From Famous Castles & Palaces of Italy, Illustrated in Colour from Paintings, by Edmund B. d’Auvergne, London: T. Werner Laurie, [undated, 1911]; pp. 15-60.


Decorated Adorment from the spine of the book, of a gilt berry with leaves in black around it on a burgundy woven ground.




WHEN in the course of his third consulate, and the one hundred and thirty-fifth year of our era, the emperor Hadrian built for himself a tomb to surpass that of Augustus or Mausolus, he dreamed not that he was founding a fortress and that armed men should fill with clangour the chamber wherein he hoped to lie for ever in the stillness of death. The sepulchre of the mighty dead became the refuse of the lesser living. The round tower that housed the dead majesty of Rome became in course of time the city’s curb and shield — the oldest of Europe’s citadels, surpassing the tower by the Thames by a thousand years.

Detrianus, whose name is associated with the Ælian bridge and the emperor’s villa at Tivoli, was perhaps the architect. His work was not completed till the next reign — that of Antoninus Pius — when the ashes of his patron, dead at Baiæ, had already been laid in the mortuary chamber with those of his adopted son. They found a noble resting-place. The monument at its base was square, measuring about six hundred and forty feet, and faced with marble, with a graceful cornice and tablets of bronze; at the corners were equestrian groups of statuary; above this rose the great round tower of travertine which exists to-day, then cased in marble and crowned with a series of 16 statues, triumphs of the sculptor’s art. These stood on guard round the tumulus — an aërial island of earth where cypresses swayed in the wind; and in the middle of this hanging garden rose the majestic bronze figure of the sun god in his quadriga.

A black and white photograph, of the Mausoleum of Hadrian at the Castle of Sant’ Angelo.


(Castle of Sant’ Angelo.)

The interior of the base was honeycombed with cells, radiating from the centre, and appropriated to the remains of members of the imperial house. Their names and epitaphs were inscribed on the tablets without. The great door facing the Ælian bridge opened into a vestibule, where you may still see the niche for the colossal statue of Hadrian, the head of which is in the Vatican; hence, as now, a wide and lofty passage, in those days paved with mosaics and adorned with pilasters, wound upwards in a complete spiral to the sepulchral chamber of the founder in the very centre of the building. You look down into that chamber and see it bare and empty; the marble has been stripped from the walls and the pavement of travertine, and the urns have long since gone from the four niches. On the middle perhaps stood the porphyry urn of the Founder. Probably the ashes of Antoninus Pius were deposited here also, and those of his wife Faustina. For the remains of Lucius Verus, and what was mortal in Marcus Aurelius, room had most likely to be found in the adjacent chambers. The columbaria filled rapidly in those days; and in the year 211 the bronze doors of the Mausoleum closed finally on the urn of Septimus Severus, brought here from the far distant north.

No more the winding corridor echoed to the chant of the mimes and the blast of the funeral trumpets. For 17 two hundred years all was still in that abode of dust and ashes. From without the statues of the gods and heroes looked down on a world which was forgetting them and upwards at clouds that were fast gathering over Rome. Sixty years after the death of Severus, the barbarians were ravaging Umbria; and stout Aurelian was attending to the defence of the city. He built a wall from the Flaminian Gate (now the Porta del Popolo) along the left bank of the Tiber, and for the protection of the Ælian bridge he did not scruple to make use of the Ælian tomb. He joined it to the tower by walls, with towers, running from its eastern angles, and pierced the enclosure with a gate, to which he removed the bronze door of the sepulchre itself. Thus one of Hadrian’s successors may be said to have begun the work of spoliation, and possibly removed some of the marbles and statues from the exposed face of the monument.

Years passed. The eagle’s talons were still sharp, and none cared as yet to test the strength of Aurelian’s wall. Meanwhile there came a foe more dangerous to Rome than any barbarian, who built a temple to a Hebrew fisherman in the shadow of the tomb of the crowned Stoic, and joined both structures by a portico, but the ashes of the great pagans were left undisturbed, even when Honorius restored the fortifications of the city in the first decade of the fifth century, and probably stripped the great Mausoleum of all outward resemblance to a tomb.

But Rome itself was now the vast tomb of its former greatness. The long-expected foe came from the north at last. On the 24th August 410, Alaric and 18 his Goths beleaguered Rome. The capital of the world fell without a blow. It was sacked from end to end, but the fair-haired invaders were bent on pillage, not on destruction. They left the monument standing and respected the shrine of St Peter; but the old gods could not protect their worshippers, and the urns of the imperial dead were broken open and their ashes scattered to the winds. Hadrian, Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, Severus were trampled under the feet of barbarians whose fathers would have trembled at their frown. Hadrian’s porphyry urn, recovered in after years, housed the bones of Innocent II., and the lid, having covered the tomb of Cinzio, prefect of the city under Gregory VII., has now become the font at which little Romans are made Christians.

The Visigoths made no attempt to demolish the edifices the great pagans had bequeathed to Rome, and they owed their preservation and restoration in great part to the great Ostrogoth Theodoric, who spoke of Rome as “herself one great marvel.” He repaired the city walls, and converted or strengthened the Mausoleum in some such way as to earn for it the name of Theodoric’s prison (carcer Theodorici). The great king was not long dead — and his soul, as the monks would have us believe, cast into the crater of Lipari — when his people under the warlike Vitigis advanced against the city he had held in veneration. It was garrisoned by Belisarius and his Greeks. On the nineteenth day of the siege, in the year 537, the Goths delivered a general assault, striving with special endeavour to force the Porta Praesentina and the gate below Hadrian’s tomb. They had no engines of war or such movable 19 shelters as were used in later days, but trusted to the protection of their shields as they ran, doubling and crouching, along the portico and the adjoining streets. Reaching the foot of the sepulchre-fortress, they shot their arrows upwards at the defenders, and swarmed up the walls on scaling ladders. The desperate Greeks, unable perhaps to reach them with their arrows, with frantic haste dragged the glorious statues from their places round the parapet, snapped and hammered them to pieces, and hurled the heavy fragments on the heads of the scaling parties. “The broken masterpieces, statues of emperors, gods and heroes, fell like hail. The attacking Goths were crushed by the bodies of gods which perhaps had once adorned the temples of Athens as works of Polycletus or Praxiteles, or had been chiselled in the workshops of Rome four hundred years before. With this wild scene round the grave of an emperor, which recalls the mythic battles of the giants, ended the struggle by the Aurelian gate.” The Goths were beaten back “from the tomb, at the foot of which lay stretched corpses and statues, alike broken and blood-bespattered.”1

The dead gods saved Rome.

One of them — the Sleeping Faun — was found centuries after in the trenches below, and is now to be seen at Munich. The colossal statue of Hadrian, no doubt, was broken up at the same time. Shorn of its beauty, the mausoleum became for ever afterwards a fortress and the citadel of Rome. As such it offered a determined resistance to the Goths of Totila, who held the rest of the city in the spring of 549. Paulus, 20 the imperial commandant, finding that, with his little garrison of four hundred horse, he was hemmed in on all sides, and like to perish of starvation, determined to cut his way through the enemy’s army. Totila in some way heard of this resolve, and, with the respect that brave men always feel for brave men, at once offered them a free pass to Byzantium, on condition that they would serve no more against him. The gallant Greeks, touched by this act of generosity, preferred, instead, with the exception of their officers, to enrol themselves in the Gothic army. Totila, during his brief reign, added to the fortifications, and appears to have connected the walls of Aurelian by a low curtain. After his death on the field of battle, in the summer of 552, the Gothic garrison capitulated to the eunuch Narses, who took possession in the name of the Emperor Justinian.

