Places of Interest nearby
Location address: Italia, Roma
Number of texts: 4
The Porta Alchemica (English: Alchemical Door) or Alchemy Gate or Magic Portal, is a monument built between 1678 and 1680 by Massimiliano Palombara marquis of Pietraforte in his residence the Villa Palombara. It is located in the east part of the historic centre of Rome on the Esquilino hill in a position almost corresponding to Piazza Vittorio. The Porta Alchemica is the only survivor of the five gates of the villa Palombara; there was a lost door on the opposite side dating them to 1680 and four other lost inscriptions on the walls of the mansion inside the villa.
It is the only remaining of five gate doors to the Marquis Palombara’s villa. According to legend, the Marquis met an alchemist at a dinner party who told him he could use a certain herb to turn metals to gold. In the morning the alchemist (said to be Giuseppe Francesco Borri, a sort of alchemical zelig) was gone but had left behind some gold flakes, evidence apparently of his successful transformations, and an indecipherable sheet, the “recipe” for the transformation. Because the Marquis was unable to read it he inscribed the recipe on his doors in the hope that someone who could understand it would see it and come knocking. Mystery and occult beliefs still surround the door, and a mysterious symbol above the doorway fuels many of these theories. But of course, to most visitors to Rome, it’s just another mysterious ruin.
The standing figures on both sides of the door feature deformed creatures, with short, stout legs and a grotesque bearded face represent a real Egyptian divinity or semi-divinity, called Bes. A patron of the home, childbirth and infants in ancient Egypt, Bes was also known in imperial Rome, where in pre-Christian age several people followed Egyptian cults. Originally the two statues did not belong to Villa Palombara. They were found somewhere near the Quirinal Hill, where in ancient times stood a large temple dedicated to the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis; century after century, many of its rich decorations, reliefs, small obelisks, etc. were unearthed, and were relocated in different parts of the city. During the works for the opening of piazza Vittorio, in 1888 also these statues were moved from their original location to the Porta Alchemica.
The particular drawing on the pediment of the gate, with two overlapping triangles and Latin inscriptions, recapitulates the title page in the posthumous 1677 edition of the alchemical book Aureum Saeculum Redivivum by Adrian von Mynsicht (1603–1638). In 1747, the emblem was used by Wienner von Sonnenfels in his Splendor lucis, oder Glanz des Lichts Similarly, the lower part of the emblem by von Mynsicht (known also as Madathanus) depicting a “centrum in trigono centri”, was reproduced in the manuscript called the Geheime Figuren der Rosencreutzer (Altona, 1785–88). Finally the same drawing appear in a bookmark possessed by Berenger Saunière, a parish priest at Rennes-le-Château in 1885.