The Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built by the Emperor Hadrian to serve as his final resting place. This large imposing structure was transformed from a crypt into a refuge for the Popes against attacking armies as well as a prisoner for papal heretics (Giordano Bruno was imprisoned in the Castel Sant’Angelo for six years!) and, currently is a museum where it houses medieval armor and arms as well as the occasional exhibition. The castle is connected to St. Peter’s by the Passetto di Borgo, a half mile long passageway (800 m) that served as an escape route for the Pope’s in times of danger!
Like many buildings built by the ancient Romans, the Castel Sant’Angelo lost most of its decoration to other buildings and churches as precious marble and bronze were “recycled” and reused as ordered by the Pope. Some of Castel’s pieces were used in the construction of St. Peter’s, according to Vasari:
Besides all this, in order to build churches for the use of the Christians, not only were the most honoured temples of the idols destroyed, but in order to ennoble and decorate S. Pietro’ with more ornaments than it then possessed, they took away the stone columns from the mold of Hadrian, now the castle of Sant’Angelo, as well as many other things which we now see in ruins.
The Castel Sant’Angelo was featured in the opera, Tosca — after learning that her lover actually died, she throws herself from the top of it. It also featured in the video game, Assassin’s Creed 2 as well as Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and the film, Roman Holiday.
You can easily climb to the top of the castle (it’s an easy ascent) and explore its passageways. The top of the castle provides an excellent vantage point of the city and is a great location for taking panoramic shots of the city’s skyline. It’s also generally quite breezy at the top, and a late day visit (remember that ticket offices in Italy close an hour before the closing time) is often best. It makes a great place to cool off and rest after touring through the castle.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is closed Mondays and major holidays. It is open from 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM Tuesday-Sunday (ticket office would close at 5:30 PM). Tickets cost around 7 euro, but the price may be higher for non-residents due to Rome’s new tourist tax. Check with the ticket office for exact pricing. To reach the Castel Sant’Angelo, take Metro Line A to Lepanto and head south towards the Tiber. You can’t miss it!