The Porta Alchemica (Alchemy Gate) is the only one of five original doors of Villa Palombara, which is still standing. This monument was built in the late 1670s by Massimiliano Palombaro, the marquis of Pietraforte, as part of his residence.
Designed by Bernini, Giustiniani Bono, and Athanasius Kircher, the Door is “dipped” with mystery. According to the legend, in 1802 a pilgrim was staying the night at the Villa. During the night he began searching for particular herbs in the villa’s garden, ingredients for his potions and alchemy. The morning after he was seen disappearing through the door, leaving behind the instructions on how to produce gold and the philosopher’s stone, engraved on the door.
A less fascinating explanation, is that Palombaro and Borri, both alchemy students, engraved the scripts themselves. It has been proven that the engraving is dated 1860 - way after the legendary pilgrim’s visit so it is more likely this version is true, but I prefer the mythical explanation.
Placed on either side of the door, are two statues of Bes – Egyptian god of Humour and Childbirth, a short and fat dwarf, so ugly and weird it’s comical. This is definitely one of my must-go places when in the area, and a great hit when I have young or older video game fans: the door in fact appears in “Tomb Raider” – The Chronicles of Riddick, where my childhood heroine has to open this particular door to get the Philosopher’s stone. Thanks to that game many non-Italians saw Rome (even if just the virtual reality) for the first time.
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