Castel Sant’Angelo is one of Rome‘s most important tourist attractions. The monument started its existence as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian and his relatives. At present, after having served, in the course of the centuries, as fortress, hiding place for popes and prison, it houses the Museo di Castel Sant’Angelo .
Castel Sant’Angelo Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Lungotevere Castello – Rome (tel. +39 06 6819111 (switchboard) or +39 06 32810 (information + reservations)).
History and description
Construction of the castle took form the year 135 until the year 139 AD. Its design was similar to that of the Mausoleum of Augustus, with two bodies placed on top of one another.
Hadrian himself, his wife and his adopted son Lucius Aurelius were buried there while construction was still going on, in the year 138. After that the urns of all the Emperors were placed in the mausoleum, probably in what is at present the Treasury. The last Emperor to be buried there was Caracalla (217).
In the beginning of the 5th century Augustus’ mausoleum was transformed into a fortress and incorporated in the Aurelian Walls by order of Emperor Honorius. A couple of decades later the Visigoths led by Alaric attacked and plundered the castle and destroyed the urns containing the emperors’ ashes.
One of the most important features of the castle at the time was the quadriga, a golden chariot, which was however destroyed when it was used to defend the castle by throwing it on top of the attacking Goths.
In the year 590 Castel Sant’Angelo got its present name, when to indicate the end of an epidemic of the Plague the Archangel Saint Michael appeared on top of the castle and put his sword back into its sheath. There are people who think this is just a legend and did not really happen.
Whether or not this really took place, a year later a marble statue of Saint Michael made by Montelupo was placed on top of the castle. Nowadays this statue can be seen in the castle’s courtyard, whereas the one on the roof is a bronze copy made by the Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt.
In 1367, Pope Urban V got the keys to the castle. This marked the return of the Pope to Rome after the exile in Avignon.
The Passetto del Borgo had been constructed, a passage connecting the Castel Sant’Angelo to Saint Peter’s Basilica and meant to serve as an escape route for the Pope in case of an attack on the Vatican. Still later a luxury apartment was built inside the castle, so that the Pope would lack nothing during a siege.
When the castle was transformed into a prison, a.o. Giordano Bruno was held there for 6 years.
In 1889, the castle was acquired by the state.
At present the castle houses a museum, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo. The bridge across the Castel Sant’Angelo, though constructed by Hadrian, also got the name Ponte Sant’Angelo.
The history of the Castel Sant’Angelo is quite unique in the sense that it is almost the only building in Rome that has survived for two thousand years without having been used as a quarry for newer constructions or fallen into ruin.