Rome Diaries - Week 28

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.


August 3, 2007

Strange sights await as you exit the Metro at Piazza Vittorio. Until just a few years ago, the colonnaded square was home to a lively city market but that has been cleared away. Now the attraction is the landscaped park that once was hidden by the market stalls. A 19th century recontruction of the space allowed planners to playfully position a World War I memorial, two matching statues of the god Bes (taken from the Temple of Isis on the Quirinale), the entryway from the villa of an alchemist and the ruins of a 3rd century public fountain that served as the terminus for one of the aqueducts. In its day, the flowing water bolstered the reputation of the weak and Christian-leaning Emperior Alexander Serverus who had carved onto his palace wall “Do unto others what you would have done to you.” His fountain was the terminus of a spur that channeled the waters of three aqueducts into this neighborhood of Rome. The magic door (1655) is a remanant from the latter days of alchemy. It was part of the garden décor of Marquis Massimillano Palombara’s villa (now destroyed). He and the famous Catholic convert Queen Christiana of Sweden pursued turning lead into gold with a passion. The story goes that the one night a pilgrim alchemist was permitted to sleep in the garden and next day a bit of gold fruit and his undeciferable scribblings were found. The marquis had the letters cut into the door so that, perhaps, someday their meaning could be discovered (so far, not a clue). For his trouble, the marquis ended up doing hard time at Castle Saint Angelo, but Queen Christiana, royal convert that she was, is buried in St. Peter’s.

August 5, 2007