Castel Sant'Angelo

The history

The history of Castel Sant’angelo coincides substantially with that of Rome, and it is impossible to separate these two entities so profoundly interpenetrated: the changes, upheavals, miseries and glories of the ancient Urbe seem to be reflected punctually in the massive bulk that has been reflected in the lazy waters of the Tiber for almost two thousand years. It was built as a sepulchre commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian in a peripheral area of ancient Rome and fulfilled this original function until around 403 A.D., when it was included in the Aurelian walls at the behest of the Western Emperor Honorius.

From this moment it began a ‘second life’ as a castellum, an advanced bulwark beyond the Tiber to protect the city. Numerous Roman families contended for its possession, which seemed to guarantee a position of pre-eminence in the confused order of the Urbe: it was to be the stronghold of Senator Teofilatto, the Crescenzi, the Pierleoni and the Orsini. It was an Orsini pope – Nicholas III – who had the Passetto di Borgo built, connecting the Vatican to the Castle, in a physical and ideal continuity.

In 1367, the keys of the building were handed over to Pope Urban V, to solicit the return of the Curia to Rome from exile in Avignon. From this moment on Castel Sant’Angelo inextricably linked its fortunes to those of the popes, who adapted it as a residence to take refuge in times of danger. Thanks to its solid and fortified structure and its reputation for being impregnable, the Castle houses the Vatican Archive and Treasury, but is also adapted as a court and prison.

With the change of function, the appearance and layout of the Castle were remodelled through a very long series of interventions over the course of four centuries. New structures were added to the pre-existing ones, altering them, modifying their function, sometimes cancelling them, in a process of uninterrupted transformations that seem to slide one into the other without a break.

The building’s long and varied history, with its thousands of metamorphoses, seems to have settled into the complicated tangle of dungeons, rooms, loggias, staircases and courtyards that make up the current layout of the Castle. The original structure and the successive superfetations interpenetrate, overlapping and merging with one another, giving life to a multifaceted and complex organism, charged with symbolic values and historical stratifications.

The Collection

Castel Sant’Angelo houses numerous collections (ceramics, picture gallery, sculptures, armoury), largely accessible to the general public, partly from donations by private individuals (such as the Contini Bonaccorsi donation or the Menotti donation, comprising furniture furnishings and precious paintings) in part from the very heart of the castle, such as the valuable Renaissance ceramics or the fragments of the monumental sculptural decoration from the Roman era, which emerged from the bowels of Hadrian’s tomb during the numerous excavation and restoration campaigns.

Photo: Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, Credits: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

Castel Sant’Angelo, Lungotevere Castello, Rome, RM, Italy
Opening hours:

Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.
The ticket office closes at 6.30 p.m.

Closing time:

Closed on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December, except for special openings ordered by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism.

Average visit time:

1-2 hours

Books and guides


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