When you are heading to the Vatican, you can’t avoid seeing an amazing ancient bridge (foot traffic only) decorated with angel sculptures, and a mighty, brown building of original architecture near it. The Castle of the Holy Angel in the center of Rome, Italy, started its history as a mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 139 AD. In 250 years, it became a castle when the young and rising power, the Christian Church, started to replace pagan Roman buildings with Christian ones.
Many of the mausoleum contents and decorations were lost during attacks on Rome by Barbarians. Defenders dropped parts of marble decorations of the mausoleum on the heads of attackers. So, the Emperor Hadrian stood up for his city even after his death. Simultaneously with the mausoleum, Hadrian built an amazing bridge facing straight onto the mausoleum, and called it, as you can guess, the Bridge of Hadrian. Today, it still stands there, but is called Ponte Sant’Angelo. I hope next time you are on that bridge, you will recall it is 1200 years old.
Castel Sant’Angelo was destined to witness the whole history of Christian Rome. For many hundreds of years, it was the most powerful building of the city and also the highest one: papal fortress, papal residence, and of course a prison. Unfortunately, despite such a rich history, we know few interesting facts about it. Let’s mention just two of them.
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), the man who first said that the planet Earth is not the center of the world, has a round shape, and revolves around the sun, was imprisoned in this castle for six years before being burned at the stake.
If you like fine arts at all and jewelry in particular, the name of the second hero might be familiar to you. It is Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), an Italian goldsmith, sculptor, draftsman, musician, and even a soldier. He worked in Italy and France, and was so good in jewel crafting that the French king presented him with a castle in Paris. He also wrote an excellent book, his autobiography. Everyone who is interested in the history of European Renaissance should read it. The book is subjective, as every memoir is, but very alive, fascinating, and informative. Moreover, it reads like a detective story.
According to his book, Benvenuto Cellini defended the castle of Sant’Angelo when the Pope was hiding there during the attack on Rome by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, in 1527. Cellini wrote that, firing from a cannon, he mortally wounded Philibert of Châlon, Prince of Orange, one of the commanders of the siege.
The Pope asked Benvenuto to take all the gemstones out of his gold tiara, melt down the gold, and save all these for better times. Later, Cellini was charged with embezzling the gems of the pope’s tiara, and imprisoned in the castle of Sant’Angelo. He didn’t admit to the charge. Instead, he sawed up the window’s iron bars and, one night, tied together old rags and descended from a window of the dungeon. The rag rope turned out to be too short and he was forced to jump, which resulted in a broken leg. Despite this, he climbed over the second wall of the castle and crawled to his friend’s house where he got help. Truly a brave man! He was only one who escaped from the castle in its history.
The largest ancient castle of Rome, Sant’Angelo, is a museum today, but there are few interesting things inside except the papal rooms with original furniture and frescoes of the 15-16th century. If you get to the highest floor, beautiful bird’s-eye views of Rome will be your prize.
After an extended visit of the castle, we wanted only one thing: to sit in a calm place and drink a glass of Prosecco to give our legs and backs some relief. Zigzagging along the small narrow streets of the center of Rome, we stumbled upon a small cafe/bar with a very modest interior. They had Prosecco and we ordered a bottle. We were alone there. Not one tourist, or even a local.
How surprised we were, when the young waiter brought not only wine, but a gigantic plate of bruschetta with different toppings – black truffle, white truffle (it’s always expensive), tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, cheese, and heaven knows what else. OK, no problem. We didn’t mind eating something, and were prepared to pay an enormous bill. Besides, the bottle had a gold wrapper.
The wine was excellent, the bruschetta was perfect, we were full and happy.
“The bill, please. What?! Just 20 Euro for the bottle of amazing cold Prosecco and a plate of yummy bruschetta? Are you sure?”
“Oh, the bruschetta was on the house.”
I adore Italy!
If you have a local friend in any big city you are going to visit, you are lucky. He/she will show you all the secluded places and of course that tiny restaurant where you taste real homemade dishes for a reasonable price. But what if you don’t have such a friend? In that case, you can rely on good luck, or turn to Withlocals. This outfit will suggest you choose a local guide. I am sure that having a guide, you will get not only an interesting excursion, but also an excellent dinner in a family trattoria where some Italian grandmother or even grandfather will prepare genuine lasagne, pasta, tiramisu, bruschettayou know the listfor you.
One more example. Probably you heard about the famous Caffè Florian on St Mark’s Square of Venice, Italy, where a tiny cup of black coffee costs as much as a small gold ring. Is it the best coffee in the world? No. Florian is the oldest working cafe in the world, yes, but the best coffee in my life, I got in a microscopic coffee shop (just 10 square meters) in Budva, Montenegro. That big cup of fantastic coffee only cost 50 cents.
More about Italy:
Giotto’s Campanile, Lotte Tower, Burj Khalifa, or Why Aerial Views are So Magnificent
What to Visit: Naples in Italy or Naples in Florida?
Museo Borghese, Roma: 100 percent Concentration of Beauty
If You Are Lazy, Don’t Visit Bergamo, Italy!