National Geographic : 1970 Jun
the Palazzo Malta and the 13th-century Villa Malta, on the Aventine Hill. Today more than 8,000 Knights of Malta in all parts of the world carry on the tradition of the "hospitallers," the archaic name for persons who band together to give aid to the poor and sick. The First Crusaders, arriving in Jerusalem in 1099, found the hospitallers al ready there tending pilgrims. Granted formal status by a papal bull in 1113, the order main tained its seat in the Holy Land until driven out by the Moslems in 1291. Since then it has been ousted from Rhodes by the Turks and from Malta by the French. After leaving Malta, the knights had no terri tory to rule, save for the two parcels of Ro man real estate acquired 500 years ago and used as headquarters since 1834. Humanitarian Work Goes On Through all their centuries of rising and declining fortunes, the knights have con tinued their widespread good works. For example, the Maltese cross appears on the uniforms of medical and welfare teams serv ing in Viet Nam and in emerging countries of Africa. An outpatient clinic in the Palazzo Malta cares for the indigent of Rome. One day I presented my card at the palazzo gate and asked to see the man in charge. Soon I was ushered through quiet, richly furnished corridors to the spacious office of the second ranking Knight of Malta. Grand Chancellor Quintin Jermy Gwyn, a Canadian, and Mrs. Gwyn live in the palazzo, as does his superior officer, the Prince and Grand Master Angelo de Mojana, an Italian. "My duties are mainly administrative," Mr. Gwyn told me. "I supervise the order's humanitarian work and also try to take some of the ceremonial load off the shoulders of the prince and grand master. As we are involved directly with the affairs of the order in some 50 countries, this amounts to something more than a full-time job." After we had talked for a time, Mr. Gwyn looked at his watch and excused himself. "I must be off to see the Argentine Ambassador." In the courtyard a chauffeur was dusting a car that flew a Maltese cross flag. In a mo ment the grand chancellor would cross the frontier, a stone curb separating the sover eign territory from the Via Condotti side walk. I wished him well, for I knew he faced untold perils. He would be leaving his tran quil realm for a ride across Rome. Every day the narrow, tangled streets of 762 the Eternal City become the arena for a form of warfare unlike any ever witnessed by the old Knights of Malta. Some call it traffico alla Romana-traffic in the style of Rome. Driving their many-cylindered chariots, or helmeted and goggled in the saddles of snarling Vespas and Lambrettas, today's centurions and legionaries ride forth to do battle with the foe. The foe? To each motorist the enemy is every other motorist, the representative of a sly, unscrupulous force that menaces him on all sides and must be outwitted, humiliated, possibly disabled or rendered immobile. Un less he does these things to the enemy, every Gift of France, namesake of Spain, and haunt of English Romantics, the Spanish Steps rise azalea-draped on a morning in spring. The French donated the elaborate stairway in 1725 to pave the muddy slope from Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square) to the French convent and church, Trinity dei Monti. Poet John Keats died in the house at lower right; Lord Byron lived nearby.