In the 14th century, during a period when there was no effective government
to protect Rome from invading armies, the building was confiscated by the
Catholic Church and further fortified for the protection of the Vatican and
the popes. It was during this time that a tunnel (Passeto) was built
connecting the fortification with the Vatican, allowing the Pope a safe
escape route if the defense of the Vatican should be in jeopardy.
The castle's name derives from the Archangel Michael whose statue (a
relatively recent addition) towers over the building. Legend has it that
Pope Gregory the Great while passing the building during a plague in the 6th century, saw an
image, crowning the building, of the sword-bearing Archangel defeating the plague.
Soon after this apparition, the plague ended and the Castel became Castel Sant'Angelo. In another change from Hadrian's time, the
original bridge (called the Aelian Bridge) was renamed the
Ponte Sant'Angelo. The bridge was widened in the 15th
century and eventually ten statues of angels were added
by Bernini, each with a unique pose and theme.
The Catholic Church took control of the ownership of th structure in the
14th century and made many of the modifications you see today. During the
16th century the building was used as an official palace for the popes,
although several of the papal apartments were created in previous centuries.
Today, this once mighty edifice houses the Museo Nazionale di Castel
Sant'Angelo. The Museo provides interesting information and
exhibits about the history of the building and also includes a
collection of Renaissance paintings, frescos, sculptures, ceramics, arms and
armor. The view of Rome from the top of the building is worth
During your visit be sure to see the Marcia Ronde in the Castle
along with the four corner bastions (named for the Four
Evangelists), as well as the ramp that spirals from the top to the
bottom of the structure. The Papal Apartments are lavishly decorated
and worth a look.
Castel Sant'Angelo, plays a critical role in Dan Brown's work of fiction,
Angels & Demons. Without revealing too many plot
details, the building is an unlikely location for the secret
prison described in the book, since it is a public museum.
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Monuments of Ancient Rome
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