The Goths never again troubled Rome. Indeed so wretched was her state that little was left to tempt the cupidity of the meanest barbarians. The city hardly existed: a few villages might be said to stand among the ruins of the ancient capital. In the pontificate of Gregory the Great a dreadful pestilence threatened the last few thousand inhabitants with extinction. The picture of the Virgin, painted by St Luke, was taken from its place in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and borne round the afflicted city, the Pope and the clergy going before it in procession and singing the Penitential Psalms. Wherever the sacred picture passed, the air rushed purer and fresher. On they passed to the bridge of the Ælii. Gregory looked up and saw on the summit of the 21 tower a mighty angel in the act of sheathing a bloody sword. Heavenly voices were heard intoning the anthem, Regina Coeli. The Pontiff’s heart was filled with infinite gladness and thankfulness. He raised his eyes to the glorious form upon the battlements, and answered with a solemn content: “Ora pro nobis Deum. Alleluia.”

The pest was stayed, and in after years, perhaps by Gregory, perhaps by one of his successors, was built on the spot where the angel stood the Chapel of Sant’ Angeli inter coela or inter nubes; and to this day the figure of the angel is poised on the tower, from which till our own day it failed to banish the worst demons of cruelty and tyranny.

The twilight of the Dark Ages deepened into night, Rome sinking ever deeper into the mire. We hear nothing of the one-time Mausoleum, except when the anonymous traveller from Einsiedeln in the year 700, enumerated its epitaphs and marbles, calling it the Adrianum. At such an epoch of disorganisation and chaos, the noble building may have been put to any use or no use. No doubt it served in turn as dwelling-house, prison, granary and arsenal. It preserved the name of Prison of Theodoric three hundred years longer. The approach of the Saracens at last aroused the Romans from their lethargy. The shrine of Peter must not fall, like his Master’s, into the hands of the infidel. A great man, Leo IV., fortunately wore the tiara, and he set about fortifying the city anew. He built a wall with four towards and one thousand four hundred and forty-four battlements, so as to include the quarter round the Vatican, since called after him 22 the Leonine City. The new defences were solemnly consecrated by the Pontiff on 27th June 852. Followed by the cardinals, walking barefoot, he made the circuit of the walls, sprinkling them with holy water and invoking upon them the blessing of the Most High. In the new scheme of fortifications, the Mausoleum became the keep and citadel.

Then came unworthy pontiffs, and the key, which they should have clutched firmly, fell into other hands. From the gloom emerges the strange formidable figure of Theodora, the wife of Theophylactus, consul and senator of Rome. In virtue perhaps of her husband’s office, this woman seems to have made her home in the citadel, which must indeed have been strangely transformed from its original condition as a sepulchre to house the wealthy and luxurious living. The husband disappears in the year 915,2 but Theodora maintained an all-powerful influence over the papacy and the city. To her John X. owed his election; he was, it has been asserted, her lover. Marozia and Theodora, the daughters of the Senatrix, were as beautiful or, at least, as fascinating as their mother. The Pope found for Marozia a husband in Alberic, a Lombard soldier of fortune who had seated himself on the ducal throne of Spoleto. He fought beside John against the Saracens, and shared his triumphal entry into Rome. He is described by a chronicler as elegant of form and as one of the heroes of the war. Quarrelling afterwards with the Pontiff and the people he was slain, it is believed, by the Roman militia. His wife was still at the head of a strong party of the nobility, against which John 23 sought the help of Hugo, King of Provence. The shrewd Marozia promptly offered her hand to this ally’s stepbrother, Guido, Marquis of Tuscany. In 928, with her new husband’s help, she seized the Pope, who had been her mother’s nominee, and threw him into her citadel of Sant’ Angelo. There he was strangled or starved to death — the first on record of a long line of luckless captives.

Marozia set two dummy pontiffs on the chair of St Peter, in rapid succession, till her own son, John, was old enough to fill it. He is said by some to have been the fruit of her amour with Sergius III., predecessor of John X., but was more likely the son of her first husband. To be mother of the Supreme Pontiff was not enough for the proud Senatrix. When her second husband, Guido, died she dreamed of the crown of Italy, which now was worn by his brother, King Hugo. This prince lived at Pavia, after the style of the old Roman emperors, rejoicing in the pride of life and the desire of the eyes. He loved scholars, warriors and fair women, and had mistresses nicknamed after the goddesses of Olympus. He listened favourably to the proposals of Marozia; but he was married already and she, moreover, was his brother’s widow. Hugo overcame this second impediment by declaring the children of his mother’s second marriage supposititious; one of them, Lambert, challenged him and in the ordeal by combat came off victor. Hugo thereupon seized him and put out his eyes, and gave his fiefs to his own brother Boso. His wife most opportunely died, and he hurried to Rome to wed Marozia. The marriage took place, we are told, in the mortuary chamber of Hadrian 24 itself; and if the ghost of Faustina still haunted the place, it must have smiled on the triumph of one so like unto itself as the mother of John XI.

Master of the citadel, stepfather to the Pope, the Provençal king held Rome in his mailed hands and saw himself invested with the dignity of the Cæsars. His ambition clashed with that of his stepson Alberic, Marozia’s son by her first husband. The young man was constrained one day to hold a basin for the tyrant. He splashed the water in his face. Hugo struck him on the mouth. The young Roman rushed out of the castle, and harangued the populace. He taunted them with their subjection to a woman and a Burgundian, and stirred them into fury. Hugo and Marozia were besieged in the Hadrianeum. The King of Italy let himself down from the fortress by a rope and fled to Lombardy, abandoning his wife and the imperial crown. Alberic entered the stronghold as conqueror. He ordered his mother, Marozia, to be imprisoned, probably within its walls, and his brother, John XI., to be confined in the Lateran. He took the title of “humble prince and senator of all the Romans,” and the capital of the world suddenly entered the ranks of the little Italian dukedoms, such as Venice, Naples and Benevento.3 From Imperialists the citizens became Little Romans.

Their independence they soon forfeited, and German emperors set up popes and pulled them down, while nobles and senators sold their country or redeemed it as suited their personal interests. Every decade left a stain on the Castle of the Angel. The popes dwelt at the Lateran, and the citadel was more often their 25 tomb than their asylum. Benedict VI. was strangled in its dungeons by the enraged Romans in 974, and ten years later John XIV. met there with a like fate. In 996 the patrician Crescentius seized the stronghold, expelled Gregory V., and set John XVI. in his place. The exiled Pontiff returned with the legions of Germany, the young emperor, Otto III., at their head. The Anti-Pope was seized, his eyes torn out, his nose, tongue and ears cut off; he was then paraded on an ass, treated with all possible derision and contempt, and thrown into a dungeon. Otto then laid siege to the castle, which Crescentius and a faithful handful resolved to defend to the last gasp. The siege was conducted by the Markgraf Eckhard of Meissen, who brought the most powerful engines of war to bear on the attack. Crescentius is said to have disguised himself as a monk, and to have appeared suddenly before the emperor to ask for terms. He was sent back unharmed to the fortress, which was taken by assault on 27th April 998. The Roman leader leaped from the battlements, or, according to a more probable account, was beheaded by the conquerors, and his body exposed on a gallows before Monte Mario, with twelve captains of the Roman rioni hung beside him. The corpse was afterwards given up to the widow, Stephania, and buried in the Church of San Pancrazio. The memory of this brave leader was held in honour by the Romans, and the tower, which he is said to have heightened and strengthened, bore his name for many years after. Cencius, one of his family, obtained possession of it in 1062, and when it was wrested from him he built a tower at the opposite 26 end of the bridge, and levied toll on all who passed. “When a Roman noble,” remarks Gregorovius, “could thus play the footpad, like a robber knight on the way to St Peter’s, we may judge how small was the papal power with the city.” Such lawless audacity was not tolerated by the great Hildebrand (Gregory VII.), who excommunicated Cencius and ordered his tower to be levelled to the ground. But the chief had other towers, and to one of these he carried off the Pope, dragging him by the hair of his head from the very altar. The threats of the populace compelled him to release his noble captive and to fly from the city. After Canossa, he offered his services to the Pope’s arch-enemy Henry, who received him by night. A few days later he died at Pavia, about the same time that his bitter foe, Cinzio, Gregory’s prefect, was murdered by his brother outside the gates of Rome (1077).

