In a city which seems to be designed to give impressive vista's at every turn the view from the top of the Castel St Angelo is very special. It was the great discovery of my holiday in Rome and when people visiting Rome ask me for their recommendations I would immediately say the view from this marvelous building. The Castel St Angelo is one of the great sights of the city. It looms over the Tiber and is connected to the Centro Storico via the Pont St Angelo. If you cross this bridge you will be following the route that pilgrims took to St Peters for hundreds of years. And the bridge is graced with white marble angel statues by Bernini giving it a holy air. Often overlooked by tourists rushing to the Vatican, I would put the Castel St Angelo at the top of your list. The place is utterly unmissable.
This huge monstrous bulk is one of the most ancient in Rome. It is famous for being the mausaleum created for himself by the great Emperor Hadrian. The most interllectual, cultured and successful of Emperor's; he created this towering cream coloured mountain of a building for his final resting place (based on the mausaleum of Augustus across the river. Originally it was covered in white marble and its flat top was covered in a garden of cypresses - both of which have long gone. But this has to be the most solid resilient building in Rome and must have been near impregnable. This fact was not lost on the papacy nearby who constructed a corridor between it and the Vatican for times of trouble. The most famous time when his holiness had to hitch up the papal robes and sprint for safety was in 1527 with the sack of Rome. Pope Clement II was trapped in the Castel and had to watch Rome burn around him through the arrowslits.
To reach it is simple enough. Most people approach it across the Pont St Angelo on their way to St Peters from the Centro Storico. This has the advantage of a big build up and the vista of the Castel at the end of an angel lined bridge is one of the most memorable in Rome (see photo). The bridge nowadays is lined with Senegalese/Dijbouti hawkers trying to sell fake Gucci handbags. They are not very persistant but may unintentionally get in the way when you are craning your head over the side of the Pont. But the quickest way is probably via the metro. The Castel is an easy walk from Lepanto station. A short pleasant walk takes you down Via Colonna and Via Tacito to the rear of the Castel. Admitance is a mere 10,000 lira.
Make sure you pick up the free map when you enter and one thing is for sure you will be surprised at the lack of visitors especially if you have just visited St Peters. The first thing to see is the stone circular inner bailey of this fortress. Several stone staircases lead up to the battlements and the huge round edifice of the tomb itself is in the centre. A spiral ramp leads you into the mausaleom and was the funeral ramp of the Emperor Hadrian and it is not difficult to envisage the cortege moving up illuminated by flickering flambeaux. Be careful on the ramp, the stairs are not steep but there are alot of them. We saw an Anglo-Indian couple give up and head for a rest on the battlements. At the top is a courtyard with siege weapons and stairs leading up onto the battlements (see photo). A statue of an angel dominates the courtyard and as my friend remarked - "It's the closest, Steve, that you'll ever get to heaven.."
Off the courtyard are the papal apartments which were decorated in some splendour. But now you are on the battlements with superb views of Rome. A restaurant is set up on the battlements so you can view the dome of St Peters through an arrowslit while sipping coffee, and this is a good place to rest. Off the battlements is a small museum showing muskets, armour and pikes but it is the view from the very top which makes the Castel St Angelo. At the very pinnacle is a giant statue of an angel with sword drawn and on the parapet below is a viewing platform. To the east across the Tiber is the tangerine cityscape of Rome with its baroque domes and hills. Directly below is the angular battlements of the Castel which drop down into the green Tiber. But the horizon to the south is dominated by the grey dome of St Peters. The colonnades of the Piazza could be seen with pilgrims in their thousands moving down the Via Conzolione.
Save the Castel St Angelo as your first or last sight in Rome. But whatever you do, make sure your see it - the views are incredible....