Mont-Quirinal) on void les vestiges de l’edifice suivant, vers le palais des seigneurs Colonnes, lequel se nomme le Frontispice de Néron. Quelques-uns sont d’opinion que c’etait la tour de Mecenas, & que de là Néron prit plaisir à voir brûler la ville de Rome: mais ils s’abusent, parce que la tour de Mecenas etait au mont Esquilin, allez prés des Thermes de Diocletian: d’autres ont cru que c’etait la maison des Cornelies. Pour moi j’estime que c’aura eté un temple de Jupiter: car me trouvant autrefois à Rome, je vis fouiller dans les fondemens de cét édifice, 0u l’on découvrit quelques chapiteaux d’ordre Ionique, qui servaient sans doute au dedans du temple; & memes on remarquait que c’etaient ceux des angles des loges, parce que la partie du milieu, à mon avis, devait etre découverte. L’aspect de ce temple etait celui que Vitruve nomme Pseudodipteros, c’est à dire, à fausses ailles: sa maniéré Pycnostylos, ou de colonnes pressées: & les colonnes du portique par le dehors, d’ordre Corinthien. Les architrave, frieze & corniche faisaient une quatrième partie de la hauteur des colonnes. La cymaise de l’architrave etait d’une tres-belle invention. Aux deux cotez la frieze etait pleine de feuillages; mais à la face, bien qu’il ne s’y vit plus rien d’entier, on remarquait neanmoins qu’elle avait porté quelque inscription. Les modillons de la corniche sont quarrez, & il s’en rencontre un justement sur le milieu de chaque colonne. Les modillons de la corniche du frontispice sont tous droits à plomb, & c’est ainsi que l’on les doit faire. Au dedans du temple il y avait des portiques, comme je fais voir en mon dessein. Autour de ce temple il y avait un grand cortil orné de colonnes, & de statues: & à la façade etaient ces deux grands chevaux, l’un de la main de Phidias, & l’autre de Praxiteles, lesquels ont donné le nom au lieu où ils sont presentement, qu’on appelle Monte-Cavallo. On montait par des degrez tres-commodes à ce temple, qui, à mon avis, devait etre le plus grand & le plus riche édifice qui fut dans Rome. L’en ai fait six planches.
    Dans la première, est le plan de tout l’edifice, avec la partie de derrière où etaient les escaliers, qui montant de l’un à l’autre conduisaient dans les cortils des costez du temple. L’élevation de cette maniéré d’escaliers, avec le plan, est sur la fin de mon premier livre, où je traitte des diverses sortes d’escaliers.
    Dans la seconde, est le flanc du temple par dehors.
    Dans la troisiéme, est la moitié de la façade du temple par le dehors.
    Dans la quatrième, est la partie du dedans : & en toutes ces deux planches on void une petite partie des ornemens du cortil.
    Dans la cinquième, est le flanc de la partie du dedans.
    Dans la sixiéme, sont les ornemens.
    A. Est l’architrave ,frize, & corniche.
    C. Est la base.
    E. Le chapiteau des colonnes du portique.
    D. La base des pilastres qui respondent aux colonnes.
    B. La corniche qui est autour des cortils.
    F. Est l’acrotere.
  4. [4]En la meme Ville, ceux de l’Eglise Sto Apostolo,vers Monte-Caval, sont encore tres-magnifiques: ces escaliers etaient doubles, & ils ont serui d’exemple à plusieurs qui les ont depuis imitez: ils conduisaient a un temple sis au haut du mont, comme on verra en mon livre traittant des Temples. Et c’eft ici le dernier dessein des escaliers de cette maniéré.

Some useful reconstructions of the vast “Temple of the Sun / Serapis” on the Quirinal

I have written before about the remains of a huge temple on the Quirinal hill in Rome.  The temple is often referred to as Aurelian’s Temple of the Sun.  Others prefer to say that it was a Temple of Serapis.  I’ve seen a suggestion that it was a Temple of Salus.  In short, nobody knows what it was.

The front of the temple faced what is now the Quirinal palace.  Next door, on the right, was the Baths of Constantine.  But at the back of the temple were a huge set of steps which descended the hill to the Campus Martius below.  The walls of this stairway are still extant, in the gardens of the Colonna palace, and in those of the Gregorian University which adjoins it.  A huge chunk of the rear of the temple was still visible in 1570, towering over the city; and a massive fragment of its entablature is still to be seen in the Colonna gardens.

A correspondent has kindly drawn my attention to some useful plans and images online for this mysterious edifice.  They are rather super!

Let’s start with a map of the area, showing the “Templum Solis” sticking into what is now the piazza outside the Quirinale, and the “scala” or stairs.

Click on the image to get the full size.  I got this from here.

Plan of the Quirinal hill in ancient times showing the Temple of the Sun and the Baths of Constantine.

The temple was square, with wings sticking out either side, and a colonnade.  (We know this from a plan drawn by Palladio, which I must also upload sometime.)

Next, a poor resolution reconstruction, from here.

Another reconstruction now, of a rear view of the monument, from here.  The mini-temple in the middle of the stairs is, apparently, the artist’s imagination.  The excellent drawing seems to be from the new, monster, monstrously expensive Atlas of Ancient Rome by Carandini.

But aside from the imaginary templet, this is a very sound reconstruction.  That said, the inset shows ten columns at the front, while the plan by Palladio definitely shows twelve columns.

Finally another reconstruction from an interesting page on the temple here (image here):

And another from the same site, showing the rear wall:

These are all very useful images.  Let me give also one that I have published before:

This shows the rear corner of the temple, still standing, facing the newly erected Quirinal palace, but looking along the back of the temple down some arcades.  I have never known where this comes from, tho, and the writing is too small to read.

From my diary

Last Sunday I drove down to start a new contract on the Monday.  It’s quite interesting adapting back to life on the road.  Sleeping in hotels is an art!  I did manage to get some sleep on Thursday night!  The manager who recruited me to the new client is trying to cheat me, which is not good news.  I also had one of the staff dent the passenger door of my car.  He left no note, so there was no indication who did it.   Sadly for him, earlier that day I had taken a photograph of my car (entirely accidentally) which happened to show his car and the number-plate.  The office manager did the rest and sorted him out.  I suppose the world is full of scoundrels; but every so often we get a reminder.

While I was away, a new copy arrived of Matti Moosa’s translation of the chronicle of Michael the Syrian.  Dr Moosa did send me a complimentary copy, but it went missing in the refurbishment of my house last year.  Reluctantly I bought another.  For when they are sold, they are sold.  I wish that I had bought the copyright.

A little pile of volumes is accumulating on the side, for conversion into PDFs.  Among them is a guidebook to the archaeology of Rome, that ought to be very interesting but is really dull.  Also a few duplicate copies of paperbacks that I already possess, bought for pretty much nothing, which I can dismember and scan.

An unusual query from an Athonite monk; could he do some translation work?  I have replied, and perhaps we will do some more of the St Nicholas of Myra stuff.  I really wish that a complete version of the Life compiled by Simon Metaphrastes was online.  And … it still strikes me as funny that, for a figure venerated worldwide, it is little old me who is funding the translation of the literature.  All the princes, publishers, philanthropists and funding bodies… do nothing.  Perhaps it is ever so.

I ought to do a little shredding.  So very hot here this evening.