The Castel Sant’Angelo, which is located in Rome, looks grandiose. However, its history is as impressive as its appearance.
Built during the birth of Christianity in Rome, the cylindrical mausoleum is located on the banks of the Tiber River. Throughout its life, this castle has been through a lot:
- it served as the final resting place of the Roman emperor.
- it served for a time as a residence for the pontiffs.
- it became a fort and then a dungeon.
- Castel Sant’Angelo eventually became a treasure house and museum.
Table of Contents:
1. Hadrian’s Mausoleum
2. Castel Sant’Angelo Decline
3. Fortress, Papal Residence, Prison
4. Architecture of Castel Sant’Angelo
5. Changes Over Time
6. What is Remarkable about Castel Sant’Angelo
7. Castel Sant’Angelo Gallery
8. How to Get to Castel Sant’Angelo
9. What Else You Need to Know About Castel Sant’Angelo
10. My Rome Tips
Around 139 AD, a tomb was built in Rome for the Emperor Hadrian Publius. The mausoleum was originally cylindrical in shape, and its decoration was very rich. On the flat roof was an ornamental garden, in its very center was a quadriga in gilding. In general, such architectural decorations, i.e. kovrigas, were used for theatrical buildings, they represent a two-wheeled chariot of Apollo in a harness of four horses.
The ashes of the Emperor of Rome were placed in a tomb along with the urns of his wife Sabina and her son, adopted for the emperor. The Ponte Sant’ Angelo, the now famous St. Angelus Bridge, was also built. It leads to the tomb from the very center of Rome.
The mausoleum soon lost its former solemnity and splendor as it was used for military purposes, as a fortification. The Gothic invasions of Rome in the 5th century resulted in the statues, decorations and urns being destroyed and looted.
One legend says that in 590 AD in Rome, the archangel Michael appeared over the mausoleum. He put his sword in its scabbard, thus marking with this event the subsequent end of the plague epidemic. This event led to the tomb being called what it is to this day – Castel Sant’Angelo.
There is a curious peculiarity. In Italy, as well as in some other European countries, when a person sneezes, they say “Blessed be!” in the manner of our usual “Bless you!”. This is explained by the fact that in medieval times the first symptoms of plague were considered to be sneezing. Who else could help a person who was sick with it? Only God! This is how our past creates our everyday life, even in its smallest manifestations.
Fortress, Papal residence, Prison
XIV century again changed the purpose of the current landmark of Rome. Thus, the Castel Sant’Angelo was transformed into a residence for the popes. This led not only to a change in its functional purpose, but also to gradual external changes. Pope Nicholas III, for example, united the castle and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This was done by means of a special covered corridor, which also received its name – Passetto.
When the army of Charles V invaded Rome in 1527, the castle walls became a refuge for Pope Clement VII. The inhabitants of the besieged fort were able to resist the attackers through special windows. By the way, among the heroic defenders at that time there was Benvenuto Cellini, a famous sculptor and jeweler in Rome and not only.
Later, the pontiff equipped the mausoleum with comfortable apartments in case Rome was besieged again. At the same time, the Catholic Church in Rome decided to build a dungeon within the walls of the fortified castle. At one time Giordano Bruno, known as a Dominican friar, astrologer and scientist, spent six long years in it.
Interestingly, the fort’s former defender, Benvenuto Cellini, fell out of favor with the pontiff some time later and was also put behind bars. However, the sculptor proved to be a man of dexterity and skill, so he managed to escape, thus leaving Castel Sant’Angelo.
Castel Sant’Angelo Architecture
The main architectural ensemble, the foundation of the castle, was formed during the reign of Emperor Hadrian in Rome:
- Expensive marble was used to clad the already massive cube-shaped base.
- Volcanic stone was used for the “puck” at the top.
- Travertine was used to clad the structure from the outside.
- And carved pilasters with the appearance of cattle heads were added as decorations.
