The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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The Magic Door of Massimiliano Palombara

September 5th, 2009 · 4 Comments


You can find la Porta Magica in Rome, on the Piazza Vittorio.  It’s what remains of the villa of Massimiliano Palombara, a 17th century occultist.

There are at least two competing stories about it.  One is that an archetypical mysterious stranger visited Palombara, and asked for funds and a room to test his alchemical know-how.  Palombara agreed; the stranger locked himself in the room, and later vanished: leaving behind golden evidence of his success, and some cryptic phrases, which Palombara had carved into a doorway for others to ponder.  The other story is that Palombara found the texts in an old manuscript, and that he and his friends tried for years to work the the Great Work with them; then left them on this door in the hope that some passerby might decipher them.

Many of the inscriptions are now too worn to read.  They were, however, transcribed by earlier enthusiasts.  They are, of course, in Latin, and read pretty much as follows.

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 “Holy Spirit.”  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.

Saturn/Lead: “When in your house black crows give birth to white doves, then will you be called wise.”

Jupiter/Tin: “The diameter of the sphere, the tau in the circle, and the cross of the globe bring no joy to the blind.”

Mars/Iron: “He who can burn with water and wash with fire makes a heaven of earth and a precious earth of heaven.”

Venus/Bronze: “If you make the earth fly upside down, with its wings you may convert torrential waters to stone.”

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.”

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 two statues represent Bes, a minor Egyptian deity, a protector of houses.  They were added in 1888, when the door was moved and restored.  And I sketched the damn thing on a trip to Rome back in 2002.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)   


Tags: Mysteries · Places · Symbols · The Ineffable

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mamie // Sep 7, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    The sketch remains a thing of beauty.

  • 2 angela // Sep 9, 2009 at 8:37 am

    It looks like the entrance to a leather bar in West Hollywood.

  • 3 angela // Sep 15, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Despite my previous snarky comment, I do love this sketch.

  • 4 Brian // Oct 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    “A dragon guards the entrance of the magic garden of the Hesperides, and, without Hercules, Jason would not have tasted the delights of Colchis.”

    dragon = snake = powerful symbol = probably the sumerian God Enlil
    magic garden = Eden
    Hesperides = Tree of Life = legendary garden
    Hercules = son of Zeus, most likely another reference to Marduk son of Enki, another God in sumerian legend
    Colchis = probably where the garden was
    and Jason probably Gilgamesh in reference and was looking for immortality. This all has some kind of tie in to ancient sumaria.

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