Although the Eternal City has to offer endless collections of masterpieces hidden inside the four walls of some outstanding museum, the open-air cultural experience can bring you unexpected emotions. In fact, Rome is often termed an outdoor museum—you can bump into a beautiful landmark literally behind every corner!
One of the best spots to visit nearby the Vatican is definitely the Sant’Angelo bridge, that connects Castel Sant’Angelo to the city center. Both have been commissioned by emperor Hadrian in A.D. 134-5. Originally constructed as the emperor’s mausoleum, Castel Sant’Angelo was transformed into a papal fortress only in Middle Ages.
Castel Sant'Angelo and Sant'Angelo Bridge.
The legend says that in 590, during a penitential procession conducted by Gregory the Great, the archangel Michael appeared to the Pope. The Pontiff saw the messenger of God sheathing his sword, symbolizing the extinction of the plague. The statue of an Angel wielding a sword on top of the castle acts as a reminder of the episode that gave the name to the fortress.
The Angel sheathing the sword.
On the other hand, the Pons Aelius (Aelius was the other name of Hadrian), now known under the name of Sant’Angelo Bridge, was commonly used by pilgrims to reach the Vatican. This is why, in the 16th century, Pope Clement VII decided to decorate it with two magnificent statues of Saints Peter and Paul, now Patron Saints of Rome. More than a century later, in 1688, 10 statues of angels were raised on the parapets. Two of them were designed by the legendary Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Later on, Clement IX removed Bernini’s masterpieces to include them in his private collection and had them replaced with copies. You can now visit the two original angels at the Sant'Andrea Delle Fratte, in Rome.
The original statues Bernini's Angels at the Sant'Andrea Delle Fratte.
In the 15th century, Sixtus IV, the founder of the Vatican Library, was the first Pope to store documents of great value and inestimable historical importance in Castel Sant’Angelo. Fortunately, his successors followed his lead and due to this precaution almost 8,500 documents survived unharmed for centuries.
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