Vatican Museums

Musei Vaticani

Palaces of Vatican form the largest museum complex in the world. Numerous galleries, halls, inner courtyards hold the immense number of the pieces of art that have been collected through the centuries by the Roman Popes. Primarily tourists who come to Rome refer Vatican Museums to the Sistine Chapel and Stanze della Segnatura decorated by Raphael (Raphael Rooms). Due to some political and personal reasons Pope Julius II did not wish to live in the apartments that belonged to Alexander VI Borgia. He moved to the other rooms and commissioned Raphael, then a relatively young artist of 25, to redecorate the existing interiors of the rooms entirely. The Stanze as they are commonly called are four small rooms decorated by Raphael and his workshop between 1508 and 1517. Each wall of every room is entirely covered by the fresco composition, thus, making its four Stanze in every room. The Stanza della Segnatura and the Stanza di Eliodoro are considered to be Raphael’s masterpieces. Stanza dell'Incendio was decorated by Raphael’s apprentices according to his designs while Stanza di Costantino was completed after Raphael’s death in 1524 according to his designs as well. This room is dedicated to the victory of Christianity over paganism. The Stanza della Segnatura was the study housing the library of the Pope where the the papal orders were signed as well. The Stanza della Segnatura was the first to be decorated by Raphael's frescoes between 1508 and 1511. The theme of this room is worldly and spiritual wisdom of people portrayed through four different fields: the School of Athens represents philosophy, the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament represents theology, the Parnasus represents poetry and the Cardinal Virtues (fortitude, prudence and temperance) represent justice.

In the School of Athens, one of the most famous pieces of the Italian Renaissance, Plato and Aristotle, two Greek philosophers, appear to be the central figures arguing about the Veritas. Besides Greek philosophers Raphael pictured his contemporaries as well – Bramante portrayed