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Castel Sant' Angelo


Roman citadel, famed in the history of the city and the papacy. Its construction was begun in 130 by Emperor Hadrian (117138) as a mausoleum for himself and family (moles Hadriani ) and was completed by Antoninus Pius (138161) in 139. Situated at the Tiber in the gardens of Domitian (8196), it was composed of a square substructure (275 ft. wide and 164 ft. high) that supported a cylindrical tower (210 ft. in diameter) faced with marble. The tower was surmounted by a tumulus of earth, planted with cypresses surrounding a square altar and probably a bronze quadriga, guided by the sun-god, symbolic of the extent of imperial power. In the chambers of this tomb were sarcophagi that contained the ashes of Hadrian, his wife Sabina, and his sons, as well as other emperors to Septimus Severus (193211). Aurelian (270275) transformed it into a bastion at the head of a fortified bridge, and by the 5th century it had become important in the defense of Rome. Its side facing the river was fortified with a wall, six towers, windows for archers, and battlements to mount catapults. It was used as a prison for the first time by Theodoric the Great (489526).

According to legend Pope Gregory I, while crossing the Aelian bridge during the plague of 590 in a penitential procession, saw an angel on the summit of the citadel sheathing his sword as a sign that the plague was ended. From that time it was known by its present name. In the 10th century during the ascendancy of the House of Theophylact, Alberic and marozia made it their stronghold. Pope john x (928) was imprisoned there and smothered by order of Marozia, who assumed the title, Donna Senatrix; benedict vi (974) was strangled in its dungeons by the faction of Crescentius and the deacon Boniface Franco (antipope Boniface VII); John XIV (984) after four months' imprisonment died either from starvation or poison administered by his successor, boniface vii. In 1277 a passageway (passetto Vaticano ) was built by Nicholas III to connect the fortress with the papal palace. After the fateful election of Urban VI in 1378, it fell under the control of the French pope, Clement VII (see western schism). The Romans stormed the castle, cut off the hands of the defenders, and stripped the marble from the walls. Restoration was begun by Boniface IX (13891404) and continued by Nicholas V (144755) according to plans drawn by the Florentine Bernardo Rosselino (140964). Alexander VI (14921503) entrusted the further work to the architect and military engineer, Antonio da Sangallo (14631534), who designed the octagonal dungeons at the corners. Julius II (150313) added a frontal loggia, and Leo X (151321) erected a chapel and extensive apartments for feasts and plays. When mutinous imperial troops sacked Rome (1527), clement vii (152334) sought its safety and remained there a virtual prisoner for seven months. From the time of Urban VIII (162344) it was used primarily as a foundry and barracks, though its dungeons were still used. In the 18th century, the adventurer Alessandro Cagliostro (174395) was condemned by the Inquisition to life imprisonment within its walls. Here too Lorenzo ricci, general of the Society of Jesus at the time of its suppression, was confined during the two years before his death (Nov. 24, 1775). In 1752 the marble angel on the castle's summit, carved by Giacomo della Porta (15411604), was replaced by the bronze statue of St. Michael by the Flemish sculptor Pierre Verschaffelt (Pietro Fiammingo, 171093), which is there today. In 1886 excavations and restorations were performed under the direction of Mariano Borgatti. The Castel Sant' Angelo is now a national monument and military museum.

Bibliography: s. b. platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, cont. and rev. t. ashby (Oxford 1929). r. a. lanciani, The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome (Boston 1897). p. pagliucchi, I castellani del Castel S. Angelo di Roma (Rome 1906). m. borgatti, Castel Sant' Angelo in Roma (Rome 1931). g. lugli, Roma antica, il centro monumentale (Rome 1946).

[e. d. mcshane]

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