Five years after, Gregory, looking down from the battlements of Sant’ Angelo, beheld the emperor proceeding in triumph to St Peter’s. The Romans urged Henry to accept the imperial crown if it were handed to him at the end of a wand from the castle walls. The monarch had drunk deeply enough of the cup of humiliation, and refused. He withdrew and left Gregory, still penned in his stronghold, to meet the anger of the Romans. The formidable Robert Guiscard, with a host of Normans and Saracens, came to the Pontiff’s aid. The spirit of their great fathers suddenly and unexpectedly blazed up in the citizens, and they contested the enemy’s advance, step by step. By the advice of Pierleoni, Prefect of Rome, a man of Jewish 27 descent, the Normans fired the city, and resistance was soon at an end. The invaders carried the Ælian bridge, and the Pope, issuing from Sant’ Angelo, embraced the Norman leader, standing amid the corpses of the Romans and the ashes of their houses.

For the next fifty years the storm of civil strife raged fiercely round the fortress. Its possession enabled the partisans of one pope to prevent his rival from celebrating Mass at St Peter’s; at another time, the imperial party made a determined effort to level it with the dust. It now formed the stronghold of the Pierleoni, as it had in times past of the Crescenti, but in 1138 the family abandoned the faction of the anti-popes and surrendered the fortress to Innocent II. A few years later it availed Eugene III. as a refuge against the followers of Arnaldo of Brescia, but again fell into the hands of the Pierleoni who watched from its walls the fierce struggle between the Romans and Imperialists, on the occasion of the coronation of Frederick Barbarossa. At one time an English Cardinal, Boso Breakspear, was the castellan; he was related to our countryman, Adrian IV. Another attempt to demolish the fortress was made in the last years of the twelfth century, about which time it became generally known under the name of the Castle of Sant’ Angelo.

We pass over seventy years, and reach the spacious days of Nicholas III., a staunch Roman of the Orsini breed, and a good deal more a feudal baron than a pontiff. The citadel, like all the Trastevere quarter, was already in the hands of the family, and this may have been one of the reasons that determined him to 28 fix the papal residence at the Vatican. He was a great builder, especially of castles, and put the fortress in a state of defence. He linked it with his palace by means of the covered way called the passetto and afterwards lo andare, which, constructed and restored over and over again, still exists. In the wall of this gallery women condemned to perpetual penance were bricked up, sometimes at their own request, and lived thus miserably on the alms of the charitable. The strong Pontiff died in 1280, but his kinsfolk held fast to Sant’ Angelo. Thence they hurled defiance at Henry VII., another German king who had forced his way across the Ponte Molle and through the Porta del Popolo, determined to place the imperial crown on his head in the Basilica of St Peter. Leagued with the Orsini was Robert, King of Naples. On 26th May 1312, the Imperialists tried to force the passage. A sortie from the stronghold drove them back with heavy loss. The Bishop of Liège, the would-be emperor’s cousin, was dragged into the castle and perished of his wounds. A second assault failed, and Henry was fain to be content with a coronation at the Lateran. The castle, during the exile of the popes at Avignon, was more than once wrested from the Orsini by the people, and as often recovered by them. In 1328 it seems to have been garrisoned by Louis the Bavarian, the emperor who dared to be crowned, not by the Pope, but by a Roman noble. In a document of the time the citadel is described as crowned by one of those tall slender towers, characteristic of most of the military structures in Italy at that time and for long after.

With the sanction of the Pope, the tribune Cola di 29 Rienzo established himself in Sant’ Angelo, and it was there that he took refuge on 15th October 1347, upon his renunciation of office. In the guise of a pilgrim he fled six months later to Naples, to return in 1353, as the minister and ally of the papal legate, Cardinal Albornoz. The stern Spanish prelate at once intrenched himself in the citadel, and remained a passive spectator of the downfall and death of the last of the Roman tribunes.

The place had become so strong that the keys were given to Urban V. by the Roman people as a token of their complete submission. Gregory XI. placed a French garrison within it, and elected, like Nicholas III., to dwell within its shadow. Upon his death, in 1378, the French or ultramontane party took refuge within its walls with their money and treasures, while the people clamoured outside the conclave in the Vatican for a Roman, or at least an Italian, pope. On the election of Urban VI., the ultramontane faction set up an anti-pope at Fondi, and the exasperated Romans at once besieged Sant’ Angelo. Gontelin, the Provençal commandant, was furnished with artillery, and for the first time the smoke of cannon curled round the thousand-year-old walls and penetrated the death chamber of the emperors. With a garrison reduced to only seventy-five men, the castle resisted the assaults of the citizens for a whole year, and surrendered only on the defeat of a Breton force sent to its relief. The Romans wreaked their vengeance on the monument itself. The accretions of ages, the works of Theodoric, Marozia, Crescentius and the Orsini were destroyed, and nothing was left but the cylindrical tower of 30 Hadrian, whose strength defied the spoilers. “The ruins of Sant’ Angelo lay for years on the ground,” says the historian of the city, writing on the very day that the fortress was handed over by the troops of Napoleon III. to the papal guards. “The blocks of marble were removed to pave squares and construct buildings; goats clambered over its remains.”4

“If you wish to maintain the state of Rome, refortify Sant’ Angelo,” said Natale and Pietruccio del Sacco to Boniface IX., on surrendering their authority to him. The Pontiff beheaded his counsellors, but he acted on their advice, and began by forbidding the removal of any more stones or marbles from the monument. In the year 1405 he set to work to restore it, Niccolo Piero Lamberti of Arezzo being the architect. He insulated the central tower by connecting all the radiating cells in the base and so forming the existing ditch or open gallery, which so many times has echoed to the musketry of the platoon. Then or before, the shafts ventilating the spiral ramp were converted into oubliettes, and the tunnel the founders had made beneath it, to drain the earthen tumulus, received the bones of dead captives. The battlements round the tower were blown down by a tempest the next year, and restored; and the old chapel of Boniface II. was renovated, or, as some say, the present one founded.

These defences did not benefit the papacy. On Boniface’s death his nephew, Tomacelli, continued in possession of the fortress, and was confirmed in his office of castellan by King Ladislaus, who was acting in 1404 as a mediator between Pope and people. Though 31 it was nominally a papal stronghold, Innocent VII. would not trust himself within its walls when he was threatened by the populace; and when he made his peace with them, and returned to the city, Tomacelli declared against him. The Pope’s nephew and Paolo Orsini sat down before the fortress, which capitulated after a five months’ siege on 9th August 1406.

Eleven years later it was occupied by Cardinal Isolani, who represented the Council of Constance during the papal interregnum, and besieged by Braccio di Montone, the great Umbrian leader. “Near the castle stood the Meta di Romolo, a pyramidal sepulchre, near the existing Church of the Traspontina, converted into a fort, and garrisoned by troops who were supplied with victuals from the castle by means of an arrangement of ropes. This being burnt, the Meta surrendered to Braccio, 21st July 1417.”5 Sforza, the Umbrian’s deadly enemy, came from Naples to the cardinal’s assistance, and, having driven off the besiegers, put to death Stefaneschi, one of the schismatic cardinals within the fortress. He then followed Braccio northwards, leaving Isolani in possession of the city and the citadel.

