Rome, the city of mysteries. For once, let’s leave aside the city’s iconic sights and delve a little further into the secret memories of Italy’s capital.

The Church of Sacro Cuore del Suffragio is located along the Tiber on Lungotevere Prati, near what is known by the nickname Palazzaccio, the Palace of Justice. Beside the church is the Museum of the Souls of Purgatory (Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio), which contains a cabinet containing letters and objects sent by souls awaiting salvation. Some are branded by the hands of the deceased.

The Museum of the History of Medicine (Museo di Storia della Medicina) at 38 Via dell’Università contains a collection of ingredients, some of which rather grim, used for performing spells. Continuing the theme of suffering and the macabre, the human imagination seems to have no bounds as confirmed by a visit to the Criminology Museum (Museo Criminologico) at 29 Via del Gonfalone, a side street of Via Giulia.

On Via Giulia itself is the very informative facade of the Church of Santa Maria dell’Adorazione e Morte, decorated with small winged skulls, a reminder of when the congregation based in the church offered to bury abandoned corpses. During the proceedings for the annual Day of the Dead, the bones in its underground cemetery were used as decoration for the wax statues. There is a similar atmosphere in the Church of the Cappuccini di Santa Maria della Concezione on Via Veneto, near Piazza Barberini. Its five underground chapels are covered in the skulls and bones of the monks. Several of the skeletons are dressed in habits and their bones used to make rosettes, garlands and decorations.

Next our itinerary takes us to the area of the Colosseum. The Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo contains frescos from the 17th century by Niccolò Circignani known as ‘Pomarancio’, and Antonio Tempesta. These large works depict with great realism the torment endured by the saints in early Christianity, with scenes of torture, of saints burned alive, drowned, torn to pieces by lions and blinded. A pattern book of pain, which served to reinforce faith.

A short distance away is the Basilica of San Clemente, in the square of the same name. Underneath the church are at least four levels dedicated to the religion of Mithraism. A visit to these underground areas, built 17 centuries ago, transports you to a pagan world of sacrifices and Oriental cults. During Imperial Rome the Zoroastrian cult of Mithras, the god of light, reached levels rivalling that of Christianity; however the supremacy of the Christian faith is demonstrated by the fact that the church stands over the temple.

On the Arch of Titus is a bas-relief showing the spoils being taken from the Temple of Jerusalem to the Imperial Palace complex on the Palatine Hill after the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Among the stolen objects is the great Menorah, the candelabrum with seven branches that symbolizes Judaism. According to some, the candelabrum is still hidden in Rome.

The Magic Portal (Porta Magica) of Piazza Vittorio does not lead anywhere having been sealed with a wall during the last century. On its frame are engraved formulas that, if read correctly, can turn all metals into gold.  At one time the door was to be found on the Esquiline Hill as the doorpost of one of the three entrances to a philosopher’s house, a building designed according to symbolism and proportions relating to alchemy. The house belonged to Marquis Massimiliano Palombara who had never been able to use the formula, and therefore had it engraved on the door frame in the hope that someone would interpret it.