A mausoleum, a fortress, a hideaway, a museum… How a castle took on such a myriad of roles throughout its lifetime remains a subject of fascination even today. Rome offers an abundance of monuments and sights rich in history, stories and legends, but Castel Sant’Angelo is one which truly encompasses the essence of the city’s transformation throughout the centuries. Every visitor experiences their visit of it differently; some will remain in awe at its treasures, while others will be chilled at the thought of the number of lives that were lost in battle in the very same place. Whatever the experience, it is one that is worth living.
A bit of history…
Castel Sant’Angelo’s story is as complex as the multi-layered structure of the castle itself. Its walls have seen more than 1800 years of blood, wars and death. It was first built between 123 and 139 AD to serve as the mausoleum of the Roman emperor, Hadrian, and his family. Legend has it that the name of the castle was given after the Archangel Michael appeared at the top of the castle sheathing his sword and with that, ending the plague of 590 which tormented Rome. An imposing statue of the angel can be seen on top of the castle. In the 14th century, Castel Sant’Angelo took on the role of a military fortress connected to the Vatican through an elevated passageway which still exists today, “Passetto di Borgo”. It was later used as a prison; a place where executions were carried out and where prisoners were left to starve. In 1901, it became a wonderfully rich museum which harbors relics of its tumultuous past. Today, it graces the Roman skyline with its golden lights, and is visited by many during their stay in Rome.
Whether you are visiting the East or the West side of the river, getting to Castel Sant’Angelo is very easy. From Piazza Navona on one side, or from the Vatican on the other, it is roughly a 10 minute walk to the castle. Perhaps the most unforgettable way of approaching the castle is by walking across Ponte Sant’Angelo where you can pause and admire Bernini’s stunning white marble angel statues on either side. And if you plan on arriving using public transportation, plenty of bus lines will take you to your destination. You can also take the A metro line and hop off at either Lepanto or Ottaviano stations.
Visiting a castle is never a bad thing, really! Castel Sant’Angelo is one which holds stories which are worth knowing about and which give an insight on the Eternal City that other monuments may not give. The luxuriously decorated papal apartments are worth the trip and you won’t regret paying the price of the entrance ticket when you step outside the castle and remain speechless at the views over Rome during sunset.
Castel Sant’Angelo can be admired at any time of the day and night from its vast exterior area and from the beautiful Ponte Sant’Angelo, the pedestrian bridge which crosses the Tiber and links the castle to the center of Rome. The museum within its walls can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 7:30 pm. On Friday, the opening hours are extended till 10:00 pm. The museum is closed on Monday, Christmas day and New Year’s day.
Nice monument… Now where can I eat?
Being so strategically located, a short walk in any direction will take you to a hub of excellent restaurants. You can easily cross the bridge and make your way to the areas of Piazza di Spagna or Piazza Navona if you fancy having lunch or dinner there. But if you decide to grab a bite near Castel Sant’Angelo, you should definitely head to “Ristorante Berninetta“. Here you’ll find a very local crowd with extremely kind and patient waiters: a rare mix! Everything on the menu is worth a try. The pizza is exquisite and the fried dishes, especially the fried artichokes, are not to be missed. Any plate of pasta is succulent and the choices are endless. You truly cannot go wrong at Berninetta. Had too much Italian cuisine and you’re longing for a good ol’ burger with some fries? The trendy “T-Bone Station” is a great place where to have your hamburger (or veggie burger) fix in a laid back atmosphere. Everything is fresh, the french fries (thin and thick) offer great crunch and the tex-mex menu is also a good bet. Not far from Castel Sant’Angelo, call ahead to reserve your place.
What is Castel Sant’Angelo up to today?
The ancient castle is proudly standing without any restoration work underway. There is no need to worry about it being covered by unsightly scaffolding or giant advertisements! It is open to the public during regular opening hours and it’s just waiting for you to come visit.