The best kept secrets of the gate of the Headquarters of the Knights of Malta, in Rome
The Buco della Serratura (literally, “the lock’s keyhole”) is considered one of the “secrets of Rome.” To unveil the secret, one must go through the Giardino degli Aranci (“Garden of the Orange Trees”) and the churches of Santa Sabina and San Alessio, finally reaching the top of the hill where the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, in the Aventino neighborhood next to the Circus Maximus, is found.
There, one finds the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, which can only be visited a few times a year, by appointment and accompanied by a guide hired by properly authorized cultural agencies or associations. But even those who cannot enter the villa do have the opportunity to take a peek into this Roman secret. Just ask for the Buco della Serratura in the large entrance gate to the villa, and take a look through the keyhole. You’ll see way more than just a beautiful landscape. In fact, you will see three different “countries”: Italy, the Vatican State and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
The Order of Malta is an independent international entity whose sovereignty allows it to print its own stamps and issue its own passports, granting Maltese nationality to all its members, even though its main see is no longer in Malta but actually in this villa located within Rome. It is, in fact, a “quasi-state”: the Order of Malta is not properly a “country,” but an autonomous international organization that maintains diplomatic relations with 105 States, in which it even has embassies. For its legally recognized sovereignty, the order has representation in the UN and is affiliated with the Red Cross and other international organizations. It acts as an international humanitarian organization, founding hospitals and rehabilitation centers in various countries, mainly in Africa.
The garden you see through the keyhole is that of the Grand Priory of the Order of Malta in Rome. The site was once a Benedictine monastery (in the 10th century) and was later under the care of the Knights Templar. After the latter’s extinction in 1312, the villa was handed over to the Order of Malta.
Right behind the garden, one can see some Roman roofs in Italy and, finally, in the background, the unmistakable and majestic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican State.