Originally built in the second century as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian, Castel Saint’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) was later transformed into a large castle where popes could take refuge in turbulent times.
Castel Sant’Angelo, situated on the right bank of the Tiber River, has had a turbulent history. During its many years of existence, the building functioned first as a mausoleum, then became part of the city wall and later was turned into a fortress before it functioned as a papal residence and finally as a barracks and military prison. Nowadays it’s a national museum.
Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum and housed the remains of Hadrian and his successors up to Caracalla. Its design was inspired by that of the Mausoleum of Augustus, built a century earlier.
Construction of the mausoleum started in 123 AD and finished in 139 AD, during the reign of Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius.
The building consisted of a square 89 meters wide base on which a cylindrical colonnaded drum with a diameter of 64 meters was constructed. The drum was covered with an earthen tumulus topped with a statue of Hadrian driving a quadriga.
The mausoleum was connected to the city at the other side of the river by a newly constructed bridge, the Pons Aelius. The bridge is now known as the Ponte Sant’Angelo. Its many statues were added later.
Between 270 and 275 AD, during the construction of the Aurelian Wall, Hadrian’s mausoleum was fortified and incorporated in the defensive wall around Rome. From that point on the building which had become known as the Castel Sant’Angelo was slowly turned into a fortress and in 1277 it was acquired by the papacy who used the building as a refuge in case of danger. A secret corridor, known as the Passetto di Borgo, connects Castel Sant’Angelo with the Vatican. The corridor was used by pope Clement VII and his Swiss Guards to take refuge from Charles de Bourbon’s army during the sack of Rome in 1527.
The papal apartments in the Castel Sant’Angelo feature beautiful rooms decorated with many frescoes. Below the apartments are several floors which include prisons and even a torture chamber. A spiraling corridor, part of the original mausoleum, leads to the lower levels of the building.
At the top of the fortress, overlooking the panoramic terrace stands a statue of an angel, built by the eighteenthcentury Flemish sculptor Pieter Verschaffelt. The statue depicts the archangel Michael who, according to legend, appeared on top of the fortress in the year 590 and miraculously ended the severe plague that had infested the city of Rome. After the event the building was renamed in honor of the archangel.
Location: Lungotevere Castello 50, Rome
Nearby sights: Ponte Saint’Angelo, Palazzo Altemps, Foutains of Four Rivers
How to get there: Underground Line A: stop Lepanto, stop Ottaviano-San Pietro. Bus: lines 62, 23, 271, 982, 280 (stop Piazza Pia)
Nearby hotels: Domizia Sancti Angeli , Sweet Stay in Rome , Hotel Marvi
Entrance times: from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Full price ticket: 14,50 euro per person
Closing days: Mondays, first Sunday of each month (reservation not available), 1 January, 1 May, 25 December.