Sunday, September 09, 2012

A Mausoleum by Moonlight

Imagine my surprise on discovering that the Castel Sant’Angelo, originally built as a mausoleum for the great emperor Hadrian, hides some wonderful art within its fortress walls.

A moonlight visit to the mausoleum revealed that, as well as the famous passetto which connects the Vatican with the Castel so that popes under siege could flee to safety within the fortress.

During the summer, Castel Sant’Angelo offers late-night tours that open areas usually closed, such as the passetto, so I was able to pretend that I was Pope Clement VII who, with 1,000 friends, fled along the elevated, fortified walkway to safety during the Sack of Rome in 1527.

(The passetto more recently gained infamy in the Dan Brown novel and subsequent movie Angels and Demons, as the link between the Vatican and the assassin’s lair.)

In truth, much of the great art secreted in the Castel is open to the public; I just hadn’t realized that Clement VII’s beautifully frescoed bathroom was there, or that Pope Paul III’s bedroom and receiving chambers were so gorgeous.

Pope Paul III, born as Alessandro Farnese, was pope from 1534 to 1549 and created a set of beautiful apartments decorated by such names as Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, Pierin del Vaga, Marco da Siena, and Pellegrino Tibaldi. I also found a Luca Signorelli there.

Via Leaping Without a Net: A Mausoleum by Moonlight