Are you asking yourself, "Is Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting?"
Yes, it's worth visiting Castel Sant'Angelo. I consider it one of Rome's must-sees, not just for the beauty of the monument and what's inside, but for how you can get a real sense of how Rome has changed over the last 2,000 years.
People ask me this a lot, along with "what's inside?"
I am here to tell you, visiting Castel St Angelo should be on your list of Rome must-sees.
Why Castel St Angelo Rome is so worth a visit
What if I told you that you could visit the tomb of a Roman emperor, see Raphael -inspired art, check out the site of fierce centuries-old battles with leftover cannons and cannonballs, and have a spritz with a stunning view of Saint Peter's basilica, all in one place?
And that's not all!
You can admire a piece of Michelangeloarchitecture, see where popes lived when they were hiding from their enemies, and walk around a real castle-moat.
Isn't Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting to see a bit of Michelangelo's handiwork?. Here is his decoration of the chapel of Pope Leo X (Medici).
Isn't Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting for views like this? But there is also so much more!
Finally, a great reason to visit Castel Sant'Angelo is because you can see with your own eyes the progression of its architecture that reflects the transformation of Rome itself over the last 1,900 years.
The conversion of the building from a funerary monument to a fortified outpost began around 271 AD. under the emperor Aureliano.
Brief history of Castel Sant'Angelo
View of Castel Sant'Angelo. Magnificent example of Piranesi's neoclassical engraving.
Mausoleum - The building began as the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century. Many emperors were buried here over the following 100 years or so.
Part of the Roman defensive walls - As the Roman Empire began its decline, walls went up around the city, encompassing this huge structure. The mausoleum was no longer used for burials and instead became a fortress.
Fortress - Since its inception in 8th century BCE, Rome was sacked many times over, usually by tribes from the north. During these attacks, people hid out in the castle. The imperial burial urns were destroyed. At times the Romans used some of the decorative pieces like statues as weapons, throwing them down at the enemy.
Site of a miracle - In 590 CE, Pope Gregory the Great was leading a procession in hopes of driving away the plague that had been raging for decades. Just as the procession passed the castle, the pope saw an image of the Archangel Michael sheathing his sword, in effect signifying the end of the plague. And in fact, right after this event, the plague did subside. This is why the monument is called "Castel Sant'Angelo" and why there is an angel on the roof.
Prison - Over the next few centuries, it was used more and more as a fortress and a prison.
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Castel Sant'Angelo - What's inside
In Castel Sant'Angelo's interior, you will find architecture and artefacts from imperial Rome, weapons and architecture from medieval Rome, and masterpieces from the Renaissance.
Yes, Castel Sant Angelo is worth visiting to see what's inside!
You will see the last two angels made for the castle: one by Raffaello da Montelupo in the 16th century, and the one now on the roof (throughout history there were 4 others, long destroyed.)
Castel Sant Angelo. Level 4, "Cortile dell'Angelo. Marble statue of San Michele Arcangelo by Raffaello da Montelupo.
The "Angelo di Castello" is a bronze statue depicting the archangel Michael. It is located on the top of the Castle and over the centuries the structure was given this name.
Throughout the upper floors of the castle where the popes lived, you will see what is called grotesque painting.
The word and the style were inspired by the Domus Aurea, which in turn was inspired by paintings found in Pompeii.
Raphael used this style and his influence is felt here.
Castel Sant'Angelo. Level 6, "Library Room". Fulcrum of the north wing of the apartment of Paolo III Farnese who commissioned its decoration to the famous painter and stuccoist, Luzio Luzi da Todi. The room was embellished with magnificent decorations, stuccoes and "grotesques".
Isn't Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting also to see rooms like this one with arms and armory on display?
Isn't Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting to see this beautiful hall?, Called the Paolina room (for Pope Paul III Farnese who had it decorated this way), it's full of Renaissance-era art, including a rendering of Emperor Hadrian on one wall.
In the papal apartments you will also find paintings by Luca Signorelli, Giulio Romano, Perin del Vaga and others of Raphael's school.
There are six (or seven, depending on how you count them) levels:
This is the architectural plan of Castel Sant'Angelo from its official website. They list the 3rd floor as its own floor but you won't see that on a normal visit, so for the most part, we consider the monument to have 6 floors including the ground floor.
At the first level you'll find the mausoleum, where the tombs are located. You'll see the winding Ancient Roman 400-foot long winding ramp, and the Courtyard of the Executions. The first floor also contains a hospital and the Chapel of the Condemned (neither of which is open to the public.)
Once you reach the second floor by the ramp, you will see the Hall of the Urns. The remains of some emperors and their family members may have been kept here, but it’s most likely that Hadrian’s urn was kept in what became the Vatican Treasury. The second floor also contains prison cells and warehouses for grains and oil. (You can only visit these on a Secret Tour. The official website of Castel Sant'Angelo states that these last two things are on the 3rd floor.)
