St. Michael strip

Core of the drum

find the pantheon . . .
Michael again
Castel again


Tomb Measurements

    21 meters high (69ft) and 64 meters in diameter (210ft). The original construction of the cylinder ends at the travertine line.
Today, the whole thing stands 48 meters (158ft) tall.

    125 meters (410ft) of heliciodal ramp, 3 meters wide, 6 high.

Piles of earth were found during restoration work under the floor of the papal apartments (under the court of the Angel), showing us that there were probably trees planted on top.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

"The deposition of the last Emperor of the West in 476AD deprived Rome of any sort of central authority. The result was chaos, with the city at the mercy of various local factions and of the different armies that were contending for control of the Italian peninsula. It was in this context of war and lawlessness that the Christian Church began to emerge as a social authority and power; though the tragic period of persecutions had only recently come to an end (a century + before), the Church, with some difficulty, managed to make a stand against the unbridled chaos and thus take up the heritage of the empire as a universal power. The religious fervour and the political skill shown in these difficult years by various bishops meant that certain basilicas became the basis upon which the prestige of the future Lords of Rome was established.
However, the empire had collapsed, and no one seemed to have the strength to stem the prevailing tide of anarchy; terrorised inhabitants continued to flee the city, property was sacked adn looted, and the monuments of Classical Antiquity began to fall into ruin. Built using means and techniques that were now unthinkable, these ancient monuments at this point lost their original function; they were either demolished for their materials, or converted to new defensive structures".

Where are the Marbles Went

    1. The war of 535 - 553 between the Ostrogoths and the Emperor of the East, Justinian, caused the first pilliging of materials. Justinian's troops stripped down the precious sculptural decoration for missiles. Procopius is our source for this information.
    2. In 1379, the population had been reduced to starvation by the commanders of the Castel (popes not in Rome at this time).
The people of Rome seized the fortress and stripped it of all its remaining adornments: columns, stucco-work, paving and marble-facing were all torn out.
3. Vasari, a famous author of artists' biographies, states that some of the marble columns were used for St. Peters Church. Unfortunately, about 1/2 of what Vasari wrote was untrue, so he can't be used as a reliable source.

Changes and Additions to the Original Structure

    Restoration began under Boniface IX (1389-1404), who strengthened and equipped the Castel with the newly developed cannon.
    Alexander VI and Julius II will make additions and changes to the building, but the most notable changes comes from Paul III.
    Paul III inherits Rome after the Sack of Rome, 1527, where private and public buildings were destroyed, churches looted and the population massacred. The Castel was the only thing untouched. He initiates a massive plan of urban renewal (1534).
    Pope Pius IV (1555 - 1559) commissions Francesco Laparelli to build the massive pentagonal walls, to keep the core of the Castel out of range of enemy cannons. Some of this was demolished to make the riverside road built here at the end of the 1800's. 

Urban VIII (1623-1644) had the bronze taken off the porch of the Pantheon NOT to finish the baldicchino in St. Peters, but to make canons - for here. You have to be able to defend your city.

But, the bronze had been decorated with silver and gold (soft metals), which makes lousy canons. 440,000 pounds of bronze, it was.

Hadrians' death-bed poem
"Sweet and charming soul,
My body's guest,
Where are you now?
Naked, pale and cold -
not to have the fun we had . . ."

Scandal Section:

Marriage of Marozia.
    In the early 900's, there was a senator, Theophylatus and his wife, Theodora, and their daughters Marozia and Theodora II, who governed Rome for about 30 years, using the Castel as their strong-point. Marozia, perhaps the lover of Pope Sergius III, celebrated her 3rd marriage (year 932) in the Castel. During the marriage ceremony, 1 of her sons, Albericus, felt offended by something his new stepfather did, and stirred up a revolt against the newlyweds. Albericus chased his stepfather out of town and imprisoned his mother (Marozia) in the Castel - the 1st time it is used as a prison.

