The Porta Alchemica (English: Alchemical Door) or Alchemy Gate or Magic Portal, is a monument built between 1678 and 1680 by Massimiliano Palombara marquis of Pietraforte in his residence the Villa Palombara. It is located in the east part of the historic centre of Rome on the Esquilino hill in a position almost corresponding to Piazza Vittorio. The Porta Alchemica is the only survivor of the five gates of the villa Palombara; there was a lost door on the opposite side dating them to 1680 and four other lost inscriptions on the walls of the mansion inside the villa.
According to a legend dated 1802 sent us by the scholar Francesco Girolamo Cancellieri, a pilgrim "stibeum" (from Latin: stibium = antimony) was hosted in the villa for a night. The "pellegrino", identifiable with the alchemist Giustiniani Bono, stayed for a night in the gardens of the villa in search of a mysterious herb capable of producing gold, the next morning he was seen disappearing forever through the door, but left behind a few flakes of gold fruit of a successful alchemical transmutation, and a mysterious paper full of puzzles and magic symbols that would contain the secret of the Philosopher's Stone. Perhaps the enigmatic paper could refer, for historical and geographic agreements, to the mysterious manuscript Voynich a part of the collection belonged to King Rudolf II of Boemia.
The marquis had engraved on the five gates of the villa Palombara and on the walls of the mansion, the content of the manuscript with symbols and riddles in the hope that one day someone would be able to understand them.
The interest of the marquis Palombara for alchemy was born probably on his attendance since 1656, the Roman court of queen Christina of Sweden, at Riario palace (today Palazzo Corsini center of the Lincei National Academy, that later became an Academy attended by all famous personages, erudites and esoteric doctors of that time as Giovanni Cassini or Francesco Maria Santinelli) on the slopes of the Gianicolo hill. After the queen converted to Catholicism, abdicated the throne of Sweden and spent much of the rest of his life exiled in Rome from 1655 until her death in 1689.
Queen Christina had an alchemical laboratory, under the supervision of Pietro Antonio Bandiera in Riario palace attended by people like the esotericists Giuseppe Francesco Borri, and Athanasius Kircher. According to a legend the same Porta Alchemica was built in 1680 as a celebration of a successful alchemical transmutation occurred in Riario laboratory.
Between 1678 and 1680 Borri aka Giustiniani Bono, collaborated with Athanasius Kircher for construction of Porta Alchemica in Palombara villa. Gian Lorenzo Bernini, famous architect and Kircher friend, designed the door. On the door was transcribed the secret formula for producing gold discovery in those years in alchemical laboratory of queen Christina. It is supposed that because of this revelation Palombara, Bernini and Kircher were murdered by poison at 28 November 1680, probably by the same Borri.
In 1806, Abbé Francesco Cancellieri wrote an account, in Italian, of his studies of the inscriptions on the Porta Alchimica. This work was later translated into French, in 1895, by Pietro Bornia, and it appeared in the April/June 1895 issue of L'Initiation, revue philosophique des hautes etudes.
The particular drawing on the pediment of Porta Alchemica, with the two triangles overlap and inscriptions in Latin, appears almost exactly the same on the page title of the alchemical book Aureum Saeculum Redivivum of Henricus Madatanus aka Adrian von Mynsicht (1603–1638). The title page of the original of 1621 is very different, because the design that was inspired the marquis Palombara appears exactly only in the posthumous edition of 1677. The emblem was taken over by Wienner von Sonnenfels in 1747 in Splendor lucis, oder Glanz des Lichts published at Vienna. Madathanus’ lower part of the emblem, "centrum in trigono centri", was reproduced in the well known work that circulated in the Gold- und Rosencreutz Orden, the Geheime Figuren der Rosencreutzer (Altona, 1785–88). The same drawing appear in a bookmark possessed by Berenger Saunière, who became the parish priest at Rennes-le-Château in 1885.
The seven signs are taken from Johannes de Monte-Snyder, Commentatio de Pharmaco Catholico published in the "Chymica Vannus" (Amsterdam) in 1666, and follow the sequence of planets, associated to the correspondents metals: Saturn-lead, Jupiter-tin, Mars-iron, Venus-bronze, Mercury, Antinomy and Vitriol. To every planet is associated a watertight maxim, to read from the bottom up to right in order to come down from above on the left, according the direction indicated from the Hebrew maxim "Ruach Elohim".
The monument has numerous symbols and inscriptions used in alchemy. The inscriptions are hard to read from the monument itself.
Around the circle at top: “The center is in the triangle of the center.” Also: “There are three marvels: God and man, mother and virgin, triune and one.”
The Hebrew inscription, Ruach Elohim, means “Spirit of God.” Beneath it: “A dragon guards the entrance of the magic garden of the Hesperides, and, without Hercules, Jason would not have tasted the delights of Colchis.”
There are six sigils on the jambs, each with its phrase.
Mercury: “When azoth and fire whiten Latona, Diana comes unclothed.”
Antimony: “Our dead son lives, returns from the fire a king, and enjoys occult conjugation.”
On the base, Vitriol: “It is an occult work of true wisdom to open the earth, so that it may generate salvation for the people.”
In another plate, now lost, was the device VILLAE IANUAM TRANANDO RECLUDENS IASON OBTINET LOCUPLES VELLUS MEDEAE 1680 (Passing by opening the door of the villa, Iason obtained the rich fleece of Medea 1680).
And on the doorstep, “SI SEDES NON IS,” an ambiguous quasi-palindrome, meaning both “If you sit, do not go,” and “If you do not sit, go.”
The standing figures on both sides of the door feature deformed creatures, with short, stout legs and a grotesque bearded face represent a real Egyptian divinity or semi-divinity, called Bes. A patron of the home, childbirth and infants in ancient Egypt, Bes was also known in imperial Rome, where in pre-Christian age several people followed Egyptian cults.
Originally the two statues did not belong to Villa Palombara. They were found somewhere near the Quirinal Hill, where in ancient times stood a large temple dedicated to the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis; century after century, many of its rich decorations, reliefs, small obelisks, etc. were unearthed, and were relocated in different parts of the city. During the works for the opening of piazza Vittorio, in 1888 also these statues were moved from their original location to the Porta Alchemica.
Giuliano Kremmerz, La porta ermetica, Edizioni Studio Tesi, 1982.
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