The Haunting Ghost Story Of Olimpia Maidalchini

In the modern-day United States, the First Lady has very little political power. But apparently in Ancient Rome, it was the sister-in-law of the Pope who really ruled the roost (especially considering she was also his mistress, via The Guardian). Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilij was an incredibly intelligent, somewhat manipulative social climber of the 17th century. She was, in fact, sister-in-law to Pope Innocent X, by marriage to his brother, Prince Pamphilio Pamphilij (via Eyes of Rome).

Pope Innocent X was rumored to have an ironically unholy relationship with his sister-in-law (not very innocent if you ask us), and their affair drove him to listen to her demands and decision making over matters in the Empire. She was nicknamed Pampessa, or lady pope, but she had more sinister nicknames than that. As goes the story with many powerful feminists throughout history, women adored her as she was a champion for nuns and prostitutes alike, but the men didn't quite feel the same way. In fact they detested her, especially in the papal court. They felt she had too much power over the corrupted Pope, and shouldn't be entrusted with important decision making, like choosing cardinals or determining foreign policy. Despite their concerns, the Pope officially declared her Minister of the Streets of Rome, and Minister of Finance of the Vatican.

Hatred for Pampessa

Members of Pope Innocent X's papal court, and men in the city, thought Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilij was sinful, manipulative, and greedy, only using the taxes she collected as part of her job description to bring wealth to herself and her own family (via Eyes of Rome). She was also known to regularly accept bribes for allowing people access to the Pope (via Italy Guides). Some Romans dubbed her a witch, with the nickname Pimpaccia of Piazza Navona, roughly translating to "Woman full of sins from Piazza Navona" (the square on which she lived).

Some historians question whether Pamphilij was truly a secret lover to her brother in-law, while others feel there is no other possible way she could have gained so much political power. The Pope even arranged the beautification of Piazza Navona, where she lived, with extraordinary fountains still seen today. 

Pamphilij was also a lover of the arts. Artists, musicians and playwrights were said to have worked frequently with Pamphilij, and she even commissioned the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a fountain in Piazza Navona ,which people travel from all over the world to see today (via The Guardian). She was once painted by the Spanish master painter Diego Velazquez, and that painting is currently being sold by Sotheby's (one of the largest fine arts brokers in the world) for $2 to $3 million. In addition to her lavish lifestyle and alleged greed, she was known to be incredibly selfish, even in death.

Pimpaccia's Ghost

Just before Pope Innocent X was about to die in 1655, Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilij knew her and her family were in danger, due to her declining popularity (via Eyes of Rome). In the hours of the pope's death, Pamphilij is said to have fled in a carriage with two stolen crates of gold coins. She never returned to Rome after running away, but died just two years later from the Black Plague. However, some say she did return, just not in life.

Romans claim to see a phantom dressed in black, carrying crates of gold, driving aimlessly through Piazza Novana in a black carriage pulled by black horses. Others have seen the carriage on the Ponte Sisto bridge, heading to the Villa of Pamphilij to her second home. Some say they hear shrill laughter when she appears, while others say you can only see her ghost on January 7, the anniversary of the death of her supposed lover (via Italy Guides). This mistress was a champion to some, and a menace to others, but even in death, she makes herself known on the streets of Rome.