Across the St Angelo Bridge from the bulk of the ancient city of Rome and not far from Vatican City, Castel Sant’Angelo dominates the northern bank of the Tiber River. Construction started on an artificial mound in the 120s for the Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum. By the time of his death on 10 July 138 AD, the funerary monument was incomplete. The mausoleum was completed by Antoninus Pius in 139 AD. The ashes of the late emperor and his wife Sabina (who had died before Hadrian), as well as those of Aelius Caesar (Hadrian’s first adopted heir) were the first to be interred here. Subsequent emperors, their wives and immediate family also had their ashes deposited here – the last recorded emperor being Caracalla in 217 AD.
The Mausoleum of Hadrian, now a popular museum in Rome.
During the 3rd century AD, the mausoleum was incorporated into the Tiber fortifications. Various architectural features, prominent today were being added up until the 16th century. Consequently much of what visitors see today from the outside is not ancient at all; the ancient structure is preserved within and at the foot of the circular drum. Throughout the period between the 13th and 16th century, the following structures were added as the purpose of the building changed and developed: the upper half of the circular drum, the palace with its statue of archangel Michael, the four bastions on the corners of the podium, the castles curtain wall, and the ditch and outer triangular fortifications. After also being used as a prison, the building was decommissioned in 1901, and has been used as a museum ever since.
Facilities & Visiting Castel Sant’Angelo:
Closed on Mondays.
Buying Tickets for Castel Sant’Angelo
What not to miss during your visit:
Three thematic routes guide visitors through the castle: the mausoleum of Hadrian, the fortified castle and the papal apartments.
When in the papal apartments do not miss Pope Clement VII’s bathroom. Besides the antique style decoration of the room, from here you will get an excellent view of the passetto. Built in 1277 along the top of the ninth century wall, this passage was constructed to provide an escape route running between the Vatican and the Castle. The route of the passetto is marked out with blue pins in the map above, as it runs along Via dei Corridori.
The passetto running from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican alongside the Via dei Corridori.
The passetto to the left of Saint Peter’s Square leading to Castel Sant’Angelo in the distance.
- Check the official website for contact details, up-to-date information on prices and opening hours
- Archaeology Travel article: Castel Sant’Angelo is one of ten sites included on my List of Rome’s Top Attractions
- Archaeology Travel article: take a day trip to Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli
Video of Hadrian’s Mausoleum
In the following BBC video, the historian Dan Snow takes a brief look at Hadrian’s Mausoleum, in the context of the Emperor’s final acts in the years before his death on 10 July 138 AD.