Surrounding the mausoleum of Rome were walls that played not only a decorative but also a fortification role.
Nowadays, the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome looks much more modest than it did during Hadrian’s reign.
The centuries-long history of the castle has meant that its magnificent decoration has also been lost in these centuries. Yet the exterior structure that Castel Sant’Angelo now has is virtually unchanged.
But from within, transformations were always taking place, and to a greater extent. The ancient tombs of Rome, where the emperor and his family, including Antony Pius and Mark Antony and his entourage, had found eternal rest, were very seriously destroyed. The urns themselves, in which the ashes were kept, were lost.
Since the XIV century the mausoleum of Rome was transformed into a fortress. The walls of the castle were to be reinforced on behalf of Pope Boniface IX, which was done by the architect Niccolo Lamberti. He also equipped the bastions and created a single entrance, which was a lift bridge. A new room also appeared directly in the mausoleum, the Chapel of St. Michael.
The course of Rome’s history continued to influence the changes to the castle. Thus, Pope Alexander VI decided to create a real fighting stronghold. This was the task that he assigned to the executor, who was Antonio da Sangalo Sr.
As a result, 4 bastions were erected to strengthen the building, and the buildings were surrounded by a deep moat. Also the arrangement of the fortress of Rome assumed the appearance of the papal apartments. The frescoes for them were created by the painter Pinturicchio. The new palace became a place for celebrations and receptions.
Changes Over Time
The statue of Archangel Michael, who holds a sword in his hands, was created here in 1536. It is made of marble, bronze was used for the wings of the saint. It is a symbol of the castle, which has become a kind of reminder of the events of the past and the legend associated with it. It also guards the castle. Thanks to the efforts of de Montelupo, the Angel’s Court was formed on the territory of the castle, where the statue of the archangel found its place.
A significant part of the existing buildings of the fort of Rome, built in XV-XVI centuries, in the second half of the XVII century. was destroyed. Pope Urban VIII encouraged this in order to improve the fort. This provided for a protective wall and appropriate fortifications.
The bridge that leads to the castle was decorated in 1667, since then it has been decorated with statues of angels. In two years, the architect Bernini and his apprentices created 10 sculptures. Baroque-style statues can still be seen in Rome on the bridge that leads to the castle. The bridge is guarded by angels.
Castel Sant’Angelo kept changing. For example, the stone sculpture of the Archangel Michael was continued in the 18th century with bronze. This is the roof of the castle, which was designed by the Flemish sculptor von Verschaffelt. The observation deck offers a magnificent view of Rome.
Today Castel Sant’Angelo is available to those who wish to visit it as a tourist attraction. It is divided into 6 functional levels:
- St. Angelus courtyard
- Apartments of Pope Boniface XI
- Patio (former place of execution)
- A small chapel (the place where the condemned went to pray their last prayer before execution).
- A Roman atrium in the form of an arch leading to Hadrian’s tomb.
- A spiral descent leading directly to the mausoleum of Rome itself
Behind the corridor in the castle is the hall where the ashes of the emperor and his family were kept. There are also prison rooms and various storerooms created in the 16th century for storing food and grain. There are also separate rooms in the castle, formerly used for storing oil, which in turn served as an all-purpose remedy during sieges.
Castel Sant’Angelo is complemented by the cozy Angel’s Court. In the Hall of Pope Clement III there is an elegant fireplace and a door originally decorated with carvings. In the Hall of the Court, the decorations are cannons, which have survived from the Middle Ages, as well as cannonballs. Here on the walls there is also a part of a fresco with an angel on it. The Apollo Hall of the castle was formerly used for social receptions.
Other places and rooms of the castle include the Chapel of St. Cosmas and Damian and the Hall of Clement VII. In addition, you can see the courtyard of Alexander VI, equipped with a well, as well as the chapel and courtyard of Leo X. But this is not all. For example, among the interesting places in the castle is a sympathetically decorated bathing room created by the architect, painter and decorator Giovanni da Udine during the reign of Clement VII.
