Castel Sant'Angelo: As big as it is now, Castel Sant'Angelo, was even bigger and had a huge central tower when Emperor Antoninus Pius completed the mausoleum which his father, Hadrian, had begun. A smaller mausoleum (the "tomb of Augustus") on the other side of the river held the ashes of earlier emperors, from Augustus to Nerva. Trajan's ashes were put into the base of his column, but later emperors, from Hadrian through Caracalla, and many of their family members went into Hadrian's mausoleum, which was completed in 139 A.D. The tomb first became a defensive structure when Aurelian incorporated it into his walls (constructed in only five years from 271-275 A.D.), and later it became the keystone of the Vatican defenses. Various Popes enhanced the structure and remodeled its interior over the centuries, and it now has several rooms with impressive decorative artwork.

The structure acquired its "Sant'Angelo" name in 590 A.D. during a procession Pope Gregory I ("The Great") organized in hope of alleviating a plague. According to legend, the Archangel St. Michael appeared upon the summit of Hadrian's tomb and was seen to be sheathing his sword as a sign that the plague was over. A great stone statue was placed on the top of the tomb to commemorate the vision. That statue is now in a lower courtyard, and a recent bronze is at the top of the Castel.

The Castel is also the scene of the last act of Giacomo Puccini's opera, Tosca, which premièred one hundred years ago. The opera's hero, Mario Cavaradossi, is executed on the roof of the Castel, and its heroine, Floria Tosca, leaps to her death from the parapet after assassinating the evil Scarpia. Within weeks of the opera's opening, the reigning king of Italy was assassinated, and many contemporary commentators associated his death with the revolutionary theme of the immensely popular opera.

The Castel and its collections of arms, decorations and artifacts are open for public tours Tuesday through Sunday. There is an IL10,000 entry fee. Good English (and other) language audio-guides are available (IL7,000), but you also need the free printed brochure to keep track of where you are, and you have to listen closely to the audio-guide which tells you how to find the next space on the itinerary. Person-guided tours are also available in English and other languages (Phone 06/59080730).

For more information on Hadrian's Tomb/Castel Sant'Angelo, visit the following Internet sites:

Visit the Castel:


Gregory the Great: