At first glance, there's nothing remarkable about the gate that sits at the end of a fairly generic cul-de-sac on Rome's Aventine Hill. Yes, it has some pretty arched stonework surrounding it, but then, doesn't just about every gate in Rome? Apart from being slightly battered towards the centre, or the queue forming outside it, nothing about it would make you think it was anything special. But on closer inspection - and we're taking much closer inspection here - it's actually quite exceptional. You see, a peep through its tiny keyhole will reveal one of the most unusual views in Europe: three different countries, all perfectly aligned.
The gate in question leads into the Priory of the Knights of Malta, owned by the Sovereign Order of Malta; a lay religious order of the Catholic Church and the world's oldest chivalric order, they are considered a sovereign subject by international law and have been granted international observer status by the United Nations. Although you can't go through it, the land behind the gate is actually not considered part of Italy, but has extraterrestrial status.
Kneeling down to peer through the keyhole, you will see front and centre the perfectly trimmed hedges in the gardens of the Priory of the Knights of Malta, beyond that the rooftops of Rome, with the dome of St Peter's Basilica, the focal point of the Vatican, laying in the perfect centre in the background. On a sunny day, it looks like something created in Photoshop for a postcard.
No one seems to know exactly whether this was intentional or simply a happy coincidence - on one hand, it seems a little too perfect that the entrance to the priory of a devout Catholic order would just so happen to line up with the Vatican. On the other hand, that takes some serious doing, and there don't seem to be any plans or records for it. More to the point, if it wasn't intentional then who was the first person to spy through that keyhole… and why? So many questions, so few answers.
Of course, peeping through a keyhole doesn't take all that long, but fortunately there is plenty else to see in the Aventine district of this city. Just a short walk away you'll find the Basilica of Santa Sabina, which is far more beautiful from the inside than it is the outside. The Mouth of Truth, a stone carving of a man's face that was the original lie detector is also close by - hold your hand inside it and speak, and legend has it that if you're being dishonest your hand will be eaten. In May, the rose gardens open, with over 1000 species of rose dispersing a beautiful aroma across the area.
Piazza Dei Cavalieri Di Malta, 2
Italy 00153 Roma