The Order of Malta, in Rome

Various buildings in Rome are not in Italy. For instance, many buildings are part of the Vatican, like the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide just up the street from us. In other words, they are extraterritorial. Usually this term applies to places such as embassies; that is, properties of another country. But there is a unique entity — not a country — that has extraterritorial properties in Rome.

A couple minutes’ walk from us (at at Via dei Condotti, 68) is the Magisterial Palace of the Order of Malta. On the Aventine Hill, there’s also the Villa del Priorato di Malta. The two buildings belong to a sovereign entity that since 1869 has had mutual, formal diplomatic relations with Italy.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta — more precisely, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta — is a sovereign order of chivalry that has been granted extraterritoriality by the Italian Government. The Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta resides in the Magisterial Palace, which is also the Order’s headquarters.

Magisterial Palace of the Knights of Malta. Photo courtesy of Giorgio Minguzzi.
Plaque at Palazzo Malta, stating its extraterritorial status
Plaque at the Magisterial Palace, stating its extraterritorial status
Courtyard of the Magisterial Palace, with the Maltese cross

Just like the Magisterial Palace, the Villa del Priorato di Malta (the “Magistral Villa“) is also sovereign territory. The site, with a wonderful view of Rome from its location on the Aventine Hill, was once a fortified Benedictine monastery. It was later owned by the Knights Templar. After the destruction of that order, the villa was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller… which became the Order of Malta.

Villa Malta, on the Aventine Hill
Villa del Priorato di Malta, on the Aventine Hill
The walls encircling the Magisterial Villa, decorated with coats of arms with the Maltese cross, and obelisks

The villa has lovely gardens and the Church of Santa Maria del Priorato, which was designed by the great artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi. He is known for his marvelous engravings of Rome, and is buried at the church.

Santa Maria del Priorato

Most people know this place, however, as the site of the “key hole.” The view through the gate’s key hole gives you St. Peter’s dome perfectly framed by the garden’s hedges.

People standing in line to look through the gate’s keyhole
The magical view through the keyhole

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