Things to do in Rome – Visit Castel Sant’Angelo

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Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) has survived for almost 2 millennia and serves as a reminder of Rome’s diverse history.  

Castel Sant Angelo Exterior Rome Italy

Renovated and enlarged over time, the building which originated as a family mausoleum, or sepulchre, built for Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD has been used since then as a fortified outpost, warehouse, prison, and papal residence. Today, as the National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo (Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo), the building houses a collection of historical artifacts, furniture, and artwork. 

Bastion Terrace Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

Surrounded by crenellated stone walls, protected by circular bastions (named for the Four Evangelists: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John),

Michael the Archangel Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

and topped by a statue of Michael the Archangel, the massive silo-esque fortification features

Brick Passageway with Spiraling Ramp Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

narrow stairways, ramps, corridors,

Section Drawing Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

and passageways that – as a measure of protection from invasion – spiral up past various chambers and courtyards (as shown in the cross section drawing).  

As you make your way up to the various levels, some of what you’ll see includes:

Stone reliefs and statues, such as:

Coat of Arms Pope Paul III Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

a relief of the Coat of Arms of 16th-century-pope Paul III;  

Michael Raffaello da Montelupo

and a statue of Michael the Archangel – attributed to Raffaello da Montelupo and sculpted in the 16th-century from marble and copper, this statue once stood on the top of the castle, but was removed to the Courtyard of the Angel;

Archway to Courtyard of the Angels Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Courtyard of the Angel – also known as the Courtyard of Honor, here’s where you’ll see Raffaello da Montelupo’s statue of Michael the Archangel, as well as the shrine of the Chapel of Leo X designed by Michelangelo

Courtyard of Alexander VI Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Courtyard of Alexander VI – formerly a treed garden, this semi-circular open-air space named for Rodrigo de Borja,  known as Pope Alexander VI. The courtyard is also referred to as the Courtyard of Oil (Cortile dell’Olio) for the storage chambers underground, and as the Courtyard of the Well (Cortile del Pozzo) for the water well which bears a relief of the pope’s coat of arms; 

The Courtyard of Clement X – situated adjacent to the Chapel of the Condemned (formerly part of the Armory of Pope Clement X) near the Bastion of Saint Luke, this ground-level corner courtyard is believed to have been used as a site for private executions; 

Several chambers in the former papal apartments (refurbished and decorated with furniture and artwork donated to the museum), among which are:

The Chamber of Cupid and Psyche Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

Ceiling Chamber of Cupid and Psyche Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Chamber of Cupid and Psyche – part of the apartments of Pope Paul III (whose coat of arms can be seen on the gilded ceiling) this chamber is furnished with items from the collections of Count Alessandro and Vittoria Bonacossi and Mario Menotti, and is decorated with frescoes depicting the fable of Cupid and Psyche

Loggia of Julius – built in the 16th century for Pope Julius II, this arcaded gallery overlooking the river and the Ponte Sant’Angelo features frescoed ceilings and amazing views of the city;

Loggia of Paul III Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

Loggia of Paul III – this 16th-century gallery with vaulted ceilings – whose eroded frescoes depict scenes from the life of Emperor Hadrian – leads to the private apartments of Pope Paul III;

The Pauline Hall Ceiling and Frescoes Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Pauline Hall – used by Paul III for entertaining and receiving guests, this striking chamber is decorated with polychrome marble floors, gilded ceilings, ornate stucco, grotesque panels, papal emblems, trompe-l’oeil paintings, life-size likenesses of Emperor Hadrian and Saint Michael the Archangel, and frescoed scenes from the life of Alexander the Great and Saint Paul;

Frescoed Passageway Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Pompeian Corridor – this narrow barrel-vaulted 16th-century passageway adorned with colorful frescoes connects the Pauline Hall and the Library Hall;

Throne in the Perseus Room Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Perseus Room – with its bold red walls, heavy wooden furniture (not original to the room), and decorative coffered ceiling, this chamber served as the pope’s study. Of note here, amidst the heraldic symbols and grotesque motifs, are the frescoed panels depicting maidens, unicorns, and the story of the room’s namesake, Perseus who’s also represented in a relief – at the center of the ceiling – as the Archangel Michael;

Room of Apollo Angels Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Room of Apollo – this 15th-century chamber built during the papacy of Nicholas V features a white paneled ceiling decorated with paintings depicting stories of the Greco-Roman god Apollo;

The Room of Urns – this room served as the burial site of emperor Hadrian and his family and in later years was used as a prison cell;

Bath House of Clement VII – commissioned by Pope Clement, this tiny Renaissance bathroom or ‘hothouse’ – also known as the stufetta – is decorated with frescoes and stuccoes depicting floral and faunal motifs, and mythological scenes;

The Treasury Room Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Treasury Room – The large iron lockboxes in this rotonda reportedly held the important documents and priceless treasures of the papacy, including jewel-encrusted regalia such as the pope’s mitre and triple crown (triregnum).  Decorated with dark wood-paneled cabinets and a labyrinthine-patterned brick floor, the treasury room also served as a prison cell and is believed by some to have been the original location of the sepulcher of Hadrian;

Terrace of the Angel Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

The Terrace of the Angel – the castle’s rooftop terrace offers a close up view of Flemish sculptor Peter von Verschaffelt’s, massive 18th-century statue of Michael the Archangel (shown sheathing his sword) and offers a panoramic view of Rome.

Drawbridge Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

Owing to its use as a fortress, Castel Sant’Angelo was equipped with drawbridges (for protection from invaders) and a weapons shop where you can see items from the armory. 

Medieval Weapons Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

Among these are: medieval helmets, halberds, poleaxes and ranseurs.

Birds Eye View Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

As you walk along the loggias, ramparts, and terraces you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of:

Passetto di Borgo Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

Passetto di Borgo – built at the request of Pope Nicholas III and incorporated into the remnants of a 6th-century wall, this medieval rampart, extending just under half a mile long, provided the popes with safe passage from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican City;

View of Bridge and River Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

Ponte Sant’Angelo (Sant’Angelo Bridge) – formerly known as Pons Aelius in honor of Emperor Hadrian who had it built in the 2nd century AD to provide access to his mausoleum, this pedestrian bridge spanning the Tiber was reconstructed in the 17th century.  Noteworthy features of the bridge are the sculptures of Saints Peter and Paul who stand at the end of the bridge facing the city, and – keeping watch over the bridge – the 10 angels designed by Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

View from Castel Sant Angelo Rome Italy

And of course, you’ll see the river down below,

Aerial View of Rome from Castel Sant Angelo Italy

and the city in the distance.

Getting there:

Castel Sant’Angelo is located at Lungotevere Castello, 50.

Ticket info:

Adult Admission = 10.00€; surcharge may apply for special exhibitions

Travel tip:

If it’s a sunny day and you’re looking for a bit of shade, there’s a nice park (Parco Adriano; free entrance) just outside of the castle walls.

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