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The Mausoleum of Hadrian (the Castel Sant’Angelo), Rome, Italy

October 22nd, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as the Castel Sant'Angelo is a towering cylindrical building in Rome, initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building, located in the rione of Borgo, spent over a thousand years as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.

The Tomb of the Roman Emperor Hadrian was erected on the right bank of the Tiber, between 135 and 139. Originally the mausoleum was a decorated cylinder, with a garden top and golden quadriga. Hadrian's ashes were placed here a year after his death in Baiae in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in 138. Following this, the remains of succeeding emperors were also placed here, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217. The urns containing these ashes were probably placed in what is now known as the Treasury room deep within the building. Hadrian also built the Ponte Sant'Angelo facing straight onto the mausoleum -- it still provides a scenic approach from the center of Rome and the right bank of the Tiber, and is renowned for the Baroque additions of statuary of angels holding aloft elements of the Passion of Christ.

Much of the tomb contents and decoration has been lost since the building's conversion into a military fortress in 401 and inclusion by Flavius Augustus Honorius in the Aurelian Walls. The urns and ashes were scattered by Visigoth looters in Alaric's sack of Rome in 410, and the original decorative bronze and stone statuary was thrown down upon the attacking Goths when they besieged Rome in 537, as recounted by Procopius. An unusual survival, however, is the capstone of a funerary urn (most probably that of Hadrian), which made its way to Saint Peter's Basilica and was recycled in a massive Renaissance baptistery.

The popes converted the structure into a castle, from the 14th century; Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St. Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V's Landsknecht during the Sack of Rome (1527), in which Benvenuto Cellini describes strolling the ramparts and shooting enemy soldiers.

Leo X built a chapel with a fine Madonna by Raffaello di Montelupo, and Later Paul III built a rich apartment, to ensure that in any future siege the Pope had an appropriate place to stay.

The Papal state also used Sant'Angelo as a prison; Giordano Bruno, for example, was imprisoned there for six years. As a prison, it was also the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca from whose ramparts the eponymous heroine of the opera leaps to her death. Executions were made in the small interior square.

A bronze statue of Saint Michael, executed by the Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt in 1753, surmounts the tomb and portrays the archangel sheathing a sword. Legend holds that an angel appeared atop the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, thus lending the castle its present name. The current statue replaces a preexisting marble one by Raffaello di Montelupo of 1536, and can be seen now in the interior.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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