In the year 135 AD, the roman emperor Hadrian commissioned a mausoleum for himself and his family, a monument worthy of the Antonine dynasty. The works were completed by Antonino Pio in 139 AD.
To link it to the Campus Martius area, Hadrian built also a bridge, Pons Aelius, the current Ponte Sant’Angelo.
In 401, the mausoleum was included in the Aurelian Walls, and became a fortress, losing its original function as a sepulcher. As a castle, it defended the city in 410 against the Visigoths of Alaric, and in 455 against the Vandals of Genseric.
In the first half of the 10th century, the castle became the stronghold of Senator Theophylact, who also used it as a prison. In the second half of the 10th century, the castle passed into the hands of the Crescenzi family. Later, the castle was owned by the Pierleoni family and subsequently by the Orsini family.
Beginning with the 14th century, the papacy connected the castle to the Saint Peter’s Basilica by a fortified corridor, and the popes used it as a refuge in times of danger, and to host the Vatican Archives and Treasury.
In 1379, the castle was almost razed to the ground by the angry population against the French garrison left there by Pope Urban V. The reconstruction began in 1395 at the behest of Pope Boniface IX, who commissioned the military architect Niccolò Lamberti to strengthen the castle.
In the 15th century, Pope Nicolò V transformed the castle into a papal residence and built three bastions at its corners. Later, Alexander VI Borgia commissioned the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Elder to carry out further fortification works – four bastions were built and a cylindrical tower between the castle and the Sant’Angelo Bridge.
In 1542, Paolo III had the castle renovated by the architects Raffaello Sinibaldi da Montelupo and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. The decoration of the interior was entrusted to Perino del Vaga and Luzio Luzi. The great pentagonal wall that surrounds the castle was begun by Francesco Laparelli under Pope Paul IV.
INTERESTING FACT: The Papal States used Castel Sant’Angelo also as a prison, Giordano Bruno or Benvenuto Cellini being among those incarcerated in the castle.
In 1630, Pope Urban VIII destroyed all the previous fortifications, including the Borgia tower between the bridge and the castle, and moved the main entrance to the right side.
In the 19th century, the castle was used exclusively as a political prison, known during those times as Forte Sant’Angelo.
Today, the castle houses the National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo (Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo).
HOW TO GET THERE
The closest Metro station is Lepanto, on the Metro Line A, about 1.2 kilometers away from Castel Sant’Angelo. The closest bus stop is Castel Sant’Angelo, located about 200 meters away, in Piazza Pia, on the bus Lines 23, 40, 62, 290 and 982.
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