Villa of the Knights of Malta
Duration: 2 hours
Guided tour with exclusive opening
This construction of Villa del Priorato di Malta on the Aventine Hill was built in 939 as a Benedictian monastery, it belonged to the monastery of the Chiesa dei SS.Bonifacio e Alessio from which was separated in 977. By the end of the 12th century the monastery became a property of the Templars, monks-warriors defenders of Christianity against Muslims.
In 1312 the Order of Templars was suspended and the monastery was given to the Knights of Rhodes, the religious confraternity established in the Holy Land by a monk Gerard to give medical and boarding assistance to pilgrims. The Order was based on the island of Rhodes from 1312 till 1522, and then on Malta until 1798, when after Napoleon’s domination it moved to Rome and limited its activity in the field of hospital assistance.
It changed its name in 1522 in Sovrano Ordine di Malta (Sovereign Order of Malta) and its Roman branch was named Gran Priorato di Roma dei Cavalieri di Malta with the seat in the same palace on Aventine Hill. In the meantime the latter changed its look; in 1765 the Grand Prior Giovan Battista Rezzonico, nephew of pope Clement XIII had a medieval church adjoining to the Villa completely reconstructed with the new name S.Maria del Priorato, as well as the palace itself and its gardens were radically modified by the project of Venetian architect G.B.Piranesi. What we can see now is the fruit of the changes made in the 18th century.
Gardens and fruit-yards surround a fountain and a well remained here from the times of monastery; there is also a Coffee-house built by the order of cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, who as a Great Prior of the Order for a long period of 52 years made the villa a center of magnificent receptions and cultural reunions. Imposing palm-trees were brought from the East and were planted here in the beginning of the 19th century by Louis I of Bavaria during his Roman residence.
Inside of the villa there is a gallery of portraits of the main personalities and Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta starting from Gerard till present. The palace is also a seat of the Order’s embassies to Italy and the Vatican. Their headquarters are now in Rome in Via Condotti and the knights, who take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, continue to carry out charitable work.
There is a remarkable view of the dome of St Peter’s at the end of an avenue through the keyhole in the doorway (pictured above).
Villa Malta is most famous for its keyhole of the main entrance you would notice in a perfect perspective the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, at the end of a very elegant garden. Near by the Villa Malta is a small park that has excellent views of the city of Rome. A real and nice surprise which is always delightful. After visiting the Villa Malta and the park, to the end of the Circus Maximus. Nearby is the church of Saint Marie in Cosmedin. In front of the church is the Mouth of Truth as seen in ‘Roman Holiday’.