I didn't even know there was a castle in the heart of Rome, Italy, and Castel Sant'Angelo the ugliest castle I've ever seen. (Living in Spain, I've seen my share.) My husband and I just came back from a vacation in Rome that centered around history, since he's a big history buff. The castle is ugly for reasons that are symptomatic of Rome.
Originally, the building was the mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian, finished in 139 A.D. It's a massive, circular earthen tumulus 64 meters in diameter faced in stone -- so big it's more a natural feature than a building.
First it was incorporated into the city's defensive walls in the 5th century, then starting in the 10th century it was transformed into the base for a fortress to protect the Vatican. It was named Saint Angel because Pope Gregory the Great saw the angel Michael there in a vision.
Eventually, a rectangular living quarters for the Pope to wait out sieges was erected on top, and various popes continued to add to it, creating a complicated and unharmonious labyrinth of rooms, stairways, and corridors.
But like all my favorite castles, it has a bar -- this one located within the columned gallery Pope Paul III had built all around the upper perimeter of the tumulus. It's on the west side, under a trellis of grape vines, with a fabulous view of St. Peter's. My husband and I enjoyed tall mugs of Heineken and a late afternoon breeze. When you're inside looking out, you can't see the castle. Carpe diem.
As I said, the castle is symptomatic of Rome. It's original glory was lost as the mausoleum was neglected, abandoned, reused, altered, remodeled, and remodeled again without necessarily much respect, interest, or even knowledge of previous uses. Sometimes this creates charming contrasts in Roman architecture, but the castle is merely ugly. Hadrian may not be resting easy, though this is probably not the main reason why.
A brief tour of the castle: