Castel Sant'Angelo

Rome, Italy

Castel Sant'Angelo is a towering cylindrical castle, initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. The castle was once the tallest building in Rome.

The tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian was erected on the right bank of the Tiber, between 134 and 139 AD. Originally the mausoleum was a decorated cylinder, with a garden top and golden quadriga. Hadrian's ashes were placed here a year after his death in Baiae in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. Following this, the remains of succeeding emperors were also placed here, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217. The urns containing these ashes were probably placed in what is now known as the Treasury room deep within the building. Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius facing straight onto the mausoleum. It still provides a scenic approach from the center of Rome and the left bank of the Tiber, and is renowned for the Baroque additions of statues of angels holding aloft instruments of the Passion of Christ.

Destruction

Much of the tomb contents and decorations have been lost since the building's conversion to a military fortress in 401 and its subsequent inclusion in the Aurelian Walls by Flavius Augustus Honorius. The urns and ashes were scattered by Visigoth looters during Alaric's sacking of Rome in 410, and the original decorative bronze and stone statuary were thrown down upon the attacking Goths when they besieged Rome in 537, as recounted by Procopius. An unusual survivor, however, is the capstone of a funerary urn (probably that of Hadrian), which made its way to Saint Peter's Basilica, covered the tomb of Otto II and later was incorporated into a massive Renaissance baptistery.

Legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared atop the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, thus lending the castle its present name.

Papal fortress, residence and prison

The popes converted the structure into a castle, beginning in the 14th century; Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V's soldiers during the Sack of Rome (1527), in which Benvenuto Cellini describes strolling the ramparts and shooting enemy soldiers.

Leo X built a chapel with a Madonna by Raffaello da Montelupo. In 1536 Montelupo also created a marble statue of Saint Michael holding his sword after the 590 plague to surmount the Castel. Later Paul III built a rich apartment, to ensure that in any future siege the pope had an appropriate place to stay.

Montelupo's statue was replaced by a bronze statue of the same subject, executed by the Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, in 1753. Verschaffelt's is still in place and Montelupo's can be seen in an open court in the interior of the Castle.

The Papal state also used Sant'Angelo as a prison. Executions were performed in the small inner courtyard. As a prison, it was also the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini's 1900 opera Tosca; the eponymous heroine leaps to her death from the Castel's ramparts.

Museum

Decommissioned in 1901, the castle is now a museum, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo.

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Address

Lungotevere Castello, Rome, Italy
See all sites in Rome

Details

Founded: 134-139
Category: Castles and fortifications in Italy

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Ahmed Abouaiana (19 months ago)
Very nice place, as an architect I prefer to visit it once at night to be more close to buildings' details. And once in the morning to investigate the amazing social life. Really Rome is one of the most attractive cities in the world. You will enjoy it I am sure
Francesca Vitulano (19 months ago)
There are no enough star to review a rich in history place. Professionally talking ( I'm a wedding photographer in Rome) Castel Sant'Angelo , especially by night is one of the most beautiful landmark of Rome where to be portrayed. The river bank on the opposite side of the Castle give the perfect opportunity to be alone with a breathtaking view. .
Zyrin (19 months ago)
Amazing castle with way less tourists than I expected, at least as interesting to me as the Vatican to be honest. I'm saying this because the Vatican is grand and spectacular, but much of it is the same style as you get used to seeing in Rome. This castle was something completely different both in appearance and history, as it has been built on by several people and popes. There is influence from at least 2 maybe 3 different era's there. We were a bit unfortunate to be there during a couple massive class trips, but regardless of their noise it is magnificent. Maybe the best view in Rome as well, unless you get special access somewhere else that I don't know about.
Armando Pérez (19 months ago)
This was a fun adventure! We didn’t have this on our itinerary but decided to go for it. We loved the walk around the castle and it has some of the most breath taking views of Rome. I definitely recommend it. Great for photographers during sunset. We also had coffee and pastries on the mid level restaurant.
Sergey Gusev (19 months ago)
The castle is beautiful on the outside, but go inside is a must! Originally built as the mausoleum of Hadrian, many times rebuilt by the conquerors and rulers of Rome, the castle looks like a chest with surprises that await you at every corner. From the roof there are wonderful views of the Vatican and the Tiber, and in the courtyard there is one of the previous versions of the angel, which now adorns the top of the building. And of course, in the fortress there is a small cozy cafe.
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