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Curious Places to See in Rome

Rome is a huge city which offers so many artistic and historical attractions that it is easy to get lost in the embarrassment of choice. But if you want to go beyond the usual tourist routes and explore some of the more characteristic and lesser-known possibilities of our capital, here are three curious places to see in Rome.

First stop, the monster of Via Gregoriana. To walk down this street and reach No. 31 is to come across a gaping mouth ready to swallow the unfortunate visitor. This frightening, grim face can be found in the little palace of Zuccari and once, long ago, was the entrance to a famous, semi-hidden and beautiful garden. It was once possible, peeking through the small windows, also dominated by demonic faces, to glimpse this secret garden. Now the demon door instead protects a beautiful library.

Second stage, Mattei Square. Here, Duke Mutio Mattei had a splendid fountain built in 1581, now called, Fontana delle Tartarughe, designed by Giacomo Della Porta. The Roman motto 'Hurry slowly' is linked to this fountain (hence the presence of dolphins and turtles among its statues).

In the square is clearly visible a large walled window. Legend says that Mattei had this fountain built in a single night to amaze the father of his beloved, who did not want to give her to him in marriage. When he showed him the fountain the next day, from that same window, his father-in-law was shocked, and the duke immediately ordered the window to be walled up, so that no one but his bride and her father could enjoy the view that had been prepared just for them.

If you move instead to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, you will find what the Romans call the alchemic or magic door. Legend has it that Marquis Massimiliano Palombara di Pietroforte, a great lover of alchemy, hosted a mysterious man in the garden of his villa who was in search of the so-called philosopher's stone.

This pilgrim (who for many can be identified as Francesco Borri) on the morning of the following day crossed the threshold of this door and disappeared into thin air, while splinters of gold flew around him and a strange parchment inscribed with esoteric symbols fell to the ground. The marquis had those signs carved on the doors of his garden, hoping that one day someone would be able to decipher them. Which apparently never happened.

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