The schism was ended by the election of Martin V. Under the direction of his kinsmen, the Colonnas, extensive works were carried out at the castle, but their exact nature remains a mystery. Colonel Borgatti has discovered in the Vatican and Royal Archives receipts and entries relating to these operations, rather like those in our Pipe Rolls; for instance — “30 April, 1434 — Pro fabrica castri S. Angeli fl. lxxxx.,” — which 32 is not very illuminating. In 1454 fifty florins were paid to that “venerable man, Giacomino Baduario, Venetian,” for expenses incurred in the upkeep and repair of the fortress.

The Colonnas tried hard to keep hold of Sant’ Angelo on the accession of Eugene IV. Two of the family, the Archbishop of Benevento and his brother Mario, were seized and confessed under torture that they had intended to take the stronghold, kill the castellan, and expel the Pope and the Orsini from the city. When Eugene was actually compelled to take flight, his castellan, Baldassare d’Offida, remained loyal to him. The Romans invested the citadel and pressed it hard. In a skirmish at the outworks, they captured a soldier, who offered to murder his commandant and surrender the place to them. They accepted his terms and he was suffered to return. Sure enough at one of the windows there was seen hanging a figure that looked like Baldassare, while the soldier beckoned the besiegers to enter. The leaders rushed in at the half-opened gate, and were promptly made prisoners, while those who followed close behind them were decimated by cannon shot. To rescue their chiefs, the people were obliged to submit to terms, and the siege was raised. Antonio Ridio, probably the next castellan, struck down the governor of the city, who was suspected of treason to the Holy See, while he was visiting the fortress in the year 1440. The unfortunate man died four days after.

A black and white engraving of the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, in the seventeenth century.


17th Century.

Eugene IV. is believed to have restored the wall on the west side, connecting the fortress with the Tiber. His successor, Nicholas V., has left a deep and legible 33 impress on the Castle of the Angel. He refaced the central tower with the wall which, much altered, remains to-day, and built another wall on the outer edge of the old Roman basement, with a heavy machicolated parapet and round towers at three of the angles. Drawings made at a later date by Sangallo show a Roman pillar still in position at the south-west angle of the basement wall, and some traces of the epitaph tablets on the side next the bridge. Two massive square towers were added to defend the approach at this point. The tower has a machicolated parapet, two projecting galleries that are sometimes called bartizans, and a smaller rectangular tower at its apex. An escutcheon of Pope Nicholas V., almost effaced, may still be seen on the eastern curtain between the bastions. Probably all the popes were in such a way commemorated, but the French, during their occupation in republican times, with infinite patience and industry removed all except this one, which must have escaped their notice.

Nicholas’s architects were Bernardo Rosellino and Leone Battista Alberti. Their work was soon defiled by the execution of Stefano Porcari, who made a desperate effort to recover the liberties of Rome. The Pope and the cardinals were to be seized on 6th January 1453, while celebrating Mass at St Peter’s. The usual traitor revealed the plot, and led the officers direct to the chief conspirator’s house. By one account Porcari was captured, hidden in a huge clothes basket; by another, owing to his hose accidentally slipping down about his feet and tripping him up. He was put to death at Sant’ Angelo as Infessura records: “On Tuesday, the 9th day of 34 January, was hanged Messer Stefano Porcaro, in the castle, on the right-hand tower; and I saw him clad in black in doublet and black hose.”

The pontificate of Paul II. is remarkable for the persecution and imprisonment in the citadel (1465) of Pomporino Leto and other archæologists on the charge of attempting to revive paganism. The real motive for their arrest was their suspected complicity in a conspiracy. Platina, one of the accused, tells us that he was “shut up in a high tower, exposed to all the winds, in heavy chains, in the middle of winter without fire, and that for four long months.” Few archæologists would appreciate the opportunity of examining ancient monuments under such conditions. They were set at liberty, but imprisoned again three years later. When they were put to the torture the Pope encouraged them with wise, kindly words: “You should suffer these pains with pleasure; for, if you are guilty, you will save your soul by confessing; and, if not, you should find in your innocence the strength to resist your torments and clear yourself.”

The archæologists were at last set free, thus vindicating the holy Pontiff’s reasoning. After this we learn without surprise that he paid divers sums for the construction of dungeons in the castle; and, with more satisfaction, that he established the rule of making a prelate the castellan, who had to take an oath to hold the stronghold for the next Pope, thus putting an end to usurpation by the deceased Pontiff’s relatives and friends.

In consequence of this wise enactment Sixtus IV. took quiet possession of the citadel on his accession to 35 the chair of Peter, and, to make his grip on it the surer, restored the wall connecting it with the Apostolic palace. His successor, Innocent VIII., had more difficulty in securing its surrender from his nephew, Girolamo Riario, whose wife persisted in holding it even after he had agreed to give it up.

The close of the fifteenth century coincided with profound changes in the arts of war, and to keep pace with these, Alexander VI., in the first year of his pontificate (1492) began the work of remodelling the fortress. The master of the works was the Florentine, Antonio da Sangallo, also to be remembered as the designer of the citadel of Civita Castellana and the defences of Arezzo. He began by demolishing the towers of Nicholas V. looking on to the bridge, and rebuilt the wall running to the river, farther west; the Porta Ænea was reconstructed in classic style, and displayed the arms of the Borgias. In the space thus gained the architect raised a massive round tower with projecting parapet, whence the bridge could be swept with cannon shot; it was built of travertine, with an ornamental cornice, composed of the debris of a Roman frieze. The four corners of the ancient basement Sangallo fortified with octagonal towers, which enclosed the older towers of Nicholas and left them rising like turrets above their platforms. The central tower was refaced and adorned with ornamental brickwork, and on each side of the fortress a handsome coat-of-arms commemorated the pious restorer of the fabric.

Not much besides the dungeon wall is visible to-day of Sangallo’s work, which he wished to complete by a 36 third bastioned enceinte; but the passage traversing the tower in the sense of its diameter, and rising gradually upwards from base to summit, is his. It spans the mortuary chamber of Hadrian by a drawbridge. The next landing communicates with the magazines and the dungeons built by the Borgia’s order. The magazines, which will appear to most visitors hardly as interesting as they seem to be to the custodian, include eighty-four vats for oil, arranged in rows in two dimly-lit halls, as if made ready for the boiling of two separate bands of Forty Thieves. Each vat holds two hundred and sixty litres, so the garrison could dispose of twenty-two thousand litres of oil — enough even for their unctuous repasts with something left over to pour down, well heated, on an assailant. Boiling oil is frequently referred to as a means of defence at an earlier period than the age of the Borgias; but this is the only stronghold I have seen where any effective provision for it was made. Adjacent are the silos, magazines which contained three thousand seven hundred quintals of grain, and hollowed in the walls are horrible little dungeons, and passages to dungeons, where a man would die of starvation in the midst of plenty. Above the magazines is the Cortile dell’ Olio, with a cistern, also dating from Borgian times, at one side.

