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The Vatican Museums And The Sistine Chapel In Rome

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Nestled in the Vatican Palace, the Vatican Museums – which house, among other wonders, the incomparable Sistine Chapel – are high on the list of the most emblematic museums in the world!

Follow the guide!

💡 The Captain’s tip 💡

Want to know more about the history of Rome? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city (in English). It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!

Are you looking for a hotel in Rome? Be sure to check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in Rome? Advice & recommendations

Are you planning your stay in Rome? Check out Captain Ulysses’ detailed article on the best things to do in the city: A Guide to Rome

The Vatican Museums in a nutshell

Brief history of the Vatican Museums

Let’s go back in time, shall we? Our destination? The 16th century!

When he was elected pope in 1503, Julius II had his private collections (including the Apollo of Belvedere and the Laocoon Group) moved to the Vatican Palace: the Vatican Museums were born.

In the following centuries, the successors of Julius II continued his work and gradually enriched the Vatican collections.

Thanks, among other things, to numerous donations, the Vatican collections received countless ancient remains (Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian), master paintings, statues, tapestries, etc., so much so that five centuries after their creation, the Vatican Museums are among the largest museums in the world!

With more than 6 million visitors per year, the Vatican Museums are also the 3rd most visited museum in the world.

If you have to visit only one museum in Rome, it is this one (… even if Captain Ulysses warmly recommends visiting the Borghese Gallery and the Capitoline Museums)!

Vatican Museums

Key figures

The Vatican Museums are:

  • the 3rd most visited museum in the world with almost 7 million visitors in 2019 (after the Louvre and the National Museum of China in Beijing)
  • 12 museums, 3 chapels and 5 galleries
  • 1400 rooms
  • 7 kilometres of rooms and corridors
  • A surface area of over 42,000 m2
  • Over 70,000 works of art on display
  • the Vatican collections are valued at €90 billion

Visiting the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

The Vatican Museums comprise:

  • un ensemble de 12 musées :
    • The Pinacoteca
    • The Collection of Modern Religious Art
    • The Pio-Clementino Museum
    • The Ethnological Museum Anima Mundi
    • The Gregorian Egyptian Museum
    • The Gregorian Etruscan Museum
    • The Secular Gregorian Museum
    • The Christian Museum
    • The Vatican Apostolic Library
    • The Carriage Pavilion
    • The Chiaramonti Museum
    • The Philatelic and Numismatic Office
  • 3 chapels:
    • The Sistine Chapel
    • The Paolina Chapel (closed to the public)
    • The Nicoline Chapel
  • 5 galleries:
    • The Lapidary Gallery
    • The Braccio Nuovo (New Wing)
    • The Gallery of the Candelabra
    • The Gallery of the Tapestries
    • The Gallery of Maps
  • Ainsi que d’autres lieux remarquables dont :
    • The Raphael Rooms
    • The Borgia Apartments
    • The Bramante staircase

It is quite difficult to see clearly in the midst of such a profusion of works of art and ancient remains!

You won’t be able to see it all and will have to select the works of art and exhibition rooms that you don’t want to miss. That being said, here are Captain Ulysses’ favourites in the Vatican Museums!

The Pinacoteca

Attention, all art lovers! The Pinacoteca is undoubtedly one of Captain Ulysses’ greatest favourites in the Vatican (… and even in Rome)!

You’ll find in the Pinacoteca a multitude of emblematic paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century.

The program includes include around 400 paintings by the greatest European artists of their time: Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Nicolas Poussin, Perugino, Fra Angelico… In short, the crème de la crème!

Caravaggio - Vatican Museums

The Sistine Chapel

Need we remind you? Yes, it is indeed in the Vatican Museums that you’ll find the incomparable Sistine Chapel.

The conclave (formed by the cardinals) meets upon the death (or resignation) of each pope to elect his successor in this iconic chapel, under the incredible ceiling painted by Michelangelo.

Built at the end of the 15th century, the Sistine Chapel was adorned by some of the greatest artists of the time: Botticelli, Perugino… and of course Michelangelo, who painted the ceiling fresco depicting scenes from Genesis between 1508 and 1512, and the Last Judgmentfresco on the altar wall (at the back of the chapel) between 1535 and 1541.

The Sistine Chapel receives between 10,000 and 20,000 visitors a day!

Sistine Chapel

The Pio-Clementino Museum

Created by Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI (hence its name) in the 18th century, the Pio-Clementino Museum is a must-see for visitors exploring the Vatican Museums.

Dedicated to Greek and Roman statuary, the museum houses some of the Vatican’s most emblematic sculptures: the Belvedere Torso, the Apollo of Belvedere and the Laocoon Group.

The Borgia Apartments and the Collection of Modern Religious Art

It is in these appartments, created in the 15th century for the infamous Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) and his family, that you will find part of the Vatican’s Collection of Modern Religious Art.

The Borgia Apartments comprise 6 rooms richly decorated by Pinturicchio and his disciples:

  • the Room of the Sibyls
  • the Room of the Creed
  • the Room of Liberal Arts
  • the Room of Saints
  • the Room of Mysteries
  • the Room of the Pontiffs

The Vatican Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art is heaven on earth for all modern art lovers!

Inaugurated in 1973 at the request of Pope John Paul VI, it houses works of art dating from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Some of the greatest artists of the last 150 years are represented: Auguste Rodin, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Vassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Otto Dix, Giorgio de Chirico, Bernard Buffet, Francis Bacon, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger…

The Borgia Appartments will no doubt turn the heads of even the most demanding visitors!

The Gallery of Maps

The Gallery of Maps is undoubtedly one of the most surprising – and photogenic – places in the Vatican Museums.

This vast 120-metre long gallery exhibits forty huge topographical maps dating from the 1580s and representing the Italian regions and the Church territories in the 16th century.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of Captain Ulysses’ favourite points of interest in the Vatican… but no need to be a seasoned sailor to appreciate the Gallery of Maps!

Gallery of Maps - Vatican Museums

The Raphael Rooms

Located in the public part of the papal appartments, the Raphael Rooms are a series of rooms painted between 1508 and 1525 by the incomparable Rafaello Sanzio (Raphael) and his disciples. There are four rooms, each named after the frescoes painted on the walls:

  • Stanza dell’incendio del Borgo
  • Stanza della Segnatura where you will find the famous fresco of the School of Athens
  • Stanza di Eliodoro
  • Sala di Costantino

The Raphael Rooms are unanimously considered to be among the most emblematic masterpieces of the Vatican Museums… and Captain Ulysses can only agree!

The School of Athens - Vatican Museums

The Bramante staircase

Built in the early 1930s by Italian architect Giuseppe Momo, the Bramante Staircase (also known as the Giuseppe Momo Staircase) is a huge spiral staircase inspired by a double helix staircase designed in the Renaissance by the architect Bramante (hence its name).

The double helix ensures that visitors can go up and down the stairs without passing those going the other way!

Bramante Staircase - Vatican Museums

Access

Getting to the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are located within the Vatican City State, a few steps from St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo.

The nearest metro station is Cirpo-Musei Vaticani on line A. Many buses, including hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses, also stop near the Vatican Museums.

Opening hours of the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm (ticket office closes at 4pm). They are closed on Sundays except for the last Sunday of the month (9am – 2pm, ticket office closes at 12.30pm).

They are closed on religious holidays.

Admission

Tickets to the Vatican are €17 full price, €8 reduced price. Tickets can be booked in advance for a supplement of €4.

You should also know that skip-the-line access to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel is also included in the Omnia Card and the Rome Tourist Card.

⚠️ Beware of the lines! ⚠️

Queues at the entrance to the Vatican Museums can be absolutely endless: you may have to wait for 3 or 4 hours if not more, especially during the high season and the school holidays.
Captain Ulysses can only recommend that you opt for a skip-the-line ticket : trust his experience, it’s worth it!

Find out more: skip-the-line for the Vatican Museums

Guided tour of the Vatican Museums

To avoid getting lost in the maze of rooms and corridors of the Vatican Museums, to avoid missing any of the must-see works and to avoid the endless queues, Captain Ulysses strongly recommends that you take a guided tour!

The Captain recommends two tours in particular:


👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!

Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all the Captain’s suggestions!

🛏️ Accommodation : to book your accommodation in Rome, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Booking:
the best hostels
the best affordable hotels
the best mid-range hotels
the best high-end hotels

🎟️ Activities: as for booking visits and tourist activities, Captain Ulysses recommends three websites: GetYourGuide, Tiqets and Civitatis. Guided tours, cruises, skip-the-line tickets, tourist activities… there’s plenty to choose from!

🎫 Citypass: if you are staying in Rome for several days, it may be worth investing in the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card . As well as entry to some of the capital’s most iconic sites, these passes include access to public transport.

🚐 Transfers: if you want to arrive in Rome serenely, you can book your transfer from the airport to the city centre in advance. A car will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the city. Find out more: transfers in Rome.

🚌 Local transport: Rome has a comprehensive public transport system: metro, bus and tram. Access to public transport is included in the Roma Pass and the Omnia Card. If you wish, you can also opt for a hop-on hop-off bus tour which stops at all the top tourist attractions in Rome (audio guide included).

✈️ Flights and trains: to book your flights to Rome, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
As for trains, the Captain recommends Trainline to book your tickets.


Credits
Unsplash | Pixabay

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