Castel Sant’Angelo: The Fortress of the Popes

Castel Sant'Angelo

History of the Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) is one of my favourite sites in Rome. It is not only because of the beautiful views over Rome from there or its interesting history. It just makes me feel peaceful.

The castle is on the bank of the Tiber, near to the Vatican City. Its purpose has changed several times over the centuries.

View of the Castel Sant’Angelo from the bridge
View of the Castel Sant’Angelo from the bridge

Castel Sant’Angelo was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian to serve as a mausoleum for his family. The construction started in 123 AD. The building was finished in 139 AD, a year after the death of Hadrian, by his successor Antoninus Pius.

The circular corridor around the mausoleum of Hadrian
The circular corridor around the mausoleum of Hadrian
The winding ramp of the Roman construction
The winding ramp of the Roman construction

shaft

The mausoleum represented cylinder, decorated with a garden on the top and a statue of the emperor Hadrian, riding a quadriga. The quadriga is a chariot drawn by four horses. The mausoleum was connected to the city by a new bridge called the Pons Aelius (Aelian Bridge). It is known as Ponte Sant’Angelo (Bridge of the Holy Angel) nowadays.

Ponte Sant’Angelo
Ponte Sant’Angelo
Angel statue on Ponte Sant’Angelo
Angel statue on Ponte Sant’Angelo
View of Ponte Sant’Angelo from the castle
View of Ponte Sant’Angelo from the castle

During its reign the emperor Aurelian transformed the mausoleum into a military fortress. He also incorporated it in the city walls. The purpose of the fortress was to defend the northern entrance of Rome.

An inner courtyard
An inner courtyard

In the 13th century a covered fortified corridor (called Passetto di Borgo) was constructed. The corridor connects the Vatican City and the castle. The corridor can be seen on Google maps, it is located on the north side of the Via dei Corridori.

From the beginning of 14th century the papacy took the control of the fortress and converted it to a castle. Papal apartments were built to ensure a comfort stay in case of a siege.

View of St. Peter’s Basilica from the Castel Sant’Angelo
View of St. Peter’s Basilica from the Castel Sant’Angelo
The papal apartments
The papal apartments
Ceiling fresco
Ceiling fresco
The papal apartments
The papal apartments
The papal apartments
The papal apartments

Castel Sant’Angelo was also used as a prison. Many executions took place in its inner courtyards.  This castle was the place where Benvenuto Cellini, Cagliostro and Giordano Bruno were imprisoned before their executions.

Nowadays the castle is a museum. It represents various exhibits, including Renaissance paintings, military weapons, furnishings and sculptures.

painting

A small military museum in the castle
A small military museum in the castle

armour

The castle took its name from the large statue of Archangel Michael, situated on the top of the building. According to the legends, Rome was struck by a plague in 590 AD that ended with the apparition of the Archangel Michael above the mausoleum.

The bronze statue of Saint Michael by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt
The bronze statue of Saint Michael by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt
The original angel by Raffaello da Montelupo
The original angel by Raffaello da Montelupo

Go to the terrace on the top of the museum, the views over Rome are splendid.

View of Ponte Sant’Angelo from the castle
View of Ponte Sant’Angelo from the castle
View from the terrace of the castle
View from the terrace of the castle
View from the terrace of the castle
View from the terrace of the castle

The castle has seven levels (you can find a detailed map here):
Level 1 – from this level the winding ramp of the Roman construction starts.
Level 2 – the tombs are located on this level.
Level 3 – here you will find the prison cells and the warehouses for cereals and oil.
Level 4 – is the military floor and there are two big courtyards.
Levels 5 and 6 – the papal apartments.
Level 7 – is the top floor with the huge terrace overlooking Rome and the statue of Archangel Michael.

Rome is full of secrets especially if you are a fan of Dan Brown. In this case don’t skip the Angels and Demons tour that will reveal the secret messages of the Illuminati.

Tips for visiting Castel Sant’Angelo

  • To get the most beautiful view of the castle, approach it from the Ponte Sant’Angelo.
  • Admission is free on the first Sunday of each month.
  • The audio guide is helpful and it’s worth the price.
  • You don’t need to buy tickets in advance.

Useful information
Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50 – 00193 Roma
Access: 
Metro station Ottaviano or Lepanto – line A
Opening hours:
Monday: closed
From Tuesday to Sunday: 09:00 AM – 07:30 PM 
Admission: 
10,50 €
Web site: http://castelsantangelo.beniculturali.it/  

The castle looks ghostly beautiful at night. To find more about the mysterious side of Rome, get yourself on a ghost and mystery walking tour of Rome.

View of the Castel Sant’Angelo at night
View of the Castel Sant’Angelo at night
   

If you are hungry after all this walking, check out one of the best restaurants near Castel Sant’Angelo – La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo.

Have you visited Castel Sant’Angelo?

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