Castle of the Holy Angel/ Mausoleum of Hadrian

Castel Sant'Angelo

Castle of the Holy Angel is an extraordinary architectural landmark that was constructed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The construction began in 135 AD during the reign of Hadrian but was completed only in 139 AD by his successor Antonius Pius: on the square basement there was installed the cylinder topped with the artificial mound. At the top was an altar bearing a bronze quadriga driven by a charioteer representing Hadrian, as the Sun, ruler of the world. The edifice served its original purpose only for a short while, it was soon connected with the Aurelian Wall and was later used for military purposes. In 520 Theoderic turned mausoleum into prison. Among its prisoners were: sculptor, jeweler, authour of popular memoirs Benvenuto Cellini along with Count di Cagliostro. Cellini accomplished something inconceivable and escaped from the prison. For the entire history of the castle he has been the only one who could achieve that. His escape he later described in the memoirs.

The castle acquired its name only in the VI century when according to a legend in 590 Pope Gregory the Great saw Archangel Michael on the top of the fortress, hence, the name – Castle of the Holy Angel. The bronze statue accomplished by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt dates back to 1753. It replaced the old statue by Raffaello da Montelupo that presently stands in one of the courtyards of the castle. In the Middle Ages the castle was connected to Vatican by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The corridor is sometimes opened to visitors. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII in 1527 from the siege of Charles V’s during the Sack of Rome. The edifice was numerously rebuilt during its long history and its premises refer to different epochs. Inside the building was a spiral ramp, which led to a straight passageway ending in the cella, in which was the Imperial tomb.

The Courtyard of the Holy Angel got its name after the statue of the XVI century which until the XVIII century had been on the top of the edifice. From the inner courtyard there goes an enfilade of medieval halls that were rebuilt in the XVII century.When you get to the Hall of Justice take notice of the fresco of the Angel of Justice attributed to Domenico Zaga. Chambers of the Pope Clement VII were decorated by the frescoes of Giulio Romano. Several rooms located remotely from the courtyard were serves as the prison cells. If you go up the stair you will reach the loggia of Julius II, further up the stair there are chambers of the Pope Paul III adorned with the frescoes of Perino del Vaga. Corridor leads to the rooms that once used to the library and in the centre there is an entrance to the Room of the Secret Archives, where Vatican had stored its archives until 1870. The terrace over which the statue of the Angel aspires offers one of the best panoramic views of the historical centre.

Address: Lungotevere Castello, 50
Opening hours: daily 9 am – 7.30 pm
Coordinates: 41.903064, 12.466355