The Castle of the Holy Angel also known the Mausoleum of Hadrian is near the Basilica of St. Peter on the bank of the Tiber River. It looks like an impregnable medieval fortress although the building itself and the nearby bridge are very picturesque.
The Castle of the Holy Angel dates back to 123 A.D. when the emperor Hadrian began to build the mausoleum for himself and his family. But its original appearance was very different from its today look. The mausoleum rather resembled an Etruscan burial. A stone cylinder (diameter is 64 meters and height is 20 meters) was placed on a square base (the length of each side is 80 meters). The stone cylinder was crowned with a mound planted with cypresses.
On the top of the mound there was towering the marble statue of Hadrian in the quadriga. The emperor looked like the god Helios. The horses, which pulled the quadriga, were so big that an adult man could easily get through their eyes. However, to our days there survived only the head of Hadrian, which is now stored at the Vatican museum.
The mausoleum construction was finished under Antoninus Pius, the successor of Hadrian. The emperor also changed the status of the mausoleum making it an official burial place of Roman emperors. After that all Roman emperors were buried there up to 217 A.D. Caracalla was the last Roman emperor to be buried there.
At the end of 3 century the emperor Aurelian began to encircle Rome with defense constructions to protect it from the invasions of barbarian tribes and the mausoleum was converted into a castle. And in 590 the castle was given its today name – the Castle of the Holy Angel. At that time Black Death played havoc in Rome and during a religious procession Pope Gregory I had a vision of angel sheathing his sword above the castle. After that the epidemic of plague began to subside. Later the bronze statue of the angel sheathing his sword was installed above the castle.
Later a fortified passage connected the Basilica of St. Peter to the castle and the latter became a place where the popes could hide in case of danger. Since 14 century the basement spaces of the castle were used as a prison. There were many famous people among its prisoners, such as: Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno, Benvenuto Cellini, count Cagliostro, Aristoteles Fioravanti and many other people.
Now the castle houses the museum dedicated to its history. Having had a tour of the Basilica of St. Peter and the Vatican museum many tourists have a walk on the beautiful embankment of the Tiber and visit the Castle of the Holy Angel.