Buon giorno and welcome to A Road Retraveled’s Rome Off the Beaten Path series. This episode features Porta Pia and Porta Magica.
If you’ve been to Rome already and you have done all the major sight seeing and are looking for something off the beaten path…OR if you’re visiting Rome for the first time and would like to see more than just the major tourist attractions, these Roam through Rome series are for YOU!
We’re starting off with Porta Pia, a local neighborhood where it’s not only rich in Italian history ancient and recent, but I love stay here to get a taste of what local life is like outside the city’s historic center.
Porta means Door or Gate in Italian….but Porta Pia and Porta Magica are nothing alike and nothing like you’d expect.
Porta Pia is a 10 minute bus ride from Termini station, and has a bus stop for buses that take you just about everywhere in Rome. I like this area because it’s right in the middle of a local neighborhood where you are surrounded mostly by locals not tourists. You have all your local neighborhood perks at local prices.
No matter where you stay in this neighborhood you are surrounded by supermarkets, bakeries, dry cleaners, internet and phone centers, pharmacies, restaurants, cafes, clothing stores, you name it!! My favorite is the daily all-out market with everything you can imagine!!
Porta Pia itself is a gate in the Aurelian Wall named after Pope Pius IV. The gate was designed by Michelangelo and it was completed in 1565, after his death, significantly different from the original plan.
More recently in history, on September 20, 1870, the Bersaglieri, or riflemen in the Italian Army, entered Rome through an artillery-opened breach several yards west of Porta Pia, ending the temporal power of the Pope, and completing the unification of Italy. In the centre of the piazzale di Porta Pia, you see the Monumento al Bersagliere, erected in 1932 on a commission from Mussolini.
A little further behind the monument is where you’ll find the bus stop that services many different places in Rome, making Porta Pia easily accessable by bus. 2 important bus numbers to remember is bus number 36 reaches Porta Pia from the Termini station, and bus number 62 takes you from Porta Pia to St Peter’s and other important stops alone the way
And now we’re leaving Porta Pia and heading over to Porta Magica….the Magic Door!
We’re not in the make belief magical world of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but among the ruins of an old 17th century villa in Piazza Vittorio is a portal into the real and secretive world of alchemy: the Magic Door and the Philospher’s Stone…a mysterious door barely noticed by tourists and largely ignored by locals that holds secrets that have never been revealed.
The door was built by Marquis Massimiliano Palombara who closely associated with Queen Christina of Sweden who lived in Rome, a passionate supporter of science and alchemy.
Legend has it one evening at a dinner party the Marquis met an alchemist, some say his name was Giuseppe Francesco Borri, who told him that he had the knowledge of the Philosopher’s Stone: turning metal into gold by means of a certain herb. He was allowed to prove this transmutation in the Queen’s laboratory overnight, but by the next morning he vanished…leaving behind some gold flakes and a formula full of symbols and inscriptions that no one was able to decipher. The Philosopher’s Stone is also said to grant immortality, so you get to live rich forever!
And so the Marquis engraved the secret formula on the doorways of 5 doors, hoping that a passerby would be able to solve the mystery of the Philospher’s Stone. The carvings on the surviving door that we can see depict a type of alchemical formula including quotes and warnings to those who wish to undertake the symbolic path of purification, with the gate representing the passing over a threshold that must be crossed during the procedure of transmuting metal into gold….so we’re not sure if this corresponds to the philosophically attaining highest level of perfection of the human soul, or it represents the gateway to hell for being so darn greedy!
The presence of these 2 demonic monkey dwarfs from an ancient Roman cult guarding the gate isn’t very reassuring that trying to decipher these symbols is the right thing to do!
This is the only door from the 5 that’s still surviving and although it may not have the complete formula, it still fuels many theories as to what these mysterious symbols really mean, and whether or not there is truth behind the Philospher’s Stone, or is it all just a fantasy, a myth like King Midas and his golden touch. What I did find mysterious about the door was actually finding it…and when I did, it was far away behind a metal gate. And if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it seems like just another obscure ruin, and in Rome, there are many!
And incidentally, the original title of the first Harry Potter book, was Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. When the book was published in the US, it was printed under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcer’s Stone. So I guess this IS a bit like Harry Potter’s world of magical wonder afterall!
Thank you for joining me today. You never know what magic awaits you when roaming through Rome…there are more off the beaten path places to check out, so join me next time on A Road Retraveled. Until then, ciao for now!
Bonus Feature in this episode on the A Road Retraveled Travel App:
Michelangelo was not beyond petty revenge, but how did il Divino himself use Porta Pia to get even with Pope Pius IV who committed a most heinous act of insult towards Michelangelo and his masterpiece inside the Vatican? Find out what both of these men did to each other and the outcomes that you can see for youself on the Bonus Feature segment.
One of my favorite places to stay is right off of Porta Pia at the San Michele Bed and Breakfast on Via Messina. Like many Italian Bed and Breakfasts, it’s small and family owned, AND in Rome you’ll also find many of them in a regular condo building. So you’re REALLY among locals here!! For more information, visit their website: www.bbsanmichele.com
Experience an authentic local market for fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, cheese and cold cuts. Located right in the heard of this lovely local neighborhood!