The Italian Almanac

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Castel Sant'Angelo

Italian News - July 1

Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome has thrown its doors open to the public at night, offering a packed programme of events aimed at turning the circular monument into a giant, open-air theatre. The castle, which is right next to the Vatican, will remain open long past midnight every evening until mid-August, hosting a non-stop flow of concerts, shows and plays.

Organisers of the nocturnal festival, which is in its fourth year, have planned some 25 performances per night in the castle's four bastions and various courtyards. It is also using its terraces, including the breathtaking third-level one at the top of the castle which offers spectacular views of Rome. The performances range from folk, ethnic and classical concerts to theatre, cabaret, stand-up comedy and fencing displays.

In a bid to lure more families, the nightly programmes also include puppet and magic shows, as well as circus acts with acrobats, jugglers, fire-eaters and mime artists. Visitors can stroll along the castle's ramparts or the Passetto di Borgo, the walkway in the wall connecting Castel Sant'Angelo to the Vatican.

Castel Sant'Angelo was originally begun as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (117-138) and his family. It was gradually transformed into a castle and in 1277, it was acquired by the papacy. The famous Passetto was subsequently built, enabling the popes to flee to the safety of the castle in case of an attack on the Vatican.

The castle remained under the control of the popes who continued to use it as a fortress but also as a prison and torture place. According to legend, in 590, when Rome was in the throes of the plague, St. Gregory the Great saw a vision on the top of the fortress of an angel sheathing its sword. The vision heralded the end of the outbreak and from that time on, the castle was known as Castel Sant'Angelo (Saint Angel Castle).

The legend is commemorated by a huge bronze statue of an angel sheathing his sword created by Peter Anton Verschaffelt in 1752 which stands on the top of the castle.