Place of imprisonment of Benvenuto Cellini and of Giordano Bruno and nest of the plots engineered by the notorious Borgia family, Castel Sant’Angelo is one of the most fascinating sights to visit in Rome. The structure is also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, since this was the original purpose of the building: to serve as tomb for Hadrian and for the imperial family. It was erected between 135 and 139 AD, and for centuries it actually served its purpose: the urns containing the ashes of Hadrian, his wife, Sabina, his son, as well as of other emperors following to the throne of Rome were, indeed, placed inside the mausoleum, but the functional changes the structure underwent in time determined, in all likelihood, the moving of the urns in the Treasury room of the building (not to mention the fact a lot of the content of the tomb was lost during the barbarian invasions).

Originally, the complex came down to the cylindrical structure and to the so-called Pons Aelius (initially, less decorated than nowadays), but it was enriched with decorative and structural additions, first in the early 5th century, when the mausoleum was integrated in the defensive system known as the Aurelian Walls, by order of Flavius Augustus Honorius (in 401 AD). The current name of the mausoleum, in fact, dates back to approximately the same age, being owed to the apparition of Archangel Michael on the top of the mausoleum, in 590, delivering the city of Rome from a plague epidemic.

As from the 14th century, the military fortress was turned by the popes into a castle. It was also used by the popes as a prison where the enemies of the ecclesiastical power were thrown before the receipt of the sentence. The popes, for that matter, were the ones who, in order to highlight the connection of the mausoleum with the papal state, commissioned the construction of a corridor between the castle and the Saint Peter’s Basilica (the corridor, a fortified covered structure, was also used to military defense purposes), called Passetto di Borgo. Pope Nicholas III was the one who had the corridor built, but the chapel inside the complex was commissioned by Pope Leo X, whereas the apartments inside the castle, striking by the contrast between their purpose (refuge in case of siege) and lushness of decorations and facilities, were laid out by order to Pope Paul III. One of the tours organized at the castle focuses on the so-called appartamenti papali, but other tours are dedicated to exploring the mausoleum proper and the fortified castle.

Castel Sant’Angelo can be visited with considerable discounts by holders of a Roma Pass.

Castel Sant’Angelo
50, Lungotevere Castello, 00186, Rome, Italy
0039 06 6819111
0039 06 681911196
Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday: 9am to 7:30pm