Benvenuto Cellini (1539). A goldsmith, responsible for 4 murders (pardoned for all, and not counting military battles), but actually arrested and charged (falsely . . .) with embezzling some gems from the pope's tiara during the war. He spent over a year in the prison, escaped (!!), recaptured, tortured, and finally released through the intervention of the king of France, because Cellini had made something nice for him.

Giordano Bruno (1593 - 1600).
   Bruno had the habit of frustrating just about everyone he came in contact with. He was a Dominican priest for 4 years before running away from trouble. He became a Calvinist just to fit in better in Geneva, but attacked in writing a professor there. He lectured at Oxford, but they wouldn't give him a teaching position. He was rejected from several other universities in Europe, as well. Although he published a few good books, some of his writings were considered way off, to the point that he was excommunicated by the Lutherans!
   Finally, having upset his host in Venice, he was turned over to the local Inquisition. Rome got interested, so he was transferred. Among the list of problems with Bruno, are the following:

1. Erroneous opinions about the Trinity, Christ's divinity and Incarnation.
2. Erroneous opinions about Christ (he was a 'skillful magician').
3. Erroneous opinions about Transubstantiation and Mass.
4. Denying the Virginity of Mary.
5. Believing the devil is saved (redeemed)
6. Believing that after death, human souls are 'incarnated' to another body, including animal bodies.
7. Dealing in magic and divination.
8. Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity.

   Now, this last accusation alone isn't going to send anyone to the electric chair. But, this guy is not the butcher or baker down the street - he is an ordained priest publishing books and trying to get a teaching position at a university.
His case was overseen by Cardinal Robert Bellermine (later recognized as a saint) who demanded a full rejecting of those heresies. Bruno refused.

Galileo Galilei, 16 years later, met Cardinal Bellermine in the same room of the Castel, and his trial ended with a simple abjuration. And then he went right back out and continued to do exactly what had got him in trouble to begin with!

Giuseppe Balsamo, a.k.a. Count Cagliostro, a born con-man from Palermo (1700's), who started life as a forger, then studied under an alchemist who invented a way to re-attach severed limbs from the human body . . .
Magician, medium and necromancer, Giuseppe was also popular with the Freemasons. His dumb mistake was founding an "Egyptian Rite" Masonic Lodge in Rome. Denounced by his calculating wife, he was imprisoned at the Castel in 1789, and tried and condemned to death on April 7, 1791, but he "rejected" his heresy, so therefore was allowed to live - in the high security prison of St. Leo.

 Puccini’s opera, “Tosca” where the herione leaps to her death from the parapet after her boyfriend is killed.


This guy (Mariano Borgatti) is responsible for the piles of fake cannonballs and other "15th century" workshops or guard barracks (making it more "touristy" than realistic). With the new Italian Nation, in the early 1900's, they decided to dress the place up a bit - this guy was in charge.

Timeline for the Visible, Structural Changes to the Monument:

1. Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280) built the Passetto di Borgo - huge, Roman wall, connected the Vatican to the Castel

1.  Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) put 3 towers around the main drum. Alexander VI turned them into large, 7-sided bastions, and Urban VIII strengthened them.

2. Alexander VI puts his courtyard and rooms on the far side ('theater').

3. Julius II designs (Michelangelo) the 'Angel' courtyard, adding the rooms and chapel in the back, entirely closing in that space.

4. Leo X takes over Julius' area, changes dedication of chapel.

5. Clement VII takes over a few rooms of Julius II, famous for his bath (that you can't see).

6. Paul III - moves upstairs, does a hallway. And the Palatine hill, and the Caelian hill.

7. A few popes later, Pius IV, creates chapel at 'execution point',  a hallway, and the massive pentagon shaped wall that encloses the Castel (looks like a park today).

8. Clement VIII (1592-1605) has 2 rooms back behind the 'Hall of Justice'.

9. Urban VIII (1623 - 1644) puts in a staircase from the 'Angel' courtyard, and the oil room off of the St. John bastion.

10. Alexander VII (1600's) does the walkway by the bar.

11. Clement XII (1734) added the elevator.

St. Michael, wood, gilded w/ gold leaf

In the Perseus Room, sculpted by Pietro Bracci, 1736.

