Don’t be fooled by the name—Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo was built as a tomb, not a castle. Commissioned by emperor Hadrian in AD 139, this imposing cylindrical mausoleum held the ashes of Hadrian and subsequent Roman emperors until becoming a fortress in AD 401. In the 14th century, a fortified corridor between the castle and St. Peter’s Basilica was built, and it became a papal residence. Today, it’s home to the Castel Sant'Angelo National Museum and its collection of art, archaeological finds, and weaponry.
Castel Sant’Angelo is located just outside the walls of Vatican City, and many visitors combine a walking tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with a museum visit and a stroll across the picturesque Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge into central Rome. There can be a wait to enter if you don’t book skip-the-line museum tickets in advance, especially during summer. Castel Sant'Angelo and the Colosseum are two of Rome's most stunning sights to visit after sunset, so consider a Rome night tour to see both the castle and amphitheater beautifully illuminated.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The five floors inside Castel Sant'Angelo are a maze of rooms and corridors, so wear comfortable shoes.
- The large terrace, where Puccini's heroine jumped to her death in his opera Tosca, has spectacular views over the Eternal City.
- Kids enjoy the large collection of historic weapons and armor displayed in the museum.
- The sumptuous Pope Paul III Papal Apartments are decorated with perfectly preserved Renaissance frescoes, a highlight for art aficionados.
- There is an elevator to the fifth floor, but most of the museum is not accessible to wheelchairs.
How to Get There
Castel Sant'Angelo is located along Lungotevere Castello on the banks of the Tiber River, a short walk from St. Peter's Square. The Ottaviano station on Line A of the city’s underground metro system is about a five-minute walk away.
When to Get There
Like all of Rome's most famous historic sites, Castel Sant'Angelo is most crowded during the middle of the day and in summer. To avoid crowds, visit in winter, shortly after opening, or before closing.
Sant’Angelo and the Plague
The name Castel Sant'Angelo dates to AD 590, when the archangel Michael is said to have appeared on top of the fortress to mark the end of the plague that had ripped through Rome.