Updated: September 26, 2014
There are two very different ways to see the cupola of saint Peter's basilica, in Rome. The most common is to go to the Vatican and see it directly from saint Peter's piazza, joining the flow of many other tourists.
Location: piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, near Circus Maximus
The other way is surely more off the beaten track and suggestive: you can go to the Aventine hill, and see the basilica through the keyhole of an ancient door! I like to bring here my non-roman friends who come to visit my city, and surprise them with this very original view. I love this place especially in the evening/night, when the sky gets dark and the lights of saint Peter are turned on: the picture is beautiful.
As you put your eye on the door, you'll see saint Peter's cupola appearing like magically, at the end of a garden's pathway, surrounded by bushes.
The piazza that hosts the keyhole is piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta ("knights of malta"), and it's quite misterious. Why? Take a look around. It's a small square enclosed in white neoclassic walls, with an unusual set of obelisks and military tropheums as decorations.
Originally, this area belonged to a benedictine monastery founded in 939. In the XII century, it became property of the templars, the famous monk-warriors. Then in 1312, when their order was suppressed by Clemens V, the building went to the priory of Gerosolimitani. Eventually, in the second half of 1400, pope Paul II gave the monastery to the sovreign military order of Malta.
After a series of transformations along its history, the current look of the piazza is due to the famous carver Giovanni Battista Piranesi. All the decorations visible in the architectures of the piazza have esoteric meanings, especially connected with the masonry. These symbols contain, in fact, a code elaborated by Piranesi. The code is solely reserved to those who have the key to decipher it.
The garden that you can see through the keyhole was projected by Piranesi as well. He decorated it
with a fountain surrounded by suggestive archaeological pieces. Inside
the building are the church of santa Maria del Priorato and the Villa,
with rooms full of precious paintings. But they are not accessible to the public.