Alexander neglected nothing to make the citadel a strong fortress and a safe prison, and he tested its capacity in both qualities. He took refuge there when Charles VIII. drove him from the Vatican and remained there till peace was signed on 11th January 1495. The citadel then disgorged an interesting captive — Jem, the younger son of Mohammed II., sultan of the 37 Othmans, who, having unsuccessfully contested the imperial heritage against his brother, Bayezid, had thrown himself on the mercy of Christendom. The Knights of St John, with whom he first took refuge, were fully alive to the value of their guest, and sought to play him off against his brother. Meanwhile, he was transported from castle to castle in the recesses of Provence, Savoy and Auvergne, and finally delivered to the Pope’s custody. Foreseeing that he would have to part with him, Alexander VI. sadly realised that the time had come to kill the bird with the golden eggs, and he accepted Bayezid’s offer to remove his brother. The unlucky Jem — a grim, ferocious and inordinately fat Mussulman — was accordingly delivered into the hands of the French king, carefully charged with one of his Holiness’s slow poisons, which, in fact, killed him at Naples on 26th February 1495. It killed Alexander himself a few years later.

Florido, Archbishop of Cosenza, met with a worse fate. He was found guilty of having forged dispensations, thus depriving the Supreme Pontiff of his lawful perquisites, and was thrown into a dungeon called the Sammorocco. Here, we are told, he had nothing but a pallet bed, a stool, a table, and a crucifix, and no other means of distraction than a Bible, a breviary and a lamp — which, I suppose, is as much as prisoners are allowed in these enlightened days. He was allowed two pounds of bread and a barrel of water, which was filled every three days. The archbishop endured this miserable fate for a year, and then died raving mad, having broken both his arms in his frenzy. Such tragedies are probably not uncommon in twentieth-century prisons.


Occasionally an offender seems to have deserved his doom. A pilgrim to the holy city in the year 1500 saw among the numerous company of felons dangling from the battlements of Sant’ Angelo the physician of the Lateran Hospital, who used to poison his wealthy patients and then rifle their houses — a deed which, no doubt, filled Alexander VI. with horror. Two years later, the lord of Faenza and several of his companions were executed within the fortress for no other reason than that their fiefs were required by Cesare Borgia, the Pope’s son. This worthy, on the death of his father, besieged the castle, where the conclave was sitting; but had himself to take refuge within its walls from the fury of the people upon the election of his friend Pius III. to the vacant chair. This Pope died twenty-five days after, and lured back to Rome by his successor, Julius II., Borgia was forced to renounce all his possessions in Romagna and to flee from the country.

Another guest of Alexander VI., if we believe Benvenuto Cellini, or of Innocent VIII. according to Onofrio Panvinio, was Alessandro Farnese, afterwards Pope under the title of Paul III. “He had been imprisoned in the castle,” says Cellini, “for forging a brief at the time he was abbreviator di Parco Majoris. Pope Alexander kept him confined for some length of time; and afterwards, his offence being of too ugly a nature, had resolved on cutting off his head. He postponed the execution, however, till after Corpus Domini; and Farnese, getting wind of the pope’s will, summoned Pietro Chiavelluzzi with a lot of horses, and managed to corrupt some of the castle guards with money.


Accordingly upon the day of Corpus Domini, while the pope was going to procession, Farnese got into a basket and was let down by a rope to the ground. At that time the outer walls had not been built around the castle; only the great central tower existed; so that he had not the same enormous difficulty that I met with in escaping; moreover he had been imprisoned justly, and I against all equity. What he wanted was to brag before the governor of having in his youth been spirited and brave; and it did not occur to him that he was calling attention to his own huge rogueries.”

The renovation of the blood-stained stronghold was actively continued under the Warrior Pontiff, as Julius was called. He completed the new corridor, and employed Bramante to design the beautiful marble loggia with its two slender mullions from which, on the summit of Hadrian’s tower, you look down on to the Ælian bridge and forward, across Rome. Among the architects employed was Guglielmo di Piemonte, who served as model for Michael Angelo’s Moses. Julius strengthened the passetto and did much to enlarge and embellish the papal apartments in the castle.

These owed still more to that splendour-loving Pontiff, Leo X., for whose convenience a lift was made running between his chamber and the old Roman vestibule. It strikes us now as a clumsy contrivance, but was doubtless considered a boon by fat, pleasure-seeking prelates. For his and their entertainment, Leo had Ariosto’s comedy, I Suppositi, enacted one Sunday evening in the court on the roof. Cardinal Bibbiena was stage manager, Raphael was responsible for the 40 scenery and fittings, and the Pope himself was at the box-office, admitting only those who were personally agreeable to him. One is faintly reminded of Milton’s Comus, presented for the first time at Ludlow Castle.

Leo was dwelling in Sant’ Angelo when his life was threatened by the notorious Conspiracy of the Cardinals. The prime mover in this was the young and gifted Alfonso Petrucci, the son of Pandolfo, tyrant of Siena. Certain letters were intercepted and he with several of his accomplices were immured in the secret dungeons. Presently the groans of the tortured echoed through those gloomy caverns. Battista di Vercelli, the Pope’s surgeon, confessed that he had meditated administering poison to the Holy Father, while treating him for fistula. He with Petrucci and one other were strangled in their cells. The other cardinals would have met the same fate but for the intervention of the sovereigns of the foreign states to which they belonged, and escaped only on the payment of ruinous fines. Another of these domestic enemies, Cardinal Soderini, expiated his treachery by imprisonment in the castle during the pontificate of Adrian VI., and the next Pope, Clement VII., voluntarily confined himself within it while the rebellious Colonna ravaged the Borgo and the Leonine city in 1526.

In the following year the papacy was menaced by foes more terrible than these. As so often in the past, the Vicar of Christ found his safest asylum in the Mausoleum once presided over by the sun god. The wrath of the Flemish Cæsar was fiercely enkindled against the Pope, and he made the Constable de Bourbon the 41 minister of his vengeance. With a horde, including representatives of every nation under heaven, the renegade Frenchman assailed the city on the west side in the early morning of 6th May 1527. The papal troops were commanded by Renzo de Ceri, a famous leader of condottieri, but all the honour of the defence is due to Benvenuto Cellini, if we are to believe that fiery genius’s own statements. It was his hand, we are told, that struck down the constable at the Porta Torriona, his courage and ingenuity that heartened the defenders and dismayed the sacrilegious invaders. When the gates were forced, the Pope and the cardinals stampeded wildly from St Peter’s, galloping for shelter to Sant’ Angelo. Fearing that the Pope’s white garment might attract the enemy’s fire, Monsignore Colonna covered him with his violet cap and mantle. As soon as they entered, the drawbridge was raised, those who were on it being brutally let fall into the moat, where many were killed. Some belated cardinals were hauled up in baskets to the windows and battlements. Altogether three thousand people were cooped up in the fortress, including a regular garrison of four hundred and ninety men.

From Benvenuto’s account it seems that, with a little determination, the Imperialists might have carried the stronghold there and then, for, as we learn, a commandant of the artillery was not named till the evening, and some of the gunners, left to themselves, would not fire for fear of injuring their own homes and friends. Cellini, of course, was in his natural element, blazing away and killing men with great gusto. “Let it suffice,” he says modestly, “that it was I who saved the castle 42 that morning, and brought the other bombardiers back to their duty.”

