Found in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, visitors line up for hours to catch a glimpse through the keyhole of an unassuming garden door. But what exactly do these curious oglers see when they look inside?
Through the keyhole, visitors can see a long narrow row of towering hedges, with a well-maintained gravel path running through. As they gaze further ahead, they will see of the most magical view of all: the sight of Vatican City’s Dome of St. Peter’s displayed before them.
For many years, the debate has continued as to whether this set up was intentional or simply a magnificent accident. Yet, long before St. Peter’s Basilica and the gardens on Aventine hill were built, the property was owned by Alberico II. He was a Roman nobleman who ruled the city from 932 A.D. to 954 A.D. Some time in the 10th-century, a Benedictine monastery built on the land. Sometime in the Middle Ages, the Knights of Templar took over. However, the brotherhood was forced to give up the property when they came into conflict with Pope Clement V.
The Piazza dei Cavalieri came under the ownership of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in the early 1400s, when Pope Paul II gifted it to them. This order is now one of the oldest surviving orders in the world.
During the 1700s, they brought in architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi to help restore the building.
Aventine Hill had long been compared to a ship ready to set sail for the heavens. Piranesi drew inspiration from this idea and thus designed the gardens and surrounding walls with a nautical theme, along with symbols to represent the Knights of Templar’s influence on the area. The garden door is said to be the door to the deck of the ship.
There is no fee to look through the garden keyhole, only a very long wait time. However, to pass through the door, you will have to make an appointment, as the gardens are closed to the public.