Name: Castello de San Angelo
Country: Italy, .
Castel Sant'Angelo, one of the most original monuments in Rome, dates back to the Roman period but has been deeply transformed over the centuries. At present, its charming and complex structure is due mainly to the presence of different architectural strata. This is evidence of the sedimentation of historical periods and thus of the prime role often played by this monument throughout history. The origin of this monument goes far back in time and its original function was completely different to that of today. It was begun in AD 123 as a desire of the emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus
, Hadrian - to erect a monumental tomb destined to contain the emperor's ashes and those of his successors. It was finished in 139, a year after the emperor's death, by his successor Antoninus Pious; it was then used up to the year 217 as a
sepulchral for the Antonine family. A specific site was chosen for the construction of the monument. Though on the river edge, it was built on very solid ground and in an area previously used as a cemetery. The monument was then linked to the rest of the city by means of a bridge named
Alias, one of the emperor's names. As far as the structural and decorative aspects of the building are concerned, the original layout of the mausoleum is still uncertain.
The monument was probably composed of at least three overlaid architectural bodies
- a square base, a large cylindrical body, and a third and last piece. The latter was cylindrical too, but smaller in diameter and consisted of two overlaid orders, on the top of which the statue of Hadrian pulling a quadriga (chariot drawn by four horses) was probably placed. The cylindrical body was probably filled with a mound of earth covered by a hanging garden. The former structure, dating back to the Roman period, is now almost
unrecognizable. Nevertheless, conspicuous parts still survive: the masonry and the foundations of the square base, as well as the entire masonry nucleus, the monumental entrance built in stone blocks, the ramp that leads to the upper floor and the funeral hall of the large cylindrical body. These parts are the core around which the constructions of the following centuries were built.
From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance In the Middle Ages the monument was given a new function and was transformed from a mausoleum into a
fortress. As a consequence, its architectural layout was also modified. These changes took place over ten centuries, i.e. since the building was linked to the town walls, built around Rome by the emperor Aurelian (AD 271), to the works promoted by Pope Boniface IX
(1389-1404) and carried out by Nicolo Lamberti, a military architect. The defensive role of the castle was due to its being in a controlling position with respect to the northern access route to the city. Moreover, the significance of this role grew in time in relation to the importance acquired by the area named Borgo, spreading around Saint Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Palaces. In the Middle Ages the possession of the castle (which takes its name from an ancient legend about the apparition of the Archangel Michael on the summit of the monument in 590 during a plague) was the cause of a dispute between the most powerful Roman families, until the Papal Court, after a period in Avignon
(1305-1377), came back to Rome and took possession of the building definitely. Radical interventions were carried out in order to make the castle a safe defensive place for the Pope and for the Borgo citadel. At the base of the cylindrical body a circular internal passageway was created. The spiral ramp and the large Roman entrance atrium were closed. Moreover, half way up the cylindrical
mole, a new entrance was opened, linked by an external staircase and a drawbridge. Lastly, a new segment of diametrical ramp was built and connected to the existing one, thus allowing access to the Room of the Urns. In the
mi-15th century new architectural work, promoted by Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455), was undertaken. On the one hand, the equipment for fortifications was modified with the aim of adapting them to the use of new fire weapons. On the other hand, the castle became, for the first time, a residence for the Pope. Under Alexander VI
(1492-1503) and with the help of the architect Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, the definitive transformation of the building into a powerful and complex war machine was completed. The bastions at the corners of the square walls, which had replaced the base dating back to the Roman period, were strengthened. Furthermore, a cylindrical fortified tower was built at the opening of the Pons Aelius in order to control the access route to the castle and to the adjacent Borgo citadel. Around the walls a moat was created with water from the Tiber.
From the Renaissance to the Present
At the beginning of the 16th century the Loggia of Julius II was erected, and Michelangelo designed the lateral facade of the chapel of the castle, facing the Honour Courtyard, today called Courtyard of the Angel. The most relevant construction and decoration works in the reception rooms were carried out under the pontificate of Pope Paul III Farnese
(1534-1549). The Pope then commissioned another floor with richly decorated apartments over the
fifteenth century apartment. The architectural project was the work of Raffaello da Montelupo following the first sketch by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. Relevant projects concerning new fortifications were also carried out in the 16th century. In 1561, under Pius IV
(1560-1565), pentagonal ramparts with fortified towers, designed by fancesco Laparelli, a military architect, were added to the existing square walls. In the 17th century, under Pope Urban VIII
(1623-1644), new radical interventions changed the layout of the fortress. The circular fortified tower, which had been built under Alexander VI, was destroyed; between the two front angular bastions, a second defensive wall was erected whose entrance door was displaced with respect to the bridge; and the bastions at the four corners were fortified. The castle continued to
acquire more and more of a military aspect and Bernini completed the external scenery of the monument by placing ten statues of angels, bearing the symbols of the Passion of Christ, on the bridge. The eighteenth?century architectural interventions added the apartment of the Vice Castellan over the Loggia of Julius II. A new bronze statue representing the Archangel Michael was placed on the top of the tower, replacing the marble statue, now in the Courtyard of the Angel. The last relevant modifications of the front part of the castle date back to the years between 1889 and 1906. They were essentially demolition works due to the construction of a road along the banks of the Tiber. With this scope in mind, all the parts of the castle looking towards the river were demolished and rebuilt and, at the same time, the road was raised, thus reducing the height of the facade of the castle. By 1925, at the end of the restoration works carried out by Mariano Borgatti, General of Military Engineering, the castle definitively lost its military function, and the National Museum of Castel Sant'Angelo was then created to house art and history collections.