On the day they took the city, says Raffaello da Montelupo, the Imperialists opened the trenches before Sant’ Angelo and in ten days had completed the investment. The defence was vigorous, the siege rigorous. The Pope was glad to eat donkey’s flesh, and an old woman who tried to gather vegetables for his Holiness in the moat was shot down by a Spanish captain. Still, the famished garrison were better off then the wretched citizens, who during eight days were delivered over to the worst passions of the worst ruffians in Europe. While Benvenuto pointed his pieces and crowed with glee every time he struck a man, rockets were sent up to advise the army of the league that the castle still held out. Relief from without never came, and infuriated by the loss of their second leader, the Prince of Orange, the invaders threatened to storm the place and put all within it to the sword. The Pope gave way. He surrendered Ostia, Civita Vecchia, Modena, Parma and Piacenza to the emperor, as security for an indemnity of four hundred thousand ducats. The castle was then garrisoned by a united force of Spaniards and Germans, who kept the Supreme Pontiff closely confined and watched day and night. More than once it threatened to go hard with him, when his allies attempted to evade the terms of the capitulation; and after six months’ captivity he resolved to escape. Having gained over Gonzaga and Morone, two of the imperial captains he disguised himself with a hood and a cloak like one of his own servants, and with a basket on his arm passed the sentries on the night of 8th 43 December. Once outside the fortress, by means of the keys with which he had been provided, he was able to get out of Rome and to make his way to Orvieto. He did not return till October 1528, by which time the citadel had been reoccupied by the papal troops. So ended the sorest trial to which the pontifical throne had been for many centuries subjected.

From this time of storm and stress, strangely enough, date many improvements and restorations, among them the bathroom designed by Giulio Romano with exquisite taste and skill. “Every detail,” says Gruner, “bears testimony to the genius of the original designer, while the exquisite spirit of the bas-reliefs and the masterly touch of the mythological compositions, can have been done only by Giulio Romano himself.” At the same period, the Chapel of San Michele was also restored, and a new statue of the archangel made by Raffaello da Montelupo. The chapels at the entrance to the bridge, which had made excellent strongholds for the assailants of the citadel, were pulled down and replaced by the existing statues of the apostles Peter and Paul.

The internal splendour of the castle was largely due to the next Pope, Paul III., who apparently retained no unpleasant memories of his imprisonment within its walls. He called on Montelupo and Sangallo the younger to renovate the upper part, and replaced an outer stair to the summit of the tower by the one still existing in the interior. To this Pontiff the gorgeous papal apartments owe their finest embellishments, the work of a brilliant train of artists and decorators of the school of Raphael. In the superb Sala del Consiglio or Sala Paolina, as it is also called, it is difficult to distinguish the respective 44 work of the various artists. To Sermoneta and Montelupo are attributed the stuccoes of the vaulting and the panels; to Polidoro da Caravaggio the monochromes which line the frieze, to Boccafumi and his pupil Marco da Siena the monochromes above these, to Giovanni da Udine the marvellous festoons and garlands that frame them, to Giulio Romano certain of the paintings of classic subjects on the ceiling, to the two Zuccari the grotesques and ornaments on a blue ground, and to Pierino del Vaga, the figures of Justice and Abundance and the caryatides of the plinth. The fine marble pavement belongs to a much later day — having been laid down in 1723, during the pontificate of Innocent XIII.

The adjoining apartments are not less splendid, and alike bespeak the taste of the Farnese Pope and the skill of his artists. You follow the official guide into the halls of Perseus and Psyche, so named after the subjects of the fresco, and into the hall of Giulio Romano, whose designs are framed in compositions drawn by Pierino del Vaga and executed by Sermoneta. In a different style is the sober chamber of the secret archives or treasury, with its great oaken coffers, one of which bears the arms of Julius II. These chests contained, among other treasures, the triple crown, the sceptre and insignia of the papacy. Unfortunately for the sightseer these have long since been removed to the tiny papal state girt by the walls of the Vatican. It would have been fascinating to handle the actual material emblems of such a world-wide ancient power as Rome.

From the hall of Giulio Romano you may go down 45 to Sangallo’s exquisite loggia, looking towards the Prati del Castello, and adjacent to the apartments named after Clement VIII.; these rooms are now formed into the museum of the castle. From them you pass out into the Cortile dell’ Olio, on the east front, where the comedy of Ariosto was most probably acted under Leo X. On the other side of the papal apartments, which run north to south, a stair leads down to the court of honour, or Cortile delle Palle; the entrance was designed by Sangallo and is dedicated to Paul III. In the middle stands the statue of the archangel by Montelupo, which was replaced in the time of Benedict XIV. by the existing figure in bronze on the summit of the castle by Werschaffelt. Around the pedestal are heaped piles of marble cannon balls, made with fragments of sculpture; on one of them can still be distinguished traces of eyes and ears. Some of them are of enormous diameter, and were evidently intended to be dropped rather than discharged on the heads of assailants.

On the level of this court, under the apartments already described, is a large room decorated on the ceiling with grotesques in the style of Raphael with the arms of the Farnese introduced. In the floor a trap-door opens into one of the ventilating shafts of the old circular stair of Hadrian, and another into a horrible oubliette. This, I suppose, must have been an accidental arrangement, for even with those heartless generations it could not have been customary to drop prisoners from an ordinary living-room to starve to death beneath the feet of their captors and almost within their hearing. Communicating with this room on the south-west side is a chapel raised by one of the 46 Medici popes — to judge from the escutcheons — on the site of an earlier work dating perhaps from Benedict IX. On certain modern accretions being removed, a very interesting pavement was laid bare, composed of fragments of mosaic of very different epochs, all having evidently been collected and pieced together when the chapel was built. One of the tiles bears the device of Nicholas V., and another that of the Church while the papal throne was vacant. Here has been placed a wooden model of the archangel by Bernini or one of his pupils, and intended, perhaps, to replace that of Montelupo.

Immediately below the chamber of the archives, in the centre of the building, is the Sala della Giustizia, so called after the figure of Justice painted on the wall facing the entrance, beneath which sat the judges; for this was the seat of the Pope’s tribunal. East of this room we emerge again into the Cortile dell’ Olio, where in the south-east corner we find a door leading to the prisons, to which, more than to its splendours, Sant’ Angelo owes so much of its fame. They are dark, dreary chambers enough, plunged in perpetual night, but large enough to permit the frenzied pacing to and fro and round and round of their wretched inmates. Paul Farnese, it need hardly be said, had not learned pity during his captivity — “it is only what is good in man that wastes and withers there.” He made no scruple of dooming others to the lot he had so narrowly escaped. The most remarkable of his captives, and the one, to my mind, the least deserving of sympathy, was the truculent Benvenuto. On the wall of his cell, now numbered thirty-two, may still be seen the figure 47 Christ Triumphant which the unconscious hypocrite traced in charcoal. The stair in one corner was in his time the only means of access, and at the head is the door which he took off its hinges when affecting his escape. He then slipped into the latrine projecting to the right, and thence let himself down by his rope of strips of linen. Beneath these dungeons are cellars, into which the bodies of the prisoners appear to have been precipitated, to judge from the bones found therein. Meanwhile the Vicar of Christ lorded it in the splendid halls above.

Externally the fortress remained much as it had been left by Alexander VI. till the year 1556, when Camillo Orsini, commanded by Paul IV., enclosed it within a pentagonal bastioned enceinte — all to be swept away by an inundation of the Tiber in the following year. The works were renewed by the next Pope, Pius IV., alarmed by the successes of the Turks. The enceinte, designed by Captain Francesco Laparelli of Cortona, was of the pattern generally in vogue in the latter half of the sixteenth century. The main entrance pierced the curtain facing the river, in the neighbourhood of a bastion which commanded the Borgo. Great efforts were made at the same time to place the castle in a thorough state of defence, and its picturesqueness was sadly marred by the purely military structures obscuring the central mass. The same Pope ordered the construction of the military prisons which till lately bordered the giretto or rampart walk, and his arms may be deciphered over the arches which he made in the passetto to allow of the prolongation of the streets of the Borgo.