Castel Sant’Angelo Gallery
The Castel Sant’Angelo also has a gallery. It was once the route of a pilgrimage to meet the Pope. Here you will find the rooms of Pope Pius IV and the loggia of Julius II, which offers a magnificent view of the Elio Bridge and the city. The listed attractions at the castle are realized thanks to the efforts of Master Giuliano da Sangallo, a Florinthian engineer and architect.
The castle houses an extensive collection of military uniforms and weapons dating from the 15th to the 20th century. On the opposite side of the Julius Loggia (towards via Flaminia) is the loggia of Paul III. The Paolina Hall is part of the most luxurious and richly decorated apartments of the castle of Paul III. As an embodiment of former mythology, the Perseus Hall was appropriately decorated with motifs taken from the legend of the same name. The theme of mythology can also be traced in the Hall of Cupid and Psyche.
Castel Sant’Angelo, as already mentioned, also has a treasury. It has the form of a rounded room that contained the riches of the pontificate in the XV-XVI centuries. There is also a library in the castle, which was laid out under Paul III. The richness of decoration can also be seen in the rooms of the Garlands and Adrianeo, for which were used luxurious frescoes dating back to the XVI century.
There are also triple rooms, called Cagliostra. The apartments in the castle were once used by Count Cagliostro himself. The Pompeano Corridor, located between the Apollo Hall and the library, is decorated with magnificent ceiling paintings. Of course, Castel Sant’Angelo has a caretaker’s room. This room was added to the castle in the 18th century.
Castel Sant’Angelo also has a circular and columned hall. They appeared here in the XIV century. Marble columns are used for decoration, they were once ordered by Pope Benedict XIV. At the moment these rooms of the castle of Rome are used as a place for storing infantry banners. After passing through the circular hall, you will find yourself on the Angel’s Terrace, the view of Rome from here is simply gorgeous.
How to Get to Castel Sant’Angelo
The exact address of the castle in Rome is Lungotevere Castello, 50. You can get here via the metro line A, at the Lepanto and Ottaviano-San Pietro stations. Also in the direction of the castle are the following Rome buses: 40, 280, 23, 62, 982, 271:
- If you choose any of them, you will have to get off at the Piazza Pia stop.
- If you take bus 34, you will also be near the castle, in this case you will have to get off at the via di Porta Castello stop.
- If you take one of the buses numbered 990,87,926 or 49 you will get off at the intersection of via Crescenzio and Piazza Cavour.
- If you take bus number 64 or 46, get off at the Santo Spirito stop and the Castel Sant’Angelo will be very close by.
What Else You Need to Know About Castel Sant’Angelo:
- Castel Sant’Angelo is available to visit from 9am to 7.30pm.
- At 6.30pm the ticket office closes.
- The entrance fee is around 20 euros (subject to change).
- There is an age discount for EU citizens, whereby the cost of a visit to the castle for people between 18 and 25 years old will be 5 euros.
- A group visit, starting from 20 people, involves a booking fee of 1 euro per visitor.
- The castle can be visited free of charge every month on the first Sunday of the month.
- The telephone number to contact is +39 0632810.
- Castel Sant’Angelo is available online for information about it at castelsantangelo.com
- Tickets can be purchased at the link – https://www.tiqets.com/en/castel-santangelo-tickets-l141949/
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- How to avoid long lines at attractions in Rome. Tickets to the Colosseum bypassing the line.
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- Touring Rome with locals can help you get to know the city. The best way to get to know an unfamiliar city is to walk around it with someone who has lived here for years.
- Rome City Pass is a single card that will simplify the organization of your vacation in Rome and will help you save time and money.
- City Sightseeing Rome is a tour bus and a great way to get to all of Rome’s essential monuments quickly, in breeze and in comfort.
- Hotels in Rome: our choice and recommendations.
- How to avoid long lines at Rome attractions – tickets to the Vatican bypassing the lines.
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