Castel Sant’Angelo: 1890-Year-Old Tomb, Fortress, Prison

The Eternal City of Rome contains some of the best architectural marvels in the world. Castel Sant’Angelo is one of these marvels without a doubt. Standing near the river Tiber, the third largest river in Italy, in the Parco Adriano, this rotunda was home to the remains of some Roman emperors, but later turned into a fortress and then a prison. Today, Castel Sant’Angelo is a museum and one of the most popular and important places remaining from Ancient Roman times.

Castel Sant'Angelo

The story of this cylindrical building starts with the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian was one of the Five Good Emperors and under his reign, many places outside Italy went under the control of Rome. While he strengthened the hold of Rome on Britain, he suffered revolts in the Middle Eastern Roman colonies. Although he put down the revolts, they took a massive toll on his health, eventually leading to his death in 138. 4 years before his death, Hadrian had commissioned the building of a mausoleum that would be his tomb and keep his remains.

Castel Sant'Angelo from above

While the construction of the tomb took 5 years, a year after his death, Hadrian’s ashes were moved to Castel Sant’Angelo. Moreover, the tomb also contained the ashes of his wife and son after they died as well. This quickly became a tradition among the Roman emperors and continued until the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths. While they were sacking Rome, the Visigoths looted the tomb and scattered the ashes of the emperors into the streets.

Castel Sant'Angelo birds eye view

The name of Castel Sant’Angelo comes from a myth. In the 6th century, Rome was dealing with a plague that was claiming the lives of so many people. The legend goes that one day people saw the archangel Michael on top of the mausoleum after which the plague stopped. In order to show their gratitude, the Romans named the structure after the archangel.

Castel Sant'Angelo walls

In the following centuries, the mausoleum became a papal fortress. In the 16th century, when the Austrians sacked Rome, it is believed that the Pope hid in a corridor that connected the fortress to the St. Peter’s Basilica. Additionally, Castel Sant’Angelo was also a prison for criminals with heavy sentences. Although it was a custom to pardon all prisoners in Rome after the death of a Pope, the prisoners in Sant’Angelo would never receive any pardons.

Castel Sant'Angelo close up
Castel Sant'Angelo statue
Castel Sant'Angelo view
Castel Sant'Angelo tourists
building bridge
bridge leading to the structure
view from the walls
the building during the night