Visiting the Vatican - What to See and Do

Vatican Museums

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vatican museums

The Vatican Museums  are home to one of the most important collections of art and antiques and include the celebrated  Sistine Chapel, a masterpiece of humanity that you should see at least once in your life.

We talk about museums, plural, because what we visit today is the result of successive additions and extensions  encouraged by the Popes during the past five centuries, unified as a set of art collections from ancient Egypt to the twentieth century.

We can divide the collections and museums visits within 3 basic elements: museums, visit rooms and chapels. There is a bit of all of them in the visit, but it is interesting to keep in mind these three options.

MUSEUMS

We have numerous museum spaces at our disposal, each with its own theme that we will detail as follows:

Pinacoteca Vaticana

18 rooms and more than 400 works, stored in a palace dating from the twentieth century.
The first rooms are dedicated to Italian painting from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, with artists such as Giotto and Fra Angelico.
The most popular paintings are inrooms VIII and IX, with Rafael and Leonardo da Vinci respectively. Do not miss Rafael’s  Madonna of Foligno .
Room XII houses works by Caravaggio, including El Descendimiento.

Collection of contemporary religious art

An alternative to the dominance of classic art. 800 works in 55 rooms opened in the 70s.
This is certainly not a place to miss. You will find works by Bacon, Chagall, Dali, Paul Gauguin, Kandinsky, Matisse and Van Gogh, among others.

Museo Pio-Clementino

12 delightful rooms dedicated to Greek and Roman sculptures. Among the most well-known ones we find Apollo Belvedere,  Apoxyomenos and Afrodita Cnidia.

Gregorian Egyptian Museum

Inspired by Gregory XVI in 1839 with works which were mostly from Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli. It houses  Egyptian, Assyrian and Mesopotanian works.

Other museums

These museums are of less interest to the average tourist. We talk about the Etruscan Museum, the Ethnological Museum (gifts to the Pope), the Pious Christian Museum and the Philatelic and Numismatic Museum …

ROOMS

During our visit we can visit some of the most artistically important Vatican halls. These rooms have been given various uses throughout history and today the public is allowed to admire their decoration, including frescoes by classic artists.

There are 3 rooms we recommend not to miss:  Raphael Rooms (4 beautiful rooms decorated with frescoes by Raphael and his acolytes), the Loggia of Raphael (a 65-metre long space full of frescoes by Raphael) and the Immaculate Room ( Podesti, XIX century, dedicated to the dogma of the Immaculate).

Of special interest is the Gallery of Maps, the world’s leading cartographic collection.

CHAPELS

Chapels were spaces for religious use. The Sistine Chapel has light on its own:

The Sistine Chapel

Wonderful artistic and spiritual space, the main attraction of your visit to the Vatican Museums. The number of visitors is large and the time to see it is scarce.
The iconography, which has acquired universal value, offers works such as the  Creation of Adam and the Last Judgement, absolute peaks in the work of Michelangelo.

It is also a place that breathes history as it has been the home of the conclave that elect the Pope for centuries and from where the fumata reveals the outcome.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS
Giuseppe Momo’s Spiral Staircase

It is located at the exit of the Vatican Museums and offers a very prominent and photographed optical effect . The structure appears to be much longer than it really is, forming a trompe l’oeil. To consider: the staircase that can be visited belongs to the architect Momo. The original one was created by Bramante, which was the inspiration for Momo’s work; but it is not open to the public.

Outdoors

The Vatican Museums have pleasant outdoor areas to get some fresh air.
Our favourite one is Cortile della Pigna  for its sculpture of a giant bronze pine cone from the first century, formerly located in the Pantheon. In the centre, we find the huge metal sphere representing Earth, a work by Pomodoro, 1990.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Admission is free on the last Sunday of each month during the World Tourism Day (September 27th) for children under 6 years, disabled people with an accredited disability higher than 74% and other groups (teachers, journalists …).

See our tips for visiting the Vatican Museums and the skip the line guided tour.

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