Built between 1723 to 1726 by the project of the architect Francesco De Sanctis (1693-1740), the Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti) link the Church of Trinità dei Monti, on slops of Pincian Hill, to the below Piazza di Spagna. The fountain Barcaccia was built here in 1626-29 by Pietro Bernini with his son Gianlorenzo.
The idea of a flight of steps linking the Pincian Hill to the square, in order to cross the drop between them. had first been documented in the second half of 16 C. Thanks to a legacy of money of a French representative in Rome, Stephan Gueffier, and the intervention of Cardinal Mazarin in 1660, some projects of the stairs were proposed.
An equestrian statue of King Louis XIV dominated the design attributed to the group of Gianlorenzo Bernini.
A controversy between the Holy See and France about the possession of the area, delayed the competition announced by the Pope Clement XI in 1717.
The architects Alessandro Specchi, Alessandro Gaulli and Filippo Juvarra – over the chosen Francesco De Sanctis – took part in it.
The works were started by the Pope Innocent I, and ended by Benedict XIII in 1726. A part of the whole cost – over 50.000 écus – was covered by the profits of Gueffier’s legacy.
The original nucleus of the palace that now houses the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See was built by the Jacobilli family between 1592 and 1600 and may be attributed to the architect Carlo Lambardi (1559-1620). After the palace had already changed hands a number of times, it was bought in 1624 by Nicolò Monaldeschi, and then in 1647 by the Spanish Ambassador Iñago Vélez de Guevara, the VIIIthCount of Oñate, who entrusted Francesco Borromini with the job of restructuring the XVIth cent. Building. In compliance with instructions specified in Borromini’s designs, the hall, the stairway and most of the “piano nobile” (master floor) were indeed built but it then proved impossible for all the work to be completed. The Count of Oñate, who had purchased the building in the vain hope that he be appointed as a Cardinal, was in fact obliged to leave Rome in 1648 to take up his new position as Viceroy of Naples. As a consequence, he decided to cede the building of his own accord to the Spanish Royal Family. The continuation of work was then entrusted by the Ambassador Diego de Aragon, the IVth Duke of Terranova, to another architect, Antonio Del Grande, who completed the building between 1654 and 1657. Whereas Borromini, for the aspiring Cardinal, had intended to adopt a ground plan typical of Renaissance style with four wings, a central courtyard and gardens to the rear. Antonio Del Grande had adjust his intervention to suit the needs of an Embassy. The most significant change Del Grande made to Borromini’s design was the elimination of one of the two symmetrical gardens originally planned for the rear frontage, for the purpose of lengthening the right wing, running parallel to Via Borgognona, that would be reserved for private apartments.
(Engraving Gianbattista Piranesi)
Piazza di Spagna: Embassy, and Column
The two European nations that during the centuries have most influenced the history of Italy and the history of Rome itself, France and Spain, face each other across the piazza. In the 17th and 18thcenturies, it was named Piazza della Trinita’ after the French church, but it later took its present name Piazza di Spagna.
The piazza is shaped like a butterfly, whose triangular wings meet at the bottom of the steps. The French have always dominated the triangle which includes the Spanish Steps and the Church Trinita’ de’ Monti, whereas the Spaniards dominated the other triangle with the Piazza and the Palazzo di Spagna, today’s Spanish Embassy to the Holy See.
The decision by Spanish Ambassadors to reside in this area goes back to 1620 when a pre-existing building was purchased and Antonio del Grande with the collaboration of Borromini, made the necessary changes. Spanish influence in the whole area was immediately noticeable: the Spanish Nation not only enjoyed full jurisdiction over its own property but also the 14,000 residents that were soon placed under its protection.
In 1854, after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Pius IX had the column of Mary Immaculate erected in front of the Embassy.