rivodutri’s-alchemical-door-to-enlightenment-in-17th-century-italy

Top image: The things that an alchemist used as the unknown alchemy searcher of Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door likely also used.

Add magic to natural philosophy and early chemistry knowledge and you have the ancient art of alchemy. Alchemists tried to change various substances into gold and looked hard for the elixir of immortality . Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door a mysterious 17 th century portal or doorway covered with elaborate alchemical carvings and symbols. The Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door is especially interesting because of its clouded history and its connection to strange world of alchemy.


The full view of Rivodutri’s Alchemical DoorThe full view of Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door

A Brief Historical Overview Of Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door

Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door is located in Rivodutri, a small town in the central Italian region of Lazio. The first half of the town’s name, i.e. “rivo” is derived from “rivus” meaning stream, whilst its second half, “dutri,” does not seem to have any particular meaning. It is unclear when Rivodutri was founded, though it is thought that the town was established during the 12 th or 13 th century AD, when smaller scattered settlements in the area were unified. It seems that Rivodutri was never at the center of any major historical event, but it was involved in the struggles between the Guelphs and Ghibellines .

Rivodutri was struck by a massive earthquake in 1948, which reduced much of the town to rubble. One may assume that amongst the destroyed buildings were those that could have told the story of the town’s past. In any event, the Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door was one of the architectural elements in Rivodutri that was fortunate enough to survive the earthquake. By the time of the catastrophe, the Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door already had a colorful history behind it.


Close up of arch including the cross of David and the flaming heart.Close up of arch including the cross of David and the flaming heart.

Alchemical Door Also Known As The Nicolo Door

Although popularly referred to as Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door, to avoid confusion with the more famous alchemical portal in Rome, this doorway is known also as the Nicolò Door. It is believed that the original building of which the door was part of was once owned by the Nicolò family. The family came into possession of the building in 1757, when it was bequeathed to them by a certain Don Bernardino, who belonged to the Camisciotti family. It has been speculated that the door was made by the Camisciotti, a powerful town family in the 17 th century AD. Members of the family are frequently mentioned as holding important public administration and ecclesiastical positions during that time.  

In 1874, the building was transformed into the Women’s School and Homes for Employees, after it was given to the town’s administration. At the end of the 19th century AD, the building, along with several houses, was demolished, as the town’s main street, Via Dritta (known today as Via Umberto I), was being widened. As a consequence, Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door was brought to a new location, and set up there. Following the earthquake, Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door was dismantled, and kept in a communal storehouse. About 30 years later, the portal was reassembled on its original site, where it has since served as a gateway to a small public garden.


The heart in flames on Rivodutri’s Alchemical DoorThe heart in flames on Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door

The Door’s Connections To The Pseudoscience of Alchemy

As indicated by its name, Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door contains carvings and symbols related to alchemy. One of the best-known aims of this branch of knowledge (widely considered as a pseudoscience today) is the transmutation of base metals into gold.

But based on the symbols on this door, it has been suggested that its builder was not so interested in the material transformation of metals into gold. Instead, he/she was more concerned with a human spiritual transformation from a state of ignorance to one of enlightenment. This is seen, for instance, in the heart in flames, which occupies the position of the keystone (if the door were imagined as an actual arch). This symbol is thought to be a representation of Christ’s universal love. Another Christian symbol on the door is the Chi Rho, one of the oldest Christograms.


The Chi Rho Christian symbol which is found on the Rivodutri's Alchemical Door in central Italy.The Chi Rho Christian symbol which is found on the Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door in central Italy.

The symbols on Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door, however, are not limited to Christian ones. There is, for instance, a two-headed figure with a crown on the top of the arch, above the heart in flames. It has been suggested that this figure represents Hermaphroditus, an ancient Greek god believed to be the offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite. A common interpretation of this figure is that it represents the union of opposites, which is necessary for the attainment of enlightenment. In addition to the unity of the male and female, the figure also represents the unity of spirit and matter. The position of the symbol on the top of the door also suggests that this is the pinnacle of the alchemical process for the unknown Rivodutri alchemist that built the door.

In addition to these symbols, there are also a number of inscriptions in Latin on Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door. The one associated with the two-headed figure, for instance, is “REX ET REGINA,” meaning “King and Queen.” The other inscriptions, however, are more cryptic. As an example, there is an inscription that reads “EX TUA MEA LUX EX MEA TUA,” which may be translated to mean “From my light to yours, from yours to mine.” It is speculated that this may be a reference to the conversion of the body into spirit and spirit into body.

There Is More Than One Alchemical Door In Italy!

As amazing as Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door is, it is not an entirely unique object in Europe. In 17 th century Italy, and in other parts of Europe as well, alchemy was a popular pursuit amongst the nobility. In Rome, for instance, there was a group of alchemists known as the “Alchemists of Palazzo Riario,” who met at the court of Christina, the former queen of Sweden who was living in exile in the city.

One of these alchemists was Massimiliano Palombara, a Roman marquis. Palombara was so enthusiastic about alchemy that the villa he built had five doors, each of which had alchemical symbols, much like the one at Rivodutri. Today, however, only one of these doors have survived, and may be seen inside the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, which is a park today. According to legend, the symbols on Rome’s Alchemical Door contain the recipe for the transformation of base metals into gold. Palombara had allegedly received the recipe from a visiting alchemist. Since the marquis was unable to decipher the recipe, he had it inscribed onto the door, in the hopes that someone would eventually solve it.

To conclude, it is clear that Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door and its counterpart in Rome both deal with the subject of alchemy. Nevertheless, the symbols on both doors are quite different, a reflection of the varied interests that the alchemists had. In the case of Rivodutri’s Alchemical Door, the primary interest was the transformation of the body and spirit. The more famous doorway in Rome, on the other hand, is associated with the belief that it was possible to transmute base metals into gold.

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