Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Rome Journal: Castel Sant'Angelo

photo of  Castel Sant'Angelo by Francis Levy
A poem by the Emperor Hadrian is engraved on a marble plaque in Castel Sant’Angelo. Marguerite Yourcenar translated it in her classic Memoirs of Hadrian, a fictional letter from Hadrian to his youthful successor Marcus Aurelius. “Little soul, gentle and drifting, guest and companion of my body, now you will dwell below in pallid places, stark and bare; there you will abandon your play of yore. But one moment still, let us gaze together on these familiar shores, on these objects which doubtless we shall not see again….Let us try, if we can, to enter into death with open eyes…” Actually the massive rotund turreted structure, a geometrical hybrid of spherical and rectangular shapes, was, as the words of the poem indicate, originally the site of the emperor’s tomb, which was built in the First century—its popular appellation deriving from the apparition of the archangel Michael by Pope Gregory I in 590. Besides his Villa (Adriana outside Rome in Tivoli) and his tomb, Hadrian was also responsible for the Pantheon which in real estate terms would make him one of the great developers of antiquity. Actually, the Castel, may be Rome’s first adaptive re-use building having housed not only a tomb containing the remains of the Imperial family right up to Caracalla, but also a fortress, a prison and a Renaissance dwelling in which the apartments of several popes including Paul III Farnese were located.

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