Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome
Papal Palace, Hadrian's Tomb, and Great Views

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Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, or Hadrian’s Mausoleum, was originally built by Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD to house his tomb, which can be seen in the lower part of the castle. Several other emperors also had tombs in the Mausoleum. A few centuries later the huge structure was converted into a military fortress.

The castle sits on the right bank of the Tiber River near the Vatican City and can be reached by crossing the Sant’Angelo Bridge, lined with statues created during the Renaissance.

Castel Sant'Angelo photo
Castel Sant'Angelo

In the 14th century, it became a castle or palace for the Pope. Castel Sant’Angelo got its name from Saint Michael the Archangel whose statue, created in 1753, sits above the castle. A secret covered passageway to connect the castle to the Vatican, the Passeto di Borgo, was added in 1277. During the period it was used as the Papal Palace, it also served as a prison with executions held in the courtyard.

archangel Michael
The Archangel Michael, from where Castel Sant'Angelo gets its name.

The castle and Passetto di Borgo are settings in Dan Brown’s book, Angels and Demons. Puccini’s opera Tosca, set in Rome, features the ringing of the Matin bells at Castel Sant’Angelo in Act 3 which is set at the castle.

What to See in Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo has been turned into a museum, the Museo Nazionale de Castel Sant’Angelo. The Popes had beautifully decorated apartments in the palace and Papal treasures were stored in the castle.

The Castle has five floors starting with a winding ramp of Roman Construction. The second floor holds the prison cells and a torture chamber, the third floor has courtyards and a chapel, the fourth floor holds Papal apartments, and the fifth floor houses the treasury and the library. At the top is a huge terrace, as well as a cafe, with great views of both Rome and the Vatican City. If you get there early for lunch, you may be able to snag a table with a great view of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The prices are not outrageous and the coffee is good. See: Lunch With a View.

castel sant'angelo view
View from the rooftop of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome

On the fourth floor you can see the beautifully frescoed rooms of the Papal Apartments and the most magnificent art works including ceramics, sculptures, and paintings. There’s an armory, an archaeological collection and, on the top floor, a small museum of the Italian Risorgimento.

castel sant'angelo art
Art Appropriate for the Papal Apartments. Photo: James Martin

Visiting the National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo

The museum is open daily from 9:00 to 19:30 (ticket office closes at 18:30). During summer, it usually stays open until midnight on Thursdays through Sundays. In high season, the ticket line can get long and the castle may be crowded so it’s best to go in the morning when it opens or toward the end of the day.

When you buy your ticket, you can also download a free smartphone app to guide you through the museum (available in 7 languages including English). The app takes you on a set itinerary and signals points of interest.

On Metro Line A, the closest stops are Lepanto or Ottaviano-San Pietro. Bus lines 80, 87, 280 and 492 will get you close to the Castle. From Piazza Farnese, near Campo dei Fiori, it is a very nice walk down the Via Giulia and then across the Sant Angelo Bridge.

Entrance is free the first Sunday of the month. The Secret Castle tour visits the Passetto di Borgo, food storage rooms, historic prisons, and the Stufetta di Clemente VII with frescoes by Rafael.

castel sant'angelo
Photo credit: James Martin

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