The beginning of his pontificate was signalised by one of the tragedies of jealousy and feudal rivalry so frequent in Roman history. Before his election, the Duca di Paliano, nephew of Paul IV., the deceased Pope, discovered his wife in the arms of a Neapolitan noble, named Marcello Capece. He slew them both, and would have escaped punishment for having done so had he not engaged in a conspiracy against the Colonna. This powerful family gained the new Pope’s ear. The duke and his brother, Cardinal Caraffa, were arrested and charged with the murder of the duchess and her lover. The prosecution was conducted by Pallentieri, an advocate who bore the marks of torments inflicted at the accused cardinal’s order. If the unwritten law was pleaded, it was set aside. In the night of 4th March 1565 the sheriff appeared in the cell of the duke, and took him from the castle to Tor di Nona, where the execution took place. The sheriff then returned to Sant’ Angelo, and told the cardinal that he gave him one hour in which to make his peace with God. The prelate confessed, recited the Penitential Psalms, and, seating himself, very composedly allowed himself to be strangled with a cord.

Five years after, the sentence was reversed by Pius V. at the instance of the son and brother of the duke; and to make amends as far as was possible the prosecutor, Pallentieri, was shorn of his head.

In the year 1582 the fortress houses a more interesting prisoner than any so far mentioned. This was the beautiful poetess, Vittoria Accoramboni. She was loved by Paolo Giordano Orsino, the Duke of Bracciano, who killed her husband, the nephew of 49 Sixtus V., that he might possess her. Vittoria flew to his house, but was seized by order of Pope Gregory XIII., and confined in the citadel. There she was treated more as a distinguished guest than as a prisoner, and acted as godmother to the commandant’s daughter. She was released, and on the death of the Pope, and in contempt of his express orders, married her lover. Both fled to the Venetian states, where Giordano presently died. His widow, to whom he bequeathed his fortune, was assassinated by his nephew, Lodovico Orsini. The murderer was seized and strangled in prison. Vittoria’s beauty thus proved fatal at least to two persons beside herself.

The revival of arts and letters seems to have been accompanied by a fresh outburst of elemental savagery. In the year of the Armada a brigand named Pelliccione was imprisoned in Sant’ Angelo. At Naples he carried off a girl of the unlucky house of Capece, married her, and brought her to Rome. His wayward passion was then inflamed by the sister of Don Curzio Savelli. He murdered his wife in order to espouse this lady, but was denounced by Don Curzio, and suffered the most awful of deaths. He was paraded three miles round the city while his flesh was torn from him with red-hot pincers, and was then — a mere bloody mass — broken on the wheel (17th August 1588).

We are not told in what dark corners of the fortress these miserable captives breathed out their sighs; but the curiosity and pity of men of all nations is directed to the dismal cells, next to one another, and adjoining that of Benvenuto Cellini, where the hapless Cenci awaited their doom. Their crimes and misfortunes 50 immortalised by Shelley, need be only very briefly recounted here. The family claimed descent from the famous Crescentius and from Cencio, who in 1075 dragged Gregory VII. from the altar. Francesco, the head of the house in the year 1598, seems to have imitated only too closely the hideous vices of his temporal and spiritual sovereigns of the bygone generation. By his second wife, Lucrezia Petroni, he had no children; by his first wife he had five sons and two daughters. The elder girl appealed to the Pope to withdraw her from her father’s inhuman yoke, and was given in marriage to a gentleman of Gubbio. Her sister, Beatrice, and the other members of the family were left to endure nameless outrages, till they hired two bravi to despatch the old monster at the Castle of Petrella on the night of 9th September 1598. One of the assassins was arrested and denounced the authors of the plot. Beatrice and her stepmother were at first confined in their own home, but were afterwards removed to the citadel, where they spent nearly twelve months. Their fate seems to have been debated in the Sala del Consiglio, since the portrait of their principal advocate, Farinacci, was painted on the door by Guido Reni. It was not here but at the Corte Savella, to which they had been transferred, that the hapless women heard their death sentence. They were decapitated, together with their brother Giovanni, on the bridge of Sant’ Angelo, on 11th September 1599. Farinacci afterwards alleged that Beatrice suffered death because she failed to prove the outrage which had compelled her to the crime.6 She is buried in the Church 51 of San Pietro in Montorio, near the exiled princes of Tyrone.

With the seventeenth century, better times came for Rome. Society was not less corrupt than under Leo X., but the ferocity of the she-wolf’s brood was kept more under control. Crime at the same time lost much of its savage grandeur, and criminals like Cellini and Beatrice Cenci were succeeded by adventurers such as Count Cagliostro, who was imprisoned here in 1791, before his removal to the fortress of San Leo. Sant’ Angelo had meanwhile become less and less of a palace and a prison, and more a citadel. Between the years 1624 and 1641 the time-worn tower was girdled, by order of Urban VIII., by an extensive system of fortifications. The bastions of Clement VIII. were furnished with orillons, the ditch was deepened, and a covered way thrown up beyond it. The tower raised by Alexander VI. opposite the bridge was levelled, a fate to which the engineers also subjected the turrets of Nicholas V. and the Porta Cellina. Within the enceinte commodious barracks were built, and an arsenal and cannon foundry established. In strange contradiction to these warlike preparations, the bridge was lined with the twelve angles sculptured by the pupils of Bernini; except the one holding a cross, which is by the master himself. Clement XI. and Innocent XIII. restored and added to the ornamentation of the papal apartments, though the Vatican had long since become the Pontiff’s permanent abode, and Benedict XIV. set up a new statue of the archangel, cast by Geraldoni on the design of the Fleming, Werschaffelt. And then, in 1797, there was an appalling explosion within the 52 castle, to be followed by another, and of a more far-reaching kind, in Italy generally. The tricolour waved over northern Italy, and the young tree of liberty was putting forth vigorous shoots to the south of the Alps. Rome was taken by the French, and the Pope fled to Valencia. For a moment the forces of reaction rallied: Russian hordes arrested the march of civilisation in Piedmont, and the armies of the Bourbons of Naples drove the republicans from Rome and held Sant’ Angelo for the absent Pontiff. On 3rd May 1800, Pius VII. made his triumphal entry into the capital of the Catholic world. We know how soon the fortunes of France were restored; how Sant’ Angelo capitulated without firing a shot; how Rome for six years formed part of the French empire. Then came the bad days of the Holy Alliance, broken by a transient glimpse of sunshine in 1849. More than one effort was made by the Italian patriots to gain possession of the most ancient stronghold of spiritual and temporal despotism. Conscious that his power rested not in towers and walls, the weary Pope, Pius IX., that unlucky heir of generations of tyrants, began the demolition of the fortifications of Urban VIII. Rapidly the citadel began to resume the aspect it had worn to the eyes of the early pastors of Christendom, even as the Church itself returned slowly and reluctantly to the old ideals. On the memorable 20th September 1870 the papal garrison, without striking a blow, evacuated the fortress. A few minutes later, and the flag of United Italy fluttered beside the figure of the angel. He might well sheath his sword to the hilt now that the Church has for ever sheathed hers.

A black and white photograph of the entrance and ditch of the Castle of Sant’ Angelo.


(Entrance and Ditch.)


