One of the stops on our self-guided Demons & Angels tour of Rome, Castel Sant’Angelo has been on my must-see list since the first time I set foot in the Eternal City. The round fortress dominates its surroundings by sheer size and antiquity and I’ve always wanted to know what was going on inside its impressively fortified walls.
Built between 134-139 AD, the fortress was first used as a mausoleum to store the remains of Emperor Hadrian and his family, and later various other Roman rulers, until the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD and destroyed or dispersed much of the building’s contents. It was later converted into a castle in which the Pope could be secured during times of duress and was even used as a papal prison until, in 1901, it was converted into a museum.
Castel Sant’Angelo, or the Castle of the Holy Angel, was named after a vision of the archangel Michael that appeared to Pope Gregory the Great in 590 AD. A statue of this militant angel now stands in a courtyard inside the castle, and the bridge leading up to the fortress, the Ponte Sant’Angelo is home to ten angelic statues.
Gareth and I visited the castle on a dreary, gray-sky day. As soon as we had set foot within its walls, the clouds burst and effectively imprisoned us within that ancient tomb. Unperturbed, but thoroughly drenched, we set out to explore all its nooks and crannies, military displays and painting exhibitions. With everyone else trapped in the castle taking up all the seats in the small tea room, we eventually found a quiet corridor inside with an unused bench that had a fantastic view over the city from which we were awed by frequent lightning strikes and the sheer force of the downpour.
When the rain finally let up we walked along the outside ramparts. Had the grounds not been so wet and muddy, we might have ventured into the gardens as well, but decided against it.
We made our way out of the castle to walk across the old bridge, like the pilgrims of old, with angels gazing down upon us as the heavens cleared and the sky turned blue again.
Have you visited this ancient monument at the heart of Rome? What did you think of the mausoleum and the bridge of angels?
For more posts in the Ciao Italy 2014 series, click here.