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Castel Sant Angelo

Castel Sant Angelo

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Castel Sant Angelo in Rome was originally constructed as the magnificent Mausoleum of Hadrian, the fourteenth emperor of Rome from 117AD to 138AD. It is unclearly as to exactly when Castel Sant Angelo was built, but most sources date it to between 123 and 139 AD.

A fortress-like structure, successive Roman emperors and other leaders used Castel Sant Angelo for a variety of purposes. In 401, Emperor Flavius Augustus Honorius incorporated Castel Sant Angelo in Rome’s Aurelian Walls, destroying and losing many of the contents of Hadrian’s mausoleum in the process. It later turned into a medieval stronghold and a prison.

In the fourteenth century, popes began using Castel Sant Angelo as a place of safety, an emergency shelter in times of danger. In fact, there is a corridor linking Castel Sant Angelo with Vatican Palace. Various changes were made to Castel Sant Angelo in order to meet the requirements of the popes and to further fortify this already well-defended building.

Today, Castel Sant Angelo houses a museum which tells the story of its history, from the Roman remains of the Mausoleum of Hadrian to remnants of the fortified castle, the original prison cells and the papal apartments.

Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome Historical Facts and Pictures

Castel di Sant’Angelo (known as Castle of the Holy Angel in English), also referred to as Mausoleum of Hadrian, is a famous historic structure located in Parco Adriano, Rome, Italy. Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the edifice to serve the purpose of a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used as a fortress and a castle by the popes. The structure was once the tallest building in Rome.

Castel Sant Angelo Rome - plan and architecture

When Hadrian’s Mausoleum was built, it was the tallest building in Rome.

Like the building that inspired it, the mausoleum of Augustus, Hadrian’s mausoleum was also a decorated cylinder.

Hadrian's mausoleum was a pretty close copy of the mausoleum of Rome's first Emperor, Octavian Augustus. This rendering shows what Augustus' tomb might have looked like.

It was topped with cypress trees and Hadrian as the sun god Helios driving a golden quadriga (4-horse chariot).

On all sides along the top there would have been statues of previous emperors.

Size of Castel Sant Angelo Rome

Because Castel Sant’Angelo looms so large, both literally and figuratively, over Rome, it boggles my mind that Augustus’ mausoleum is in fact LARGER than Castel Sant’Angelo.

Augustus’ mausoleum measured 90 m (295 ft) in diameter by 42 m (137 ft) in height.

Hadrian’s mausoleum was comprised of a square 89 meters (292 feet) wide base on a cylindrical colonnaded drum with a diameter of 64 meters (210 feet).

A wall surrounded the mausoleum. The entry was through a large bronze gate flanked by two bronze peacocks.

You can see the peacocks in the new wing of the Vatican Museums (in the Pinecone courtyard you can see copies.)

You can see copies of Hadrian's peacocks in the Pinecone Courtyard of the Vatican Museums. The original peacocks from Hadrian's tomb are in the New Wing of the Vatican Museums.

The building was made of travertine and tufa using the opus caementicium pattern. You can still see some of this stone today on the first levels.

As you can see from this architectural plan of the levels of Castel Sant Angelo Rome, there is a lot to see inside. And it will give you a good sense of Rome's 2,000-year-old history.

There was a helicoid ramp inside that allowed access to the top.

That is the ramp you walk on today when you visit the inside of the castle. And it’s the ramp you use to exit the monument.

As you exit, take a look at the little model of the original mausoleum.

The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome

Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.

And if you have more time, or want suggestions for extra/other things to do, you'll find that there too.

Ponte Sant'Angelo

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Ponte Sant’Angelo, ancient (Latin) Pons Aelius, ancient Roman bridge, probably the finest surviving in Rome itself, built over the Tiber River by the emperor Hadrian (reigned 117–138 ce ) to connect the Campus Martius with his mausoleum (later renamed Castel Sant’Angelo). The bridge was completed about 135 ce . It consists of seven stone arches and five main spans of about 18 metres (60 feet) each, supported on piers 7 metres (24 feet) high.

In the 13th century Pope Clement IV installed an iron balustrade, and in the 16th century Pope Clement VII placed statues of Saints Peter and Paul at the end of the bridge. In 1688, 10 statues of angels, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, were mounted on the parapets.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Melissa Petruzzello, Assistant Editor.

Castel Sant’Angelo

Visitors like you should not leave Rome without visiting the Castel Sant’Angelo. What does it have that millions of visitors each year never fail to shed a tear for its remarkable beauty? This place should be on top of your list when you are visiting Italy since history is so thick with mystery as well as glamour. Why mystery? Did you know that the Castel Sant’Angelo was built as a mausoleum before it became a fortress? It became a fortress and a prison cell, used by popes during the 14th Century.

Soon enough, when the Popes converged at the Vatican, the Castel was turned into a museum. This attracts visitors from around the world to witness its uniqueness. You know St. Michael the Archangel right? His famous statue bearing the mighty sword is found there, according to legend, the archangel was reported to have appeared on top of the Castel some generations ago.

Visitors from all over the world do come to experience Italy in a way that they have never experienced in any other place. It has been used as the backdrop in the earlier films, and even the Operas. When you speak of Rome, you talk about the Castel Sant’Angelo. Do make sure to pack some extra party clothes since this museum by day turns into a happening place by nighttime. There are different live bands and overflowing drinks for everyone to joy. Aside from trendy clothes, your stay will also cost you a little more since the food is heavenly. Nevertheless, everything you do in Italy is worth it.

Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo is not your average castle, in both appearance and in its complex and fascinating history!

