Castel Sant'Angelo: Things to Know Before you Go

Are you interested in visiting Castel Sant'Angelo while you're in Rome? Here are some things you should know before you go!

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History of Castel Sant'Angelo

While Castel Sant'Angelo is now a national museum, it was initially built between 123 and 129 A.D. as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. Since then it has gone through a number of changes and has served many different purposes. It has been a prison, a fortress, and even a residence for the pope. There is also a secret (at the time) passageway (Passetto di Borgo) connecting the Vatican to Castel Sant'Angelo that the pope could use to flee from danger if the need arose.

What You'll See

On your way up the 7 floors of this cylindrical building (a map of the various floors can be found here), you'll pass by a number of points of interest. Here are some that stood out for me.

  • Room of the Urns - While this room now has a drab and eerie vibe to it, it was once a very grand chamber where the burial ashes of Emperor Hadrian's family were kept. The room was then turned into a prison cell, where prisoners were left to die. 
  • Courtyard of the Angel - The marble sculpture of the angel that you'll find in this courtyard was the original sculpture that sat at the top of Castel Sant'Angelo. This angel is Archangel Micheal. The story behind this sculpture is that in around 590, when the plague had hit Rome, Pope Gregory had a vision of Archangel Michael appearing at the top of the monument signalling the end of the plague. Interestingly, this is also where the name Castel Sant'Angelo came from.
  • Papal apartments - Even though the popes may have been living here while escaping from danger, they lived in nicely decorated rooms. Some of these rooms have historical significance too. For instance the Chamber of Justice was where Pope Clement VIII ordered the death of Giordano Bruno via burning at the stake at Campo de' Fiori. The hooded sculpture found at Campo de' Fiori depicts him, at the spot where he was killed.

The View from the Top

In my opinion, what truly shines at the Castel Sant'Angelo is the amazing view of the Tiber River, the beautiful Ponte Sant'Angelo (Bridge of Angels), and St. Peter's Basilica from the terrace at the top of the monument. I visited just around sunset, and was able to witness the sky dimming and eventually turning dark as the city lights turned on. If you're thinking of visiting Castel Sant'Angelo, I highly recommend visiting at around this time to get both beautiful day and night shots.

Want to get here?

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m daily (click here for current hours)
Directions to get here:  Castel Sant'Angelo is not too far from the Vatican City. There are a number of buses that will drop you off close by. Click here for a bus number and bus stop information.
Admission: €10, but it can be visited as one of the museums with the Roma pass
Estimated time to spend here: Around 1 hour

Looking for more suggestions for things to do in Italy? Check out my Italy posts!

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