The third floor you will visit, but technically the 4th floor according to the official website of Castel Sant'Angelo, was used for military purposes, complete with barracks and two courtyards where some executions took place. In the Cortile dell’Angelo (Court of the Angel) you’ll find the last statue of the archangel Michael before the one you see now on the roof. On this floor you can access the museums where you will see papal apartments, weapons, and paintings.
Level four/five consists of the exquisitely decorated papal apartments and the rooms of Popes Paul III, Clement VII, and Leo X. You’ll find stunning frescoes by artists of the school of Raphael.
The fifth/sixth floor contains the Treasury - Sala del Tesoro - where the papacy’s treasures were stored and the Hadrian’s urn was probably kept. This floor also contains the library, Castellano’s apartment built in the 18th century above the loggia, and Cagliostro’s Room.
On the terrace at the top level you can stunning views of Rome and Saint Peter's Basilica.
Isn't Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting for views like this? I think so!
Why Dan Brown included Castel Sant'Angelo in Angels and Demons
Have you read the book Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, or seen the movie with Tom Hanks, based on the book?
In the book and movie, Castel Sant'Angelo was the setting for the mysterious location of the Chapel of the Illuminati, not to mention the Passetto di Borgo that allowed the pope to escape danger.
There were and still are many hidden secret rooms in the castle, making it a perfect backdrop for a thriller like Angels and Demons.
The Passetto di Borgo is romantic enough in real life, with its history of popes fleeing marauding hordes.
And it fits perfectly with the story of Vatican-related intrigue in Angels and Demons.
Before Dan Brown came along, there was Puccini.
In Puccini's opera, Tosca, the roof terrace is where the main character leaps to her death in the third act.
If you are a gaming fan, you can climb to the top of Castel Sant’Angelo in Assassin’s Creed II, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
My personal favorite reference to Castel Sant'Angelo in film is with the classic Audrey Hepburn / Gregory Peck movie Roman Holiday.
I love to see the two of them dancing underneath, and all that follows, both hilarious and romantic, in this iconic scene (you can see Castel Sant'Angelo in the below clip, which is dubbed in Italian.)
Isn't Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting to see the site of so much fictional drama?
The best way to visit Castel Sant'Angelo Rome
If you want to fit in a visit to this fabulous monument, here are my tips:
Give yourself about 3 hours total. This can include a visit to the bridge, the park outside, the inside, the terrace and the café. Even if you do not do all that, still give yourself plenty of cushion time between this and another site or monument so you do not overdo it.
You may want to consider visiting Castel Sant'Angelo the same day you visit the Vatican Museums or Saint Peter's Basilica. Yes, that is a lot of museum-visiting. But since they are close to each other, if you want to fit this in, that could be a good time to do it. Just give yourself a break in between.
You might also include a visit to Castel Sant'Angelo on the day you visit Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori, and / or The Jewish Ghetto. These are all nearby.
Be prepared to walk a lot more than you might think. There are about 6 floors to visit and it's all climbing. Most of the walking is in bits and pieces, and not steep, but you will have to contend with long, inclined ramps, steps, and sometimes narrow staircases.
About halfway through the visit, you will find yourself in the courtyard with one of the angels that used to be on the roof. There are places to sit along the wall but they are few and you may have to wait for others to get up.
The monument is not very wheelchair-friendly, but there are some shortcuts including ramps and an elevator. The elevator is only for those who need and request it. By taking the elevator, you will miss a lot of the castle, but you can still visit some of the floors. You can also access the café with a wheelchair.
Be aware access to the rooftop terrace with the angel and the best views is strictly via a rather narrow, somewhat curved staircase.
The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome
Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.
Even in what you might call low or mid season, you can come upon unexpected queues.
There is only a small fee for booking in advance, and it will give you peace of mind.
This will also give you skip the line access if there is a queue.
Do you need to book in advance?
Castel Sant'Angelo does not require it.
But lately it has become a more popular monument in Rome, as people look to what they hope will be less-crowded sites like the Colosseum and Vatican, and I'm seeing Castel Sant'Angelo often sold out or with huge lines these days.
If you book ahead, you do get to skip the line at Castel Sant'Angelo, so whether it's to make sure you can get in at all, or to skip the line, booking Castel Sant'Angelo tickets before your visit is always a good idea.
Isn't Castel Sant Angelo worth visiting for this view? I love enjoying an Aperol spritz at the café on top of Castel Sant'Angelo.
I still feel that way but after having numerous aperitivos up there I can give you some advice:
It's a good idea to book ahead.
Be aware of the timing. The café closes about half an hour before the monument does.
Take into consideration the time of year - if it's summer, you may not want to be right where you get that stunning view, because that is where the very strong sun pours right in onto your head and neck.
Do not forget to keep your food protected from the cheeky pigeons and especially seagulls that have grown used to humans feeding them!