The castle is officially named the Mausoleum of Hadrian and was built between 134 -139 AD for the sole purpose as serving as the final resting place for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. For the first few hundred years of its existence, Castel Sant’Angelo fulfilled its duties as a mausoleum and the remains of many succeeding emperors were also buried within the castle grounds.

However, in 401 AD the building was converted into a military fortress to help strengthen Rome’s defenses against enemy territories. Because of this, it endured a multitude of attacks and many of its original statues and decorations (including the funerary urns containing the emperors) were lost or destroyed.

Interestingly, the castle took its present name well before it was actually turned into a castle! In 590 AD, a great plague swept through Rome, devastating the city. Legend says that when this epidemic was drawing to an end, the Archangel Michael appeared on top of the castle. Pope Gregory I took this as a sign, and renamed the building Castel Sant’Angelo (The Castle of the Holy Angel). Today, a bronze statue of the Angel stands in the apparition’s place.

Much later, in the 14th century, the Popes took charge and began converting the castle into, well, an actual castle! The castle was intended to be used as a refuge for the Pope if needed. In fact, one of the most interesting additions was the 800m long Passetto di Borgo in 1277, an elevated passageway that links the Castle to the Vatican City. In at least two instances, it was used to carry Popes to safety when the city was under attack!

While the Papal State had control of Castel Sant’Angelo, it served as a castle, a fortress and even a prison. Talk about a multi-function building! Many famous Italians were imprisoned within the castle walls, and executions were also performed in the castle courtyard! So, while it’s a place that has served many people well, these castle walls have seen an awful lot of bloodshed too.


The tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian, also called Hadrian's mole, [1] was erected on the right bank of the Tiber, between AD 134 and 139. [2] 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 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.

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 Honorius Augustus. 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. [3] The use of spolia from the tomb in the post-Roman period was noted in the 16th century – Giorgio Vasari writes:

. in order to build churches for the use of the Christians, not only were the most honoured temples of the idols [pagan Roman gods] destroyed, but in order to ennoble and decorate Saint Peter's with more ornaments than it then possessed, they took away the stone columns from the tomb of Hadrian, now the castle of Sant'Angelo, as well as many other things which we now see in ruins. [4]

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. A less charitable yet more apt elaboration of the legend, given the militant disposition of this archangel, was heard by the 15th-century traveler who saw an angel statue on the castle roof. He recounts that during a prolonged season of the plague, Pope Gregory I heard that the populace, even Christians, had begun revering a pagan idol at the church of Santa Agata in Suburra. A vision urged the pope to lead a procession to the church. Upon arriving, the idol miraculously fell apart with a clap of thunder. Returning to St Peter's by the Aelian Bridge, the pope had another vision of an angel atop the castle, wiping the blood from his sword on his mantle, and then sheathing it. While the pope interpreted this as a sign that God was appeased, this did not prevent Gregory from destroying more sites of pagan worship in Rome. [5]

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 Landsknechte 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 (as described above) to surmount the Castel. [6] 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 Giordano Bruno, for example, was imprisoned there for six years. Other prisoners were the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini and the magician and charlatan Cagliostro. 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.

Decommissioned in 1901, the castle is now a museum: the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo. It received 1,234,443 visitors in 2016. [7]

The castle owes its name to an incident that occurred in 590 C.E. After leading a procession of penitents around the city, pleading for relief from a deadly plague (a scene depicted in a page from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry), Pope Gregory the Great had a vision of the archangel Michael. In this vision, the angel sheathed his sword over the castle, indicating that the plague was at an end. Gregory renamed both the Hadrianeum and the bridge "Sant'Angelo" after the angel, and a marble statue of St. Michael was constructed atop the building.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Castel Sant'Angelo was a refuge for the popes in times of danger. Pope Nicholas III is credited with having a fortified passageway leading from the Vatican to the castle constructed. Perhaps the most famous instance of a pope's confinement in the castle is that of Clement VII, who was virtually imprisoned there when the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527.

The papal apartments were particularly well-appointed, and the Renaissance popes were responsible for lavish decor. One notably sumptuous bedroom was supposedly painted by Raphael. The statuary on the bridge was also constructed during the Renaissance.

In addition to its role as a residence, the Castel Sant'Angelo housed papal treasures, stored substantial foodstuffs in case of famine or siege, and served as a prison and place of execution. After the Middle Ages, it would be used in part as a barracks. Today it is a museum.

How to get tickets for Castel Sant’Angelo

I have always bought Castel Sant’Angelo’s tickets right at the castle: the lines here are usually manageable and in some cases non-existent. The last time we went, in summer, we were almost alone!

While this cannot be guaranteed, it is good to know that no major planning is usually needed.

However, should you be in Rome in the very high season (fall, spring and early summer) or should you prefer not to take chances you can book tickets online from the castle website.


Hadrian's Mausoleum

Originally built as Hadrian’s Mausoleum, this monumental tomb was designed by the emperor, himself, and overlooked the Vatican field.

Its cylindrical structure was covered in greenery with a bronze statue of Hadrian on a chariot overlooking the surrounding area. The internal spiral ramp led to the funeral cell containing big cinerary urns.

Legend tells the Archangel Michael appeared sheathing his sword atop the tomb to Pope Gregory the Great (Pope Gregory I), signifying the end of the plague of 590.

Castel Sant'Angelo under Construction

The tomb, which housed the burials of roman emperors up to Caracalla, was converted into a fortress. The citizens of Rome, sieged by barbarians in the 6th century, took shelter inside and used statues and decorations as projectiles to defend themselves.

Watch the video: Rom 2019: Petersdom und Engelsburg (August 2022).