The passage is closed now that leads from the old fortress of the popes to the palace which is all that remains to-day of their temporal dominions. The VATICAN, it has been somewhere said, is the smallest state in Europe — a somewhat exaggerated description, for under the law of guarantees its exterritoriality is subjected to important limitations. But if not the smallest state it is incontestably the largest palace in Europe — very probably in the world. It is three hundred and eighty-four yards in length and two hundred and fifty-six in breadth, and contains about a thousand chambers of all descriptions — certainly not eleven thousand, as has so often been stated. To these we must add twenty courts, eight grand staircases, and two hundred smaller ones. A prodigious pile surely, yet by no means impressive, as it bulks shapeless and vast behind the colonnade of St Peter’s. No plan or symmetry is discernible; and all that can be said on this head is that the palace consists of two piles of buildings, one against the colonnade, the other against the city wall, connected by two great parallel galleries between which lie the courts of the Belvedere and Pigna. Even this much will not be made out by the average stranger, whose sensations after a visit to the Vatican are well described by Mr Marion Crawford: “He remembers, besides the works of art which he has seen, the fact of having walked a great distance through straight corridors, up and down short flights of marble steps, and through irregularly shaped and unsymmetrically disposed halls. If he had any idea of the points of the compass when he entered, he is completely confused in five minutes, and comes out at 54 last with the sensation of having been walking in a labyrinth. He will find it hard to give anyone an impression of the sort of building in which he has been, and certainly he cannot have any idea of the topographical relation of its parts. Yet in his passage through the museums and galleries, he has seen but a very small part of the whole, and excepting when in the Loggie, he could not once have stood still and pointed in the direction of the main part of the palace.”

This irregularity bespeaks a building wrought in different ages and by many different masters. The short tenure of the papal throne by the vast majority of its incumbents has naturally subjected the palace to more changes and additions than might be expected even of much older structures. Every tourist in Italy knows the leading chronological data of its history by rote. Pope Symmachus, he remembers, erected the first papal residence on this site, five hundred years after Christ, and Charlemagne spent Christmas there in the year 800. Others say he was lodged in the Cæsars’ palace. Otho II., one of the emperor’s successors, was housed at the Vatican a hundred and eighty-one years later. In the thirteenth century the palace was restored by Innocent III., who entertained the King of Aragon within its walls. The pontiffs themselves dwelt officially at the Lateran, but Nicholas III. preferred the Vatican, and Boniface VIII. died there in 1303. In the year (1308) that the Pope retreated to Avignon the Lateran was burnt down, and at the end of the Babylonish captivity, in 1377, Gregory XI. made the Vatican his official residence. He chose it because of the greater security afforded 55 by the neighbourhood of Sant’ Angelo, but that it was too far out, as we say now, to prove an agreeable place of abode, is shown by the fact of five wolves having been killed in the garden in the winter of 1411.

In the middle of the fifteenth century, Nicholas V. entertained the grandiose project of transforming the Vatican into a palace that should surpass all the imperial abodes of antiquity. It was to comprise all the offices and courts for the administration of the city and Christendom, accommodation for passing kings and emperors, palaces for each of the cardinals, and one, most superb, for his Holiness himself; there were to be within the precincts, baths, fountains, aqueducts, gardens, libraries and chapels; a vast hall for the conclave; and in the midst of all an amphitheatre wherein the Pope was to don the triple crown. Nicholas died before he could realise his design, but he built much of the part abutting on St Peter’s, notably the chambers afterwards known as the Appartamento Borgia and the Stanze of Raphael. In this direction the buildings were added to by the erection by Sixtus IV., in 1473, of the chapel which the art of Michael Angelo has made famous.

Alexander VI. took up his quarters with his family in the apartments named after him. Here he lavished his caresses on his adored children, and here he planned with them some of the darkest deeds in European history. Along the corridor, Cæsar Borgia with a drawn sword pursued the Archbishop Caldes, whom he stabbed within the Pope’s arms. Hither, Alfonso of Bisceglia, the second husband of Lucrezia, 56 dragged himself on his hands and knees, after he had been left for dead on the steps of St Peter’s by his wife’s brother; in one of these rooms he lay, his wounds nearly healed, when Cæsar entered, dragged away Lucrezia, and left his bravo, Michelotto, to complete the murder begun thirty-four days before. The Pope’s son did not scruple to avow the act. Alfonso, he declared, had attempted to assassinate him in the gardens of the Vatican. Alexander deplored for a day and a night his son’s ferocity and the loss of a son-in-law dearly loved by his daughter. Three years later, in the same apartments, he died, the victim of a poison intended by the assassin for the Cardinal of Corneto — died in a dreadful delirium, and as the bystanders believed in discourse with the devil.

The rooms have now been appropriated of late by the Papal Secretary of State, and are not visible to the public.

In the Torre di Borgia above the Stanze of Raphael is the bathroom of the luxurious Cardinal Bibbiena, interesting for the mythological frescoes of Raphael, which have been discreetly covered with panelling.

From this time onwards the pile grew rapidly. Innocent VIII. had already, in 1486, erected a belvedere in the garden behind the palace, after the designs of Pollaiuolo; and Julius II. called in Bramante to construct around it the cortile or court which bears its name. Thus was begun that great extension towards the city wall which to-day forms the longest and central portion of the palace. Towards Sant’ Angelo, one of the successors of Nicholas V. had laid out the little Cortile di San Damaso, and round 57 this Bramante built the famous arcades or loggie, one of which bears Raphael’s name. In this part of the palace are the private apartments of the present Pope. The east side of the cortile was built by Sixtus V., and the Sala Regia and Pauline chapel were erected fifty years before by Paul III., on the designs of Antonio da Sangallo (1534). By Clement VIII. this wing of the palace was practically completed in the year 1600.

Meanwhile by Sixtus V. the long courtyard of Bramante was divided into two by the erection of the library. The farther of the two courts thus formed was called the Cortile della Pigne, after the colossal pine cone, eleven feet high, in a niche at the north end. This was once supposed to have adorned the Mausoleum of Hadrian, but is now generally believed to have come from Agrippa’s artificial lake in the Campus Martius. The belvedere of Innocent VIII. served as the foundation of the museum built by Pius VI., in which are now accumulated the priceless spoils of antiquity; and Pius VII. covered the terrace of Bramante with the Braccio Nuovo, running parallel with the library of Sixtus. In the early years of the last century, the vast palace had thus assumed practically the form it has to-day. Internal alterations and additions have been made since by various occupants of Peter’s chair, but considering the reduced area and prestige of their authority, it is unlikely that the Vatican will ever expand beyond its actual limits.

Of the art treasures of the papal residence this is not the place to speak. Its history is that of the Catholic Church, and to a large extent that of Europe, 58 since the close of the Middle Ages. Notwithstanding it has not been the actual theatre of many striking events, and, despite its vastness and the multitude of its chambers, it is not particularly suggestive of mystery or romance. It hardly creates the impression of awe to be expected in the abode of the aged white-robed head of the Christian world. There is nothing terrible, nothing ghostly; instead, as Mr. Crawford remarks, you find an atmosphere peculiar and unforgettable, “part of the development of churchmen’s administration to an ultimate limit in the high centre of churchmanism. No doubt there was much of that sort of thing in various parts of Europe long ago, and in England before Henry VIII., and it is to be found in a small degree in Vienna to this day, where the traditions of the departed Holy Roman Empire are not quite dead. It is hard to define it, but it is in everything: in the uniforms of the attendants, in their old-fashioned faces, in the spotless cleanliness of all the Vatican — though no one is ever to be seen handling a broom — in the noiselessly methodical manner of doing everything that is to be done, in the scholarly rather than scientific arrangement of the objects in the museum and galleries — above all in the visitor’s own sensations. Perhaps the total absence of even the humblest feminine influence has something to do with the austere impression that everything produces.”


 1  Gregorovius, “Rome in the Middle Ages.”

 2  Gregorovius.

 3  Gregorovius.

 4  Gregorovius.

 5  Borgatti.

 6  Note to Buxton Forman’s edition of Shelley’s works.





Decorated Adorment from the spine of the book, of a tree with gilt leaves on a burgundy woven ground.