Knights of Malta Keyhole Rome

It is not often that a keyhole becomes a tourist attraction, but this is certainly the case for that of the Villa del Priorato di Malta in Rome. Indeed, when looking through it, one can see the perfectly framed dome of St Peter’s.

Knights of Malta Keyhole Rome

Useful information

Keyhole Maltese Knights Rome
The view through the keyhole

Address: Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, 3 – Rome. The square is open 24/7. However, if you go during the busiest times of the day, a 30 minute wait is no exception.

History and description

The view through the keyhole is rendered even more extraordinary by its inclusion of a straight avenue with bushes perfectly framing the dome. This path belongs to the gardens of the villa, owned by the famous Knights of Rhodes.

This order is one of the few chivalric orders that were not dissolved after the time of the Crusades. Contrary to expectations, their headquarters are not in Malta itself, but in Rome, in the Via Condotti, the city’s most expensive shopping street.

The square in which the building is located was designed by Piranesi in 1765. It is the only architectural work of the artist, who is mostly famous because of his etches. The work had been commissioned by a nephew of Pope Clement XIII, Cardinal Rezzonico, whose coat of arms is visible on the entrance. Piranesi decorated the square with war trophies alluding to the exploits of the Knights of Rhodes.

The size and setting of the square allude to the armilustrium. This festival in honor of Mars was held in October to purify the Roman army before quartering it for the winter. The soldiers, after the inspection at the Circus Maximus, would ascend the Aventine Hill in a procession to mae sacrifices to the god of war.

Villa del Priorato di Malta

Villa del Priorato di Malta
Villa del Priorato di Malta

The Villa Magistrale del Sovrano Ordine di Malta is built on the site of a former Benedictine monastery. This monastery already existed in the 10th century. It then passed to the Templars and, after that order was abolished, to the Knights Hospitallers, predecessors of the present occupants.


The villa itself serves as the Order’s Embassy to both the Italian State and the Vatican (meaning the Order is recognized by Italy as a sovereign state).

Since you are in Italy, and you are looking at the Vatican City, and you are looking through the grounds of the Order of the Knights of Rhodes, you are actually looking at three different countries at the same time.

Knights of Malta Keyhole Rome

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