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That Circular Castle – Castel Sant Angelo

castel sant angelo

If you have read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons or have seen its movie adaptation, you will be familiar with the majestic circular castle, known as Castel Sant Angelo. Yes, this same hide out of the Hassassin and said to be the last church of the Illuminati.

Castel Sant Angelo or the Mausoleum of Hadrian is the magnificent circular castle along the banks of the Tiber River and is Rome’s famous landmarks. Built in the earlier years of the second century, it was commissioned to be the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian and his family. It is also the final resting place of the subsequent Roman emperors the last emperor interred was Caracalla in the third century.

What we see today is the product of numerous renovations throughout the course of history. It was originally built as a beautifully decorated cylinder with a top garden and a golden quadriga. During the 3rd century, it was converted to a military fortress and formed part of the Aurelian walls. Much of the castle’s original structure and contents which includes the urns of Hadrian and his family were destroyed during the Sacking of Rome in the 5th century by the Visigoths. Meanwhile its bronze and stone statuary were thrown by the Goths in the 6th century. The present name Castel Sant Angelo was derived from a legend which tells that the Archangel Michael made an apparition atop of the castle. It relates that the angel appeared with his sword and asked for grace which ended the plague of 590. You will also notice that the castle now has a statue of the Archangel atop its massive structure.

During the 14th century, the structure was converted to a castle. It was connected by a fortified corridor of the Passetto di Borgo which leads to the St. Peter’s Basilica. The castle served as a refuge, fortress, escape route and guarded the treasures of the popes. It served as the sanctuary of Pope Alexander VI in the 15th century when Charles VIII invaded Rome. Meanwhile Pope Clement VII used the Passetto di Borgo as an escape route during the Sack of Rome in the 16th century. The castle also served as a warehouse, where stacks of food were reserved in case of an attack. It also has water tanks, wine sets, granaries and mill. The treasury room serves as the safety vault during the Renaissance. Additional rooms were built, like the chapel which housed the Madonna made by da Montelupo and an apartment for the Pope to stay in case there is an attack.

Like any other historical building, the Castel has its own share of notoriety. It served as the prison cell for Giordano Bruno, Benevuto Cellini and Cagliostro. It also witnessed executions in its courtyards and its dark cells witnessed horrible tortures of its prisoners. It was subsequently converted to a military barracks after the establishment of the Italian State.

With its long history and being a storehouse of numerous works of art, the castle is now the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’ Angelo. Tourists visit the castle to marvel at its story, architecture and its fine works of art which includes Baroque art among many others. Yes, it is also an ideal place to view Rome with the Tiber River.

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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