Tuesday: Castel Sant’Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo

Today was another free day, and we chose to head over to Castel Sant'Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel). We took our first ride on the Metro, and it was uneventful. The Metro in Rome is not as useful as the trains in New York or Paris. Those cities have several lines that intersect at grids throughout the city, creating a spider web of connections. Rome has only two lines, A and B, and they cross in the center of the city in an X (or maybe it's another cross, come to think of it). One reason their rail lines are not as extensive is because excavation in this city is so problematic. Any time someone starts digging, they find more ruins and antiquities, so it is impossible to get things done.

As I said, our ride was easy, but as always when riding an underground train, I get completely turned around. So did Greg, so we walked a big block in precisely the wrong direction. I finally asked an old man filling up his bottle at a fountain, and he got us pointed in the right direction. I know only a few words of Italian from listening to CDs in the car. I had learned “right” and “left” and armed with that knowledge and the old man's hand gestures, even I was able to get the gist of what he was saying. We were soon oriented properly.

An aside about language….Greg has been doing all the speaking and listening in Italian. He took classes from the Italian Cultural and Community Center in Houston, and he has done really well. People appreciate his efforts and respond very kindly to them and to him. I find that I can get along with English and a few of the niceties (like please, thank you, good day, goodbye, where is? and so on). In France, the native people respond to our bungling attempts with perfect English. It is as if they appreciate the effort but cannot stand to hear their language butchered. The Italians will keep trying to respond to you in Italian, and they will help you when you are failing.

Anyway, back to today's adventure. Our map of the city is not true to scale, a fact we discovered on this journey. What looked like a short stroll from the Metro stop was actually a long haul, and we were already hot and tired before we got to the Castel Sant'Angelo. We perked ourselves up with overpriced Cokes and fruit cups before hitting the line.

Castel Sant'Angelo began as Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum. Not even an emperor could be entombed inside Rome's walls, so Hadrian did the next best thing. He got the most commanding piece of real estate just across the Tiber and built a huge monument to himself in AD 139. For about 100 more years, other emperors were entombed in this place.

In the year 590, Pope Gregory the Great (that's what Greg is calling himself these days) saw a vision of the Archangel Michael over the Castel. The angel sheathed his sword, signaling the end of a plague. Thus Hadrian's mausoleum got a new name.

The Castel served many purposes through the years, and structures were built right on top of Hadrian's tomb. In the Dark Ages, it was a fortress and a prison. In 1277, it was connected to the Vatican at the pope's request and became the last refuge for popes under threat or siege. The connection was made via a raised corridor. Apparently the Castel was used quite a bit as a papal hideout, for it was decorated in the manner suited to a pope, complete with frescoes, apartment, bed-chamber, receiving rooms, and the treasury.

This is a view of the Castel from the Ponte Sant'Angelo.


The interior of the Castel offered refuge to us from the brutal Roman sun. I enjoyed walking in the lower part, which was Hadrian's burial area.

We only got one audio guide, and Genene hogged it the entire time. I'm not sure how much she actually listens, but she loves finding the numbers and pressing the corresponding buttons. A few days ago, I was laughing about how we had avoided this fate by using Jose. On our own today, we became those tourists wandering around from numbered item to numbered item with the box stuck to our ears.

We ascended into the light to find more another angel (or two).


The views from the Castel are among the most stunning in Rome. I can imagine the Pope strolling around from the safety of this defensive perch, surveying the city.

Genene and Greg take it all in.

A different perspective on the same idea.

A representation of the pope's vision of the Archangel adorns the top of the Castel. Unfortunately, the view is marred by some kind of cabling in the background that I could not avoid, no matter the angle I tried. If I were better at controlling depth of field, perhaps I could have made that junk disappear. I'm still learning this new camera.


Genene and I enjoy a lunch with a view. That's the Vatican in the background.


The fortress was constructed right atop Hadrian's mausoleum.


The Castel was made for defense, and reminders of its old “job” are everywhere.


The pope's walkway to safety from the Vatican is visible here. Can't you just see him running along, robes hitched up high?

You can see a better view of the entire walkway (the arched structure at right) in the next photo. The dome of St. Peter's Basilica is peeking up on the left side of the photo.


For me, the star of the show in this area is the Ponte Sant'Angelo (Bridge of the Holy Angel). Built by Hadrian to connect his mausoleum to the city center, the bridge was for centuries the only access across the Tiber to the Vatican, so it was a pilgrim's way. The bridge also served as a macabre gallery of sorts. Beheadings took place near the bridge, and the heads were hung from the Castel. According to Rick Steves, the locals said, “There are more heads at Castel Sant'Angelo than there are melons in the market.”

What I love about the bridge are the statues of angels that adorn it. Each angel represents a passion of the Christ (whips, crown, nails, throne, lance, etc.). They are beautiful and evocative, and I think they were posing for me today. I apologize now for overdoing it on the photos, but I just love these.

Angel with the Sponge.

Angel with the Lance.

Angel with the Cross.

Angel with the Nails.
Angel with the Garment and Dice.
Angel with the Crown of Thorns.

Angel with the Whips.

Angel with the Sudarium.
Angel with the Throne.


We decided not to slog back to the Metro stop, as it was already 2:00 PM and broiling hot outside. We found a cab and made it back to the apartment very quickly. I am glad we tried the Metro, but I am shocked at the difference in time it took going out and coming back. We must have spent over an hour riding the train and walking, and the cab ride took about seven minutes. To me, it is worth the price difference. Time is at a premium now, and I know I cannot see it all.

I haven't even scratched the surface of this place. I know I have had a nice long vacation, but I am starting to have that familiar, sad feeling I get toward the end of each trip. I know that I am on the waning side of the vacation, and the clock is ticking. It won't all get done. My job is to “be here now” and stay happy. I console myself by saying that Rome has been here for thousands of years and will be here for me when I return.

Enough of the pity party! We just finished our siesta and are heading out to dinner. We are going to stroll over to Piazza Navona. We have been there in the day but not at night, and I have heard there is much to see. I will post a supplemental blog if I see anything cool tonight.

Ciao for now!

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