Secrets of Rome: Knights of Malta KeyholeCultural Travel, Italy — By Mary on October 13, 2011 at 1:25 pm
Throughout the year, tourists plod through the streets of Rome, checking historic sites off their lists, unknowingly missing one of the most unique and mysterious spots, the Knights of Malta keyhole. The keyhole, one of the ancient city’s best-kept secrets, lies hidden on the Aventine Hill, between the Circus Maximus and the Pyramid of Cestius. Though its name may be unfamiliar, it’s one of the must-see spots for any Rome explorers.
The hill of the keyhole’s location dates back to the beginning of ancient Rome. During the Republic, it was famous for its curious population of plebeians and foreign cults. According to historians, the Aventine hill was named after one of ancient Rome’s seven kings, King Aventinus who is said to be buried there. Not everyone agrees, in Virgil’s epic poem, Aeneid, he relates the tale of Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city. In order to determine who would rule the newfound territory, the twins devised a contest of might. The brothers set themselves up on two separate hills, Romulus on the Palatine, and Remus on the Aventine, and according to legend, Romulus’ victory was demonstrated in a symbolic approval by the gods by way of numerous birds flying over the hill he chose. Some believe it is possible that the Aventine’s name could ironically derive from the Latin name for birds or “Aves.”
While scaling the Aventine’s winding streets, the hustle and bustle of daily Roman life dissipates and the time spent touring this hill feels like a surprising getaway in the heart of Rome. Today, regardless of its past, the Aventine hill is a well-to-do upper class residential area, and home to one of Italy’s most talented and acclaimed actors, Oscar winner Roberto Benigni of Life is beautiful. The hill is adorned with trees galore and brings an absolute peace and tranquillity to a vacation that typically tends to be packed with “must-sees.”
At the top of the hill is the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, designed by Piranesi in 1765, and it is here that the headquarters of the smallest sovereign entity in the world is located. Surprisingly enough, it’s not the Vatican, but rather the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Founded in Jerusalem in about 1048 it still functions to this day as a religious military order, it even retains permanent observer status at the United Nations, and it is at this very spot where one may take a peek through a keyhole at what can be considered one of the most spectacular views in the entire city. Be it your first time to the Eternal City, or your hundredth, day or night, take some time out of your trip for a glance into this little treasure of Rome.
Photos courtesy of Peter Bardwell