Castel Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant'Angelo

Coordinates: 41°54′11″N 12°27′59″E / 41.903064°N 12.466355°E / 41.903064; 12.466355

Mausoleum of Hadrian
Built in 135 AD - 139 AD
Built by/for Hadrian
Type of structure Mausoleum
Related articles None.
Blue pog.svg
Mausoleum of Hadrian
Castel Sant'Angelo from the bridge. The top statue depicts the angel from whom the building derives its name.

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as the Castel Sant'Angelo, is a towering cylindrical building in Rome, Italy. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.


Hadrian's tomb

The tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian, also called Hadrian's mole,[1] was erected on the right bank of the Tiber, between 135 AD and 139 AD. Originally the mausoleum was a decorated cylinder, with a garden top and golden quadriga. Hadrian's ashes were placed here a year after his death in Baiae in 138 AD, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138 AD. Following this, the remains of succeeding emperors were also placed here, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217 AD. The urns containing these ashes were probably placed in what is now known as the Treasury room deep within the building. Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius facing straight onto the mausoleum – it still provides a scenic approach from the center of Rome and the right bank of the Tiber, and is renowned for the Baroque additions of statues of angels holding aloft elements of the Passion of Christ.


Much of the tomb contents and decorations have been lost since the building's conversion to a military fortress in 401 and its subsequent inclusion in the Aurelian Walls by Flavius Augustus Honorius. The urns and ashes were scattered by Visigoth looters during Alaric's sacking of Rome in 410, and the original decorative bronze and stone statuary were thrown down upon the attacking Goths when they besieged Rome in 537, as recounted by Procopius. An unusual survivor, however, is the capstone of a funerary urn (probably that of Hadrian), which made its way to Saint Peter's Basilica and was incorporated into a massive Renaissance baptistery. The use of spolia from the tomb in the post-Roman period was noted in the 16th century - Giorgio Vasari writes: order to build churches for the use of the Christians, not only were the most honoured temples of the idols [pagan Roman gods] destroyed, but in order to ennoble and decorate Saint Peter's with more ornaments than it then possessed, they took away the stone columns from the tomb of Hadrian, now the castle of Sant'Angelo, as well as many other things which we now see in ruins.[2]

Legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared atop the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, thus lending the castle its present name.

The view from Castel Sant'Angelo towards Vatican City.

Papal fortress, residence and prison

The popes converted the structure into a castle, from the 14th century; Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St. Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V's Landsknechte during the Sack of Rome (1527), in which Benvenuto Cellini describes strolling the ramparts and shooting enemy soldiers.

Leo X built a chapel with a fine Madonna by Raffaello da Montelupo. In 1536 Montelupo also created a marble statue of Saint Michael holding his sword after the 590 plague (as described above) to surmount the Castel.[3] Later Paul III built a rich apartment, to ensure that in any future siege the Pope had an appropriate place to stay.

Montelupo's statue was replaced by a bronze statue of the same subject, executed by the Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, in 1753. Verschaffelt's is still in place, though Montelupo's can be seen in an open court in the interior of the Castle.

The Papal state also used Sant'Angelo as a prison; Giordano Bruno, for example, was imprisoned there for six years. Executions were made in the small interior square. As a prison, it was also the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca from whose ramparts the eponymous heroine of the opera leaps to her death.


Decommissioned in 1901, the castle is now a museum, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant'Angelo.

Popular culture

The Castel Sant'Angelo appeared in Dan Brown's 2000 novel Angels & Demons. The location was the secret lair for the Hassassin and was seen as the last existing church of the Illuminati. The book also emphasized the Passetto di Borgo as a secret way of getting from the Vatican to the castle. It also appears in the 2009 motion picture, Angels & Demons, as one of the locations where a clue that leads to the papal assassin.

The castle appeared in the film Roman Holiday in a scene taking place on barges on the river below.

In Puccini's opera, Tosca, the Castel is where Cavaradossi is held prisoner. After murdering Scarpia in his private room at the Palazzo Farnese, Floria Tosca goes to the Castel Sant'Angelo, safe conducts in hand, where her lover, Mario Cavaradossi is to be executed. She has been led to believe it will be a mock execution and is horrified to find her lover dead. Rather than be arrested by Scarpia's henchmen, she throws herself from the rooftop.

The castle is one of the settings of Endymion and The Rise of Endymion, books in the Hyperion Cantos by author Dan Simmons. In the novels it has been relocated, along with large parts of the Vatican to the fictional planet Pacem. It serves as a prison and site of the torture of several protagonists in the novels, which include a resurgent version of the Catholic Church being the major power in human society.

In 1980, the American punk rock band The Ramones played a concert outside the castle and also the hard rock band Kiss played an outside show at the Castel.

In the Trinity Blood novels, a castle called San Angelo is the seat of power for the Catholic Church, though it is not known whether this is the same castle as the one in real life.

The Castel appears in the 2009 video game Assassin's Creed 2 and also more prominently in the game's 2010 sequel, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. In both games it is used as the official residence of Pope Alexander VI and his children, Cesare Borgia and Lucrezia Borgia. The Castel is protected by the Papal Guard as well as many Roman guard. During Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the Castel is infiltrated by the main character, Ezio Auditore, in an attempt to rescue Caterina Sforza and again later when trying to recover one of the "Pieces of Eden". It appears again in the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood downloadable content, The Da Vinci Disappearance, when Ezio must infiltrate the Castel to steal two paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci. Also in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood you can gain a trophy for jumping from the top of the Castel Sant'Angelo with a parachute.

The design of the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio, which is the final resting place of US President William McKinley and his family, was based upon the Tomb of Hadrian according to its architect, Harold Van Buren Magonigle.



See also

External links

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