Situated on the right bank of the Tiber, opposite the Vatican, the Castel Sant’Angelo has watched over the Italian capital for almost 2000 years. In turn mausoleum, fortress, refuge and prison, the imposing castle has stood the test of time the long Roman like no other!
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Want to know more about the history of Rome? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city (in English). It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
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Brief history of the Castel Sant’Angelo
The origins of the Castel Sant’Angelo
Built in the 2nd century A.D. on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian, who wished to make it his mausoleum, the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) is located on the right bank of the Tiber.
Inspired by the tomb of Augustus, Hadrian’s mausoleum was completed in 139 AD, one year after the emperor’s death. His successors were also buried here. The last emperor to be buried in Hadrian’s mausoleum was Caracalla – the creator of the Baths of Caracalla – in 217 AD.
During the following centuries, Hadrian’s mausoleum was converted into a fortress! Its privileged position made it a strategic military stronghold which, in the 5th century, was integrated into the Aurelian Wall, a fortified enclosure protecting Rome.
The castle gave its name to the surrounding district: Borgo (“village” in English).
Pope, plague & archangel
In the 6th century, Rome fell victim to a deadly plague epidemic. Legend has it that the Archangel Michael appeared to Pope Gregory I in a dream on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo. In this dream, the archangel is said to have put his sword back into its sheath, thus announcing the end of the epidemic following the fasts and penances that the pope had imposed on the Roman people.
The castle owes its name to this legendary episode: Castel Sant’Angelo.
The Castel Sant’Angelo and the Papacy
The castle’s proximity to the Vatican City made it an ideal refuge for popes in times of trouble.
In the 13th century, Pope Nicholas III even had a suspended corridor built to link Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican: the Passetto di Borgo, also known simply as Pasetto (the “little passage” in English).
Over the centuries, vast rooms were built to accommodate the pope inside the castle. In the 16th century, Pope Paul III even converted part of the building into a small palace.
Between the 9th and 19th centuries, the Castel Sant’Angelo also housed a prison which is said to have received some famous “boarders”, including several popes, but also Italian artist Benvenuto Cellini.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Castel Sant’Angelo ceased to belong to the Vatican and became the property of the Italian army.
The Castel Sant’Angelo today
Restored in the early 20th century, the Castel Sant’Angelo was converted into a national museum open to the public in 1925.
Visiting the Castel Sant’Angelo
The interior of the castle
Bring good shoes, as you’ll have to climb a fair bit! The areas open to visitors are spread over 5 floors, served by a spiral ramp.
Les points d’intérêts principaux de la visite sont :
- The inner courtyard, around which visitors can discover exhibition rooms displaying medieval weapons
- Hadrian’s Mausoleum, 1st floor. Unfortunately, the burial chamber has been plundered and the ashes of the Roman emperors are no longer buried there.
- The old prisons where the enemies of the Vatican were locked up.
- The papal rooms, including
- The Hall of Apollo, decorated with 16th century frescoes
- The Hall of Clement VII, decorated with 15th and 16th century paintings
- The Loggia of Paul III
- The Loggia of Julius II
- The appartments of Paul III (Alexander Farnese) where visitors can discover the Paolina Room, the Adrianeum Room and the Garlands Room, each decorated with 16th century frescoes.
- The highlight of this visit is the panoramic terrace, which offers an exceptional panorama of Rome with splendid views of the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, the Colosseum and the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. There is also a café where visitors can take a break and enjoy the view.
The exterior of the castle
Before or after your visit to Castel Sant’Angelo, don’t miss the bronze statue of St Michael the Archangel, designed in 1753 by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt and erected in front of the castle.
And take time to stroll along the beautiful Ponte Sant’Angelo, which leads to the castle. Renovated by Bernini in the 16th century, it is decorated with 10 statues of angels.
Getting to the Musée du Quai Branly
The Castel Sant’Angelo is located on the right bank of the Tiber River, opposite the Vatican. The nearest metro stations are Ottaviano and Lepanto, on line A, about 10 minutes from the castle.
Buses 23, 34, 49, 64, 87, 280, 492, 926 and 990 also stop near the monument, as do the sightseeing buses, which are quite handy to freely explore the city.
Castel Sant-Angelo is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 7.30pm (ticket office closes at 6.30pm).
Entrance to the Castel Sant’Angelo costs €15 full price, €7 reduced price. Admission is free every first Sunday of the month.
⚠️ Heads up! During peak season and school holidays, expect long lines at the castle entrance (visitor numbers are limited based on crowd levels). To avoid having to wait or postpone your visit, you can opt for a skip-the-line ticket, even if it is a little more expensive. Find out more here.
The entrance to Castel Sant’Angelo is also included in the Omnia Card.
Attention, history lovers! If you’re interested in learning more about the history and legends of the castle, as well as its wonderful frescoes and works of art, Captain Ulysses recommends booking a guided tour of the monument.
Find out more: guided tour of Castel Sant’Angelo
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions!
🎟️ Activities: as for booking visits and tourist activities, Captain Ulysses recommends three websites: GetYourGuide, Tiqets and Civitatis. Guided tours, cruises, skip-the-line tickets, tourist activities… there’s plenty to choose from!
🎫 Citypass: if you are staying in Rome for several days, it may be worth investing in the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card . As well as entry to some of the capital’s most iconic sites, these passes include access to public transport.
🚐 Transfers: if you want to arrive in Rome serenely, you can book your transfer from the airport to the city centre in advance. A car will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the city. Find out more: transfers in Rome.
🚌 Local transport: Rome has a comprehensive public transport system: metro, bus and tram. Access to public transport is included in the Roma Pass and the Omnia Card. If you wish, you can also opt for a hop-on hop-off bus tour which stops at all the top tourist attractions in Rome (audio guide included).
✈️ Flights and trains: to book your flights to Rome, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
As for trains, the Captain recommends Trainline to book your tickets.