Sep 18, 2009

I spy...

White and green. The two predominant colors in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. They are the hues of the carved marble and the feathery foliage of cypress, ivy and palm trees.

The walk uphill Via Porta Lavernale, leaving Testaccio's busy Via Marmorata behind, is quite a work-out. The incline is steep, but the surroundings pretty, so flexed calves and burning buttocks almost become a pleasant feeling. You'll find that the Piazza at the end of the passeggiata is empty: a Carabinieri patrol car, engine idling, perhaps a street vendor selling chilled water bottles, candy and microwaved Jurassic pizzas, and that's it. The place is deserted and peaceful.

At the far end of the square, set like a black diamond in the white facade, the huge doorway (always shut) is the mighty entrance to the headquarters of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta. The one dark spot in the otherwise blinding glare of marble in the sun.
If you stop a while here, you'll see the occasional group of tourists approaching the closed doorway and taking a peek. And then they leave. Ten minutes later, a car may drive up–oftentimes a rented limo with driver–an Asian couple alights. They take a peek. And then they leave. No big deal. The Carabinieri sit motionless in their purring vehicle. Nothing strange is going on.

What everyone is peeking at is the 'Hole of Rome,' the famous keyhole through which the dome of Saint Peter can be clearly seen at the other end of a secret courtyard. The trees in the Order's garden romantically frame the perfect image.

Image copyright Gary Arndt

It may be a cliché, but the ritual of the "peek" is always a touching moment, like a sudden row of multiple stone arches, or harp music in a classical composition. There's something oddly sentimental in leaning forward, closing one eye and looking at il Cupolone, the dome–as we call it here–through one of Rome's most prohibited locations, mainly because the show through the keyhole is one hardly forgettable. This is in fact the only possible contact with what resides beyond the heavy closed doorway. The only exception is possessing an uber-authoritative decree signed by the Knights themselves, allowing the fortunate pilgrim through.

Neither the church of Santa Maria del Priorato, Giovanni Battista Piranesi's XVIII century remodeling work of art commissioned by Cardinal Rezzonico, the courtyard, nor the Order's convent are accessible to the public. What Piranesi's genius was able to rebuild, landscape and decorate cannot be seen in person. Only the Piazza and the famous doorway is for everyone to have. A consolation prize.
Sure, it would be great to continue the visit and see the church. But you can't.

One must be content with the emptiness of the ivory Piazza. Appreciating subtraction and absence; and basking in its silence. I like to come up here to peek through a keyhole, squint at the white of a marble facade, and drink up the deep greens of the cascading ivy, the cypress and the palms caressed by the sun.

Image copyright Gary Arndt


  1. We cannot know everythin; it is enough to get a peek.

  2. Just another tease leaving me wanting a little more.

  3. I spy with my little eye an absolutely wonderful blog.
    Lola you never cease to amaze me with your awesome ability to organise words in such an appetizing way.

    best wishes
    Ribbon :)

  4. ROMA... I love Rome so much!!!

  5. very cool. a peek into that which is forbidden...written beautifully of course. smiles.

  6. Neat! I never new about this. I'll give it a peak next time I'm in Roma :-)

  7. Beautifully written, Lola. You are so gifted with words! Also I liked your interview, and aren`t you a pretty lady!!!!

  8. I never fail to visit Rome without a trip to the Aventine to peek through the keyhole. What a vision. I am happy to say I arranged a talk by someone who is an emissary to the U.N. of the Knights of Malta about the organization here at the Italian Cultural organization in my town. I can't wait to find out more about them.

  9. Lola,

    This is a beautiful post! You have a beautiful "voice," and your writing sings...I feel as though I am peering through the hole along with you, and I feel the tranquility of this place! Thank you for sharing this! Your soul is gorgeous! Love to you~Janine XO

  10. Ciao Lola!
    Thank you for taking us all along with you on your walk through town. I didn't know about this door, but now I want to peek through myself. Thanks for sharing!

    Un abbraccione,

  11. PS: You are right that we are on the same wavelength with our blogs. I just took a series of "I spy..." photos of the Amalfi Coast. Keep an eye out for them, because I bet you will be able to guess them all!

  12. Ciao Lola!
    First of all, many thanks for your nice presence on Venice Daily! And "auguri" for your beautiful Roma blog. I'm a Roma lover too...

  13. Wow, what a perfect little image. I hope one day to peek through the hole myself. With all the travelling I have done over the years I have never been to Rome.

  14. Sounds like an incredible place... and your description of it makes it all the more tempting... volumes of mystery in a few paragraphs...

  15. This is just beautiful! What an amazing view of the peek, and your words are always so alluring... thanks for the lovely autumnal post earlier, too! :)

  16. I feel a story being born of here. I only wish the door were on a sidewalk and there was heavier foliage surrounding it. One should have to pull back leaves to find that hole. How totally intriguing it all is and beautifully you write it!

  17. Hello! I saw your interview on HalfHourMeals...your blog is beautiful and I look forward to reading your future posts! Happy Blogging!


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