Grottesque trim

grottesque decoration.

It's not bad, it's just not . . . great.

Take a tour with me, you'll understand.

walkway to bastion St. Luke



Castel at night     Imagine this covered in white marble, with a nice patch of greenery (perhaps trees) on top. Bronze gates at the entrance with peacocks, a quadriga on the very top. Begun in 123 for Hadrian and his successors, and finished in 139, after his death, by Antoninus Pius. Used up to the year 217 as a mausoleum for the Antonine family. Then there was the bridge that was used to join it to Rome, to be in ‘communication’ with the Campus Martius - where the apotheosis of Romulus took place, and the reconstruction of the Pantheon for the Gens Julius.

     No one knows what the original structure looked like, but we can see at least 3 overlaid architectural bodies - square base, cylinder body, and the 3rd section above the cylinder. What survives is the masonry nucleus and foundations of the square base. The monumental entrance built in stone blocks and the ramp that leads to the upper floor - these are parts of the core around which the constructions of the following centuries were built. Transferred into a fortress, the layout was modified several times. These changes took place over 10 centuries, linking them to the town walls of Aurelius; Gregory the Great, with his vision during a plague in 590; the St. Michael we see there now is from 1853, by Verschaffelt. Boniface IX (1389-1404) began the restorations, after it had been used as grazing-land for sheep. There have been many other interventions since then.

The Surrounding Area

    As was customary in Rome, from the middle of the 1st century AD onwards, the major roads leading from the city of Rome were lined with mausoleums. Some of these tombs were of such imposing size that they became veritable land-marks in the area - today, it would be like the Piramede metro stop (that is someones' tomb). At their time, it would be like the Meta Romuli and the Terebinthus Neronis.
    The Meta Romuli was over at Campo Marzio, and looked like the pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius, but it was over 30 meters tall. It got the nickname 'meta' from the cone shaped structures set up at each end of the circus' for the chariot drivers to see where to turn. The Terebinthus stood near the pyramid ), so the 2 acted as if to be both ends of an imaginary race track through Rome.

    The point is, the area around Hadrians' mausoleum was full of funery monuments. In fact, when the bastions were originally built, St. Matthews was not part of the plan - there was originally a Roman mausoleum here. Pope Nicholas V (1447) added the 3 other towers. He will also be the first pope to make an apartment for himself in the Castel.

    Campo Marzio, right across the river, had been the burial ground for the Roman elite (close to the site of the "Apotheosis" of Romulus). The Augustan mausoleum held the ashes of all the departed emporers, until Trajan, who chose to have his ashes placed at the bottom of his famous column. Hadrian will build this new mausoleum which will, in turn, hold the ashes off all the deceased royalty, ending with Caracalla. Both mausoleums appear to have the circle within a square design, similar also to the Pantheon decoration - the square being a symbol of earthly life or mortality, and the circle is a symbol of immortality. It is, in a sense, a symbol of man becoming a god.

Step By Step

Ambulatory below, and on top, the wall and merlons added by Alexander VI

    Entrance to the building is through a large gateway, which would have been higher up - the road has been raised over the years.
After you buy a ticket, you can walk around the entire massive bulk following the Ambulatory of Boniface IX (1389-1404). Building this destroyed certain vaults with cells that were stables and storerooms.
    If you go all the way to the end, where the bookshop is, you have come to the Firing Squad Courtyard. Here is where executions took place, to the solemn tolling of the Mercy Bell. Here also was the Chapel of the Crucifixion (or Condemned) - today, the bookshop.

Entrance corridor

 12 meter long corridor is made of precisely squared blocks of travertine laid without mortar! This leads into a square atrium with a large apse at the end, which probably held a colossal statue of Hadrian. The holes in the stone flooring fixed the statue in place, as the holes in the side walls of the corridor held a marble finish.

