Rome: A Keyhole View of 3 Countries in one Magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site

by | Aug 25, 2016 | Europe, Italy, Rome Keyhole View of 3 Countries | 8 comments

Dear BoomerVoice Readers

It is difficult to write about visiting Rome while Italy is searching for survivors from the devastating earthquake that killed at least 240 people.

I was heartened to read that a 10-year-old girl was rescued after being buried for 17 hours.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families who have suffered terrible losses.

All of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site


It doesn’t matter what you do or where you go, you will be standing in a World Heritage Site.

Rome is built on an imperial scale

Monuments, buildings, churches, fountains, even famous steps, are all massive. Nothing is designed on a human scale. That is why I searched for a site at the opposite end of the spectrum…. on a Lilliputian scale…. a site that is the size of a keyhole.

My trip to look through a keyhole took half a day….. and it was such a satisfying trip.


Do you want to spend half a day to find your way to a keyhole?

This keyhole is in a door to another country: the Sovereign Military Order of Malta


The Order, commonly known as the Knights of Malta, is a humanitarian organization that has existed since the time of the crusades.

The Order enjoys extraterritorial status in Italy, making it the smallest independent state in the world. (International lawyers love to argue as to whether the Order’s status as a sovereign entity is sufficient to call it a country)

The Order has been a sovereign entity for more than 900 years. The Order started in Jerusalem as a Roman Catholic lay order to care for pilgrims of any religion or race. When the Crusaders lost their last stronghold in the Holy Land, the Order was forced to flee to Cyprus and later regrouped on the island of Rhodes, where they became known as the Order of Saint John.

We visited Rhodes many years ago and found it fascinating to visit the Knights’ Quarter.

After losing a long and fierce battle against Suleiman the Magnificent, the Order was expelled from Rhodes. (Suleiman must have had a very high opinion of himself to call himself the Magnificent).

The Order wandered around Europe for 7 years until the King of Sicily gave them the island of Malta. They became known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

The Order survived earthquakes, tornadoes, revolts and the Great Siege of Malta. They surrendered to Napoleon and were expelled from Malta.

In 1834, the Order established new headquarters in Rome, where it remains today.

The Order has retained its sovereignty under international law. It has United Nations permanent observer status. It issues its own passports, postage stamps, licence plates and currency. Its two properties in Rome have extraterritorial status. The Order has diplomatic relations with more than 100 countries. However, the Order does not have an international country code for telephones or a top-level domain for the Internet.

Canada and the Order of Malta

Canada and the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta

On June 4, 2008, Canada established official relations with the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, through an exchange of letters between Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Order’s Grand Master.

Canada works with the Order in many parts of the world, in particular for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The Ambassador of Canada to the Holy See is Canada’s official point of contact with the Order.

If Canada is interested in naming a new ambassador to the Order, I will volunteer for the job! What a great way to live in a foreign country in the heart of Rome.


NOW, are you ready to look through the keyhole?

This is the best view in Rome of St. Peter’s Basilica


When you peer through the keyhole, you will have a perfect view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance, framed by a tunnel of dense hedges.

The view through the door in the independent state of the Order of Malta is a view across Rome to another independent sovereign entity, the Holy See. Vatican City is the sovereign territory of the Holy See.


See three countries in one keyhole: Italy, the Vatican and the Order of Malta

Pick a quiet time to visit the keyhole if you want a picture


The first time I peered through this keyhole was 15 years ago. There were no other tourists.

Since then, the keyhole view has become a popular destination. It is on the itinerary for some bus tours.

I went mid-morning and there were only about a dozen tourists. Of course, I wanted a picture, but these are difficult conditions for taking pictures. You need to push your camera against the keyhole and hope your camera focuses on St Peter’s in the far distance.

If your camera focuses on the hedges, the dome will be blown out and you will just see a white orb. (I have a few pictures of a white orb).

Since there were only a few visitors when I was there, I lined up a couple of times to get better photos and this is the best I could do for a close-up shot.

Here is a shot of the keyhole


The Order of Malta is on one of the Seven Hills of Rome


To get to the keyhole, I took the subway and walked up Aventine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome.

After my wonderful view of three sovereign entities, I walked down the hill and found a hidden surprise: the Rome Rose Garden.

The roses were stunning


There are over 1100 varieties in the Garden.

Many of the roses are gifts from countries around the world.

Are you ready to join the ten million tourists who visit Rome every year?


The view from the Rose Garden is across Circus Maximus to Palatine Hill, an ancient area of Rome. The ruins are the palaces of Rome’s first emperors.

Circus Maximus is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium in the valley between the two hills. It can accommodate 150,000 spectators. It is now a public park.

Ten million tourists visit Rome every year. The crowds are crushing at all the major sites. Yet, if you stray a bit off the path, you can have a lovely relaxing morning and see three countries in a keyhole, a beautiful rose garden, ancient palaces, a chariot stadium, and two of the Seven Hills of Rome.


Next week, we will share tips and secrets on visiting the top sites in Rome without the crushing crowds

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

World Heritage Traveller at
I love visiting World Heritage Sites, celebrating the world’s most fascinating places and cultures, and most of all, having fun on a trip. Join me on the road to fun and fascinating places. Thanks for reading – and remember to add your e-mail below for updates!
Rose Ann MacGillivray

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