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Decoding Castel Sant’Angelo: 10 Tales From Rome’s Iconic Fortress

Step into the timeless narrative of Rome’s history, where each cobblestone whispers tales of emperors, warriors, and visionaries. Banked beside the Tiber River, Castel Sant’Angelo stands as a sentinel of the city’s evolution.

In this article, we will set forth on an enthralling expedition through the annals of Castel Sant’Angelo, tracing its storied past from the opulent mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian to its transformation into a fortress, a haven for prisoners, and finally, a repository of art and history within Rome.

As we unravel the twelve compelling tales intricately woven within its walls, we’ll discover the secrets of its architectural brilliance, explore the lives of its inhabitants, and unearth the artistic treasures that adorn this monumental structure.

Join us on this immersive exploration as we unravel the enchanting saga of Castel Sant’Angelo, where history resonates and the soul of Rome echoes through the ages.

1. Hadrian’s Tomb

Constructed in AD 139, the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome stands as a testament to Emperor Hadrian’s legacy, originally serving as his mausoleum. This cylindrical structure on the banks of the River Tiber housed the ashes of Hadrian, his wife Sabina, and his son Lucius Aelius, later becoming the final resting place for successive emperors until Caracalla in AD 217.

Symbolizing imperial prominence, this site encapsulates Hadrian’s architectural prowess, evident in structures like the Pantheon, the Temple of Venus & Roma, and the Villa at Tivoli, while standing as an enduring monument to the grandeur of ancient Rome.

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2. 3rd Century to the Middle Age

During the Renaissance, Castel Sant’Angelo transformed Cardinal Della Rovere, who chose to reside inside the castle instead of the Vatican Palace. The Papal residences were renovated, and the Loggia towards the Tiber was built.

The structure evolved, incorporating a massive castle atop the ancient ruins of Hadrian’s Mausoleum, resulting in the loss of many original statues on the Ponte Sant’Angelo. Bernini designed the ten statues on the bridge in 1668, and the statues of St. Peter & St. Paul were erected in 1624.

3. Renaissance and Later

During the Renaissance, Castel Sant’Angelo transformed Cardinal Della Rovere, who chose to reside inside the castle instead of the Vatican Palace. The Papal residences were renovated, and the Loggia towards the Tiber was built.

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4. Castel Sant’Angelo Rome Museum

After serving as a prison, barracks, and warehouse for war materials, Castel Sant’Angelo was decommissioned in 1901. The mausoleum was abandoned until Colonel Luigi Durand de la Penne and Captain Mariano Borgatti initiated a massive six-year-long restoration campaign.

Inaugurated as a museum by King Vittorio Emanuele III, visitors can explore the open-air scenography, fifteenth-century shops, works of art, statues, frescoes, and even the Papal Apartments furnished with authentic historical pieces.

5. The Angel’s Sentinels

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s angel atop Castel Sant’Angelo symbolizes hope and protection. Added in the 17th century, it commemorates the legend of Archangel Michael, a guardian figure associated with the castle.

6. Papal Residence and Prison

Over the centuries, Castel Sant’Angelo served as a prison, hosting notable figures like Giordano Bruno. During peaceful periods, it also served as a luxurious papal residence. Popes used the castle as a refuge, connected to the Vatican by an elevated passage known as the Passetto di Borgo, allowing the pontiffs to escape to safety in times of crisis.

9. Architectural Brilliance

The architectural brilliance of Castel Sant’Angelo is a testament to the engineering prowess of ancient Rome. The towering cylindrical structure is crowned with a beautifully sculpted angel, which gives the castle its current name. The angel, designed by the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was added in the 17th century and symbolizes the legend of Archangel Michael appearing atop the castle, signaling the end of the plague in 590 AD.

8. Works of Art

Castel Sant’Angelo Rome has amassed a huge collection of art over time. A majority of these are accessible to the public and are located in the castle. Visitors can explore fragments from the ancient Hadrian tomb, artworks donated by private collectors like Contini Bonaccorsi, as well as sculptures and frescoes from the Renaissance period. As visitors make their way through the five floors, they can view carefully preserved murals, and on the roof, they will find the famous sculpture of Archangel Michael, the crown jewel of this mausoleum.

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9. Passetto di Borgo

The Passetto di Borgo is an elevated corridor that links Castel Sant’Angelo with the Vatican City. This 800-meter-long passageway was built in 1277 and was commissioned by Pope Nicholas III. During this time, the fortress also served as the Pope’s Residence. The passage served as an escape route for Popes in case of an attack.

Pope Alexander VI used it when Charles VIII invaded Rome in 1494, and Clement VII crossed it during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Visitors can see the passage from the castle, which is occasionally opened to the general public in the summer months.

10. Ponte Sant’Angelo

The Ponte Sant’Angelo is a bridge on the bank of the Tiber River that connects Castel Sant’Angelo to the city. Emperor Hadrian built the 135-meter bridge. Initially known as the Aelian Bridge or Hadrian’s Bridge, Christian pilgrims used it as a passageway to St. Peter’s Basilica. However, during the 7th Century, when Archangel Michael’s statue was erected at the mausoleum, the bridge was renamed the Ponte Sant’Angelo. During the Renaissance era, the Pope commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini to sculpt 10 angels to be erected on either side of the bridge.

Castle Sant’Angelo: A Recap

Castel Sant’Angelo stands not only as a physical landmark but as a living testament to the resilience and adaptability of Rome throughout the ages. From its origins as a mausoleum to its roles as a fortress, prison, and now a museum, the castle reflects the ebb and flow of history in the eternal city, particularly in the Borgo Neighborhood.

Its architectural grandeur, rich history, and impressive art collection make Castel Sant’Angelo a must-visit, inviting travelers to immerse themselves in Rome’s captivating narrative.