5 magic or legendary places Rome

Porta Alchemica

Piazza Vittorio

Emanuele II

Nestled in a corner of the park in Piazza Vittorio, the door flanked by two stone dwarves is all that remains of the 17th-century villa of Marquis Massimiliano Palombara. He’s said to have covered the door in esoteric writings left behind by an alchemist who vanished in the night after turning a herb into gold.

Miraculous well in the church of S. Maria in Via Lata

Via del Corso 306
+39 (0)6 8339 6276

‘Little Lourdes’, or the chapel of Madonna del Pozzo, is inside this church on the left. Once the location of a cardinal’s stables, this well overflowed in the 13th century, nearly carrying away a painting on stone of the Virgin Mary, which the cardinal rescued and enshrined. Visitors can drink the water.

Palazzo Falconieri

Via Giulia 1
+39 (0)6 688 9671

Francesco Borromini is the likely author behind the alchemical symbols that mark Palazzo Falconieri. The name means ‘falconers’, hence the falcon motif inside and outside. Today the building hosts the Hungarian Academy.

The scar of Roland's sword

Vicolo della Spada d’Orlando

Head down this small street off the Pantheon with your eyes peeled at ankle level, and you’ll find a marble stump with a conspicuous split down one side. Legend has it that Roland, Charlemagne’s chief Paladin, slashed his indestructible sword Durendal against it while fending off a group of Roman knights.

Pope Joan

Corner of Via dei Querceti

and Via Santi Quattro Coronati

Here stands a neglected oratory with a poorly preserved painting. While certainly a classic rendition of the Madonna with Child, the story goes that it’s actually a depiction of the apocryphal Pope Joan, the 9th-century ‘Papessa’ who masqueraded as a man, fell in love with a cardinal, and gave birth in the middle of the street during a procession.

part of 75 places to discover Rome

The 500 Hidden Secrets of Rome