The helicoidal ramp comes next, with an area off to the left, half way up, showing the original mosaic flooring. After this one sees the water drainage plan, and air shafts above for air and light.
In 1395 under Pope Boniface IV, this ramp had been entirely filled in with dirt and closed off.

 ramp up to the tomb area   
    You may see a sign directing you to the prisons of St. Marocco - the sign doesn't mean up ahead - it means look up - the prison room is above you!
    Clearly, this is not a prison room - it is an air/light shaft.
    The Master of Ceremonies to Alexander VI wrote that the infamous prison was located with in the burial cella (not in an air shaft), and it was still there in 1825.

    The sign is incorrect, as we will see in the next sign. (Not on this web page - on the right hand side as one continues walking - the sign for the elevator -
    The elevator was added - NOT by Pope Leo X (as the sign there says) - but for Clement XII (1734).
  Then, end of the ramp - turn left to reach the area of Hadrians' tomb.

trap door b4 the urn room
fragment of marble facing

Trap door - right in front of the people. They are leaving the area of the urns.
 This drawbridge was built by Valadier in 1825. He made everything in Rome that was made or re-made between 1800 and 1825.

The urn area would have been lined in beautiful marbles (like yellow from North Africa), and the niches by what are now windows would have held jars with the ashes, yet Hadrian's porphyry tomb was also in here . . . Bronze decorated lamps were suspended here, as well.

Angel Courtyard

Angel Courtyarddetail of the aedicule in the courtyard

    This was designed by Michelangelo for ope Julius II, with some work by Rapahel di Montelupo, like the angel on the left. On the right are the buildings for garrison services, and stairways in the back leading to the promnades of Alexander VI and Pius IV. The papal apartments (on the left, back) were built onto this central core of the mausoleum and interrupt the wide, circular terrace which ran unobstructed all the way around. Up ahead, to the left in the photo, is the entrance to the next part of the Castel available to us (there are some entrances before that, but this is a better route). This angel was the centerpiece on top of the monument. Damaged in 1747 and replaced with the bronze statue by Pietro van Verschaffelt. Behind it are plaques on the walls instructing soldiers of the size of cannon balls that would be in piles here.
    Look around here for grates on the floor that would be for light for the prison cells down below - they should be behind the angel.
    The photo on the right is a close-up of the aedicule designed by Michelangelo, but then changed by Montelupo, and restored in the early 1900's.
    Staircase at the far end was added under Pope Urban VIII.

Room of the Apollo - Paul IIIHall of Apollo

    All of the Grottesque decoration we see comes from Paul III Farnese, but he didn't originally build these rooms. These rooms were started by Pope Julius II, then Leo X, and include the smaChapel of Leo Xll chapel on the far right after the entrance. But - Paul III redecorated everything, so his painting style stays. The chapel was originally dedicated to St. Michael, but after, dedicated to Sts. Cosmas and Damian, patron saints of doctors, therefore patron saints to the Medici family (because of the play on words with their family name). This chapel, at least, was designed by Michelangelo, but high relief of the Madonna was done by Raphael di Montelupo, who created the angel in the courtyard previous.

The painting was restored in 1948. King Midas is in here, the impartial judge between Apollo and Pan. The 7 Liberal Arts are depicted in the lunettes, and 9 muses are depicted in the 9 small temples on the walls. These werew created by Perin del Vaga, adn finished by Donenico Zaga.

Turning in the opposite direction (but not outside), we come to

Stemma of Clement VIII above us, Barbarini fireplace in the next room. We are in the "hall of justice".

The Hall for Clement VIII Aldobrandini (1592-1605).

   The 1st room is full of re-creation battle stuff, and the photos above show the entrance, then coat of arms on the ceiling in the Hall of Justice, so-called because of the Allegory of Justice on the wall in front of the room. They really aren't 100% sure this is the room, but it had to be around here somewhere, so . . . On the ceiling is the coat of arms of Pope Clement VIII (right frame), and in front of us (left side) is a painting of an allegory for Justice (NOT St. Michael - this one clearly has breasts!).
     Notice the huge stone work below - these rooms were part of the original Hadrian mausoleum. We are now right above the Urn Room.

     The next room contains a fireplace, with the Barberini and Colonna coat of arms, as seen above, through the doorway. There are some ancient bric-a-brac and weapons to admire here, then we can turn back and go out to the courtyard on the other side.
    This room also has a opening in the floor that leads to a secret, underground passageway.


Theatre Courtyard

Theatre Courtyard, for Pope Leo X

Just as you enter this courtyard, there was a door on the right. Peaking in the door, you will see a staircase on the left, which leads to the  personal bath and 'stove room' for Clement VII. The courtyard beyond that was made for Julius II.

In this courtyard here, a frieze of festoons and putti run between the windows. "Graffito" can be seen below this, painted in between the windows.
This is the Theatre Courtyard, with fake canonballs, a fake war/shooting thing, but a real well, and the entrance to the prison.

Fake cannon balls (real ones aren't made of marble . . . )

Canon balls don't fit in these canons

This display is at the Bastion of St. Mark. The canon balls don't fit in the canons. It's just a mock display.

real silos for wheat
Wheat storageEntrance to the prison
Prison entrance, where you could languish for eternity . . .

From here, we exit to the covered walkway designed for Pope Pius IV Medici (1559-1565).

Pius IV hall with inset

  Pius IV was the uncle of St. Charles Borromeo, and ended the Council of Trent.
   Inset is a photo of what little remains of the marble decoration of the mausoleum.

    Up ahead from this photo, you can pass through a doorway to the logia (balcony) for Pope Leo X, then the logia for Julius II, and after that the Military Museum, then a small cafeteria, or you can turn back and go up a large staircase to next section of rooms on the upper level.

The Sala Paolina

Sala Paulina

    Pope Paul III lived here for 13 years.
Decorated from June 1545 to September 1547, by a student of Raphael named Perin del Vaga, and his assistants Pellegrino Tibaldi (St. Michael) and Gerolamo Siciolante (Hadrian).
This is the room where Paul III received delegations during his residence here.
Paintings are allegories of what he thought of himself - Alexander the Great, Hadrian, St. Michael . . .

    In Greek, on the ceiling, it says, "Paul III, Pope, has transformed the tomb of the Great Hadrian into a mighty and sacred abode." Because Greek was the chosen language of Alexander and Hadrian.

    Latin inscription says, "All that within this castle was once decayed, defaced and inaccessible, now through the merits of the pontiff Paul III one sees restored, set in order and decorated to meet the needs of solidy, comfortable utility and fine elegance."
      The theme in all of Paul III's fresco's is that he is the heir of the ancient emperors - Hadrian, above all (since we're in his mausoleum and all) - and he is the restorer of Rome's greatness. We must remember that Paul III became pope after the devastating Sack of Rome in 1527, after Martin Luther and - he's going to outlive Henry VIII by only 2 years. He calls the Council of Trent to solve problems and here he is presenting himself as a new Hadrian, a magnificent prince committed to reviving the city and making it the capital of an empire.
    What they were trying to do is show a continuity between Paul III's reign and the reign of Hadrian: the ancient emperor had consolidated the frontiers under external threat, assimilated other cultures and instilled new vigour into the ancient traditions of Classical Rome.
There are also paintings in here on St. Paul (for 'Paul' III) and Alexander the Great, because Paul III's real name was Alexander.
Al the Great has The Poems of Homer Placed in a Chest. Paul depicts his martyrdom.
   Nice painting with all the elephants is Porus Attacked by Macedonian Soldiers.

Ceiling of the Perseus Room

2 small rooms off of this room were sitting rooms, private rooms or a bedroom of the pope. One is decorated in the theme of Perseus and the other is Cupid and Psyche - supposedly a favorite topic of the students of Raphael.
   There is also a small door that was cut into the wall which gave the pope direct access to the Clenet VII bathhouse. Paintings on the wall regard the life of Perseus.
   The furniture in this room comes from various provenances and dates and placed here in order to recreate the atmosphere of the pope's apartments. It's clumsy.

Cupid and Psyche Room has recently restored paintings, with them as the subject.

Going from Reception to Library of Paul III

If you go through the opposite door, you'll pass through this hallway, also misnamed the Pompein corridor. It's named after the city of Pompey, as if the painting style was from there - but at the time of Paul III, they didn't know about Pompey. The style was taken from Nero's Grotto.

You are going from the Sala Paolina - reception room, basically, to the library of Paul III.

Room of the Treasures - Room of the Library

partial ceiling of the library for Paul III

  Yet another mis-named area. The treasure "boxes" are in the next room - you can see them. This was a library for Paul III.
  Decorations here were painted between 1543 - 1545, the work of Luzio Luzi of Todi, who also worked in the Plazzo Doria. It is a combination of frescoes and stucco alto-relievo.
    The library intendes to celebrate the legendary originals of Rome - using not only the subject-matter, but the very painting style that they used - grottesque!

St. Michael and Hadrian are on opposite sides of the vault, showing that the pope is sealing together the worlds of Classical tradition and Christian faith.

On the left, we have the center of the ceiling, with the coat of arms of the Farnese family - the fleux-de-lis - (surrounded by unicorns) and, below, a woman with a unicorn (symbol of chastity).

Below, in the oval upright is the god Pan with a woman, some grottesque decoration underneath, and then a scene with something to do with Ancient Rome.

another part of the ceilingDecoration here focuses on the greatness of Rome.
The oval plasters would have been covered in gold, and represent various gods or allegories to Rome.
Paintings were done with a lot of research into the history of Rome, because they represent


Treasure boxes

Off of the library you will see this small room - this is the Treasury Room. The cabinets in the open to reveal the original Hadrian building wall - this is where they believe Hadrians' tomb would have been.

From here, there is a narrow staircase leading to the outside with views of Rome.

The Prison

oil amphore     A few stories of the prison are up on top on the right column.

   The first archeological digs began here in the early 20th century. There is a theory that there was a cult to the deified emperor Hadrian who met in these rooms, because these rooms are part of the original construction - they weren't added later.
   This picture shows oil amphore - but this is also a recreation - the urns would not have been all cemented in like this. Brought down directly from above. Also in this area are wheat storage bins - one of those was turned into a prison cell in the 18th century.

Bathroom door for special prisoners

   Important people in the prison had nicer accomodations - the use of a separate bathroom, for example. Pictured here is the bathroom door. This is where Celini escaped from, tying his bed sheets together.
   There was also another level under the prison - we don't know what that was for, either. My theory - perhaps these were for the funery urns of more ancient Romans - this was intended to be the mausoleum for all the future emperors. Perhaps this was just more space made available.

Hall with 3 prison cells

   This is a hallway with 3 cells. You have to bend down to get through the door. The last doorway, is to a fairly large hall. Picture below.

    Cells for common criminals could hold 20 - 25 people, all awaiting capital punishment. They didn't get a bathroom.
    Another interesting note - no torture instruments were found.

Inside of a cell

    Pictured here is the inside of a cell. Visitors would speak to you from above.

This could get pretty cold and damp during the winter season.

    One of the cells also originally had the addition of huge limestone blocks that would have been covered with nice marble - we don't know what this room was intended for.

Group hall for prisoners

    This is a large room at the end of the prison cell hallway. They don't know the original use of this room, so one theory is that they tortured prisoners here!

    BUT - they didn't find any torture devices, and tests have not been done to find any blood residue.

    My theory - it was a place for the prisoners to walk around a bit, or, it was a cell used for rioters (larger groups of people), or, it simply wasn't used at all. These rooms weren't built by the popes, but in the 2nd century A.D.

    All of the modern metal we see is to hold the structure up.

Jail door for the really bad.
This is good - the holes in the door are for the prisoner inside to stick his arms through when they are going to open the door.

   By the way, this Castel and the Colosseum are the most frequented "museums" in Rome, so the ticket money often goes to the support of the other museums in Rome. This is one of the reasons why they haven't done any other studies on the Castel - they don't have the money.

    And, one last word - Dan Brown. He threw the Castel in his novel - but he described it incorrectly - he never visited here. What he was describing was not this place - and may not be any place accept his imagination!