IN a quiet corner of a shady plaza in the middle of Rome stands an ages old portal to another dimension.
The "Magical Doorway" (Porta Alchemica) is all that remains of a 17th Century alchemical laboratory which drew scientists from across Europe ... and which drew the wrath of the Inquisition.
The Alchemy Gate or Magic Portal is a landmark from the Villa Palombara built in 1680 by Massimiliano Palombara marquis of Pietraforte on the Esquiline Hill.
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 from 1680 and four other lost inscriptions on the walls of the mansion inside the villa.
The marquis was fascinated by occult and esoteric sciences. His wealth and social position enabled him to act as a patron to a number of alchemists.
In his villa he also held meetings, attended by other important personages who shared his interests, such as the Swedish Queen Christina, who lived in Rome after having abdicated, the distinguished astronomer Domenico Cassini, the renowned scholar Father Athanasius Kircher, and others.
Villa Palombara had a small detached outbuilding, probably a laboratory, where the occult meetings and the alchemic experiments were secretly held, and occult rituals were performed.
A young doctor and alchemist from Milan named Giuseppe Borri, who had been expelled from the Jesuit college for delving into the occult, came to Rome and joined the circle of Villa Palombara.
A legend says that Borri, sponsored by the marquis, was successful in transforming lead into gold ... creating the Philosopher's Stone of transformational magic.
But one night he suddenly fled - this really happened, after being stalked by the pope's Inquisition - and left behind a number of papers inscribed with complicated formulae which nobody was able to decipher.
So Massimiliano Palombara had them inscribed on the doorways of his laboratory.
Another version of the legend says that an occultist calling himself Antimony (an alchemical element whose symbol adorns the portal lentil) conducted experiments at the villa ... and vanished through the doorway one night ... disappearing into a magical dimension ... leaving behind only a solid-gold apple as proof that he could transform matter into gold.
Unfortunately Villa Palombara was completely demolished in the second half of the 1800s, when the new district was built.
The other doorways were lost ... along with their alchemical formulae.
On both sides of the surviving portal stand two bearded and bandied-legged statues ... they are statues of the Egyptian deity BES which once stood at a Temple of Isis and Serapis in Ancient Rome.
Knowledge of the Egyptian hieroglyphs had long since been lost when the portal was built.
The marquis could not have known that BES was a worshiped by the Egyptians not only as a protective deity ... but also as a protector of Egyptian SEM magician-priests.
Or perhaps the marquis was very well aware of this ....