Between 134 and 139 the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome appeared on the right bank of the Tiber. The commissioner was the famous emperor Hadrian, whose ashes were kept here after his death. 138 was a bad year for the family because both Hadrian, his wife Sabina and his first adopted son Lucius Aelius died in this year. It was the beginning of a tradition in which the remains of fallen emperors found their final resting place in the majestic Castel Sant Angelo. The last of them was Emperor Caracalla, who built the similar named baths of Caracalla.
In the beginning of the fifth century, the mausoleum was converted into a military fort and unfortunately many tombs and decorations were lost in the process. The Aurelian walls were also added because of Flavius Augustus. Despite its new function, the Visigoth plunderers couldn’t be stopped. They destroyed many urns but fortunately the final piece of the grave of Hadrian survived the invasion of the barbarians. Since then, it has been beautifully displayed in the Otto II tomb in the St. Peter’s Basilica.
A century later the Goths tried to overtake the castle, and in an attempt to keep them out many bronze and stone statues were thrown at these miscreants.
Papal residence and prison
In the fourteenth century the fort was transformed into a castle and Pope Nicholas III connected the St. Peter’s Basilica with the Castel Sant’Angelo with the help of a secret passage: the so-called Passetto di Borgo. As a result, during the siege by Charles V in the sixteenth century, Pope Clement VII could take refuge here. A few years later, pope Paul III built a beautiful apartment here so that the popes could shelter in appropriate circumstances. You can still admire the exceptionally beautiful frescoes and works of art from the Renaissance period.
Later the building would also be used as a prison by the popes and some prisoners were even killed here.
How did the Sant Angelo Castle in Rome get its name?
According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 590 with his sword on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome to announce the end of the Great Plague. To commemorate this event, Montelupo made a marble statue in 1536 that was replaced by a bronze statue more than two centuries later. The Fleming Peter Anton van Verschaffelt had the honor to create this. The original statue can still be admired on a square inside Castel Sant Angelo.
Visiting Castel Sant Angelo: practical information
Since 1901 this castle officially serves as a museum, so you can now visit the Castel Sant’Angelo.
Tickets cost €15,50 for adults, seven euros for citizens of the European Union between 18 and 25 years and children can enter for free.
Castel Sant Angelo can be visited every day from nine o’clock in the morning until half past eight in the evening, every day of the week except January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
An entry ticket + audio guide costs €21 per person.
There are five levels:
- At the first level you’ll find the mausoleum, where the tombs are located.
- The second one consists of the prison and the warehouses for grains and oil.
- The third was used for military purposes. On the Cortile dell’Angelo (Court of the Angel) you’ll find the original statue of the archangel Michael. Here you can also visit the actual museum where you can view weapons, paintings and furniture.
- Level four consists of the papal apartments and the rooms of Paul III, Clement VII to VIII and Leon Clemens X.
- Finally, on the fifth level you can enjoy a beautiful view of Rome and the Vatican from the terrace.
Castel Sant Angelo in the spotlights
- If you’ve read Dan Brown’s exciting Bernini Mystery, or seen the film Angels and Demons, then you already know a bit more about this famous castle. In the story, the Chapel of the Illuminati is located inside the Sant Angelo Castle. The secret passage of the Castel Sant’Angelo also plays a crucial role in both the book and the film.
- You can also climb the Castel Sant’Angelo in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood! Furthermore, this game is highly recommended if you’ve always wanted to walk around in the real Old Rome (or ride around on a horse).
- Culture enthusiasts may have known that Castel Sant Angelo also appears in the opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. The female hero finds her dead here when she jumps from the castle.
Five fun facts about Castel Sant Angelo
- The bridge that connects the city with the Castel Sant’Angelo was originally called Pons Aelius but was soon renamed Ponte Sant Angelo. The magnificent statues were only added during the Baroque period.
- A long time ago, the Castel Sant’Angelo was the highest building in Rome.
- The cylinder of the building has a diameter of 64 meters or 210 feet.
- The complex also has a real torture chamber.
- Famous ex-prisoners are the Italian philosopher / arithmetic / poet / cosmological theoretician Giordano Bruno (who expanded the Copernican model) and the famous sculptor Benvenuto Cellini.
Tips for visiting the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome
- Don’t limit yourself to the outside only because the military museum and the papal residences are also really interesting.
- Around Castel Sant Angelo is a park where you can walk around in the summer and spring.
- Don’t forget to visit the magnificent Ponte Sant Angelo after or before your visit!
Are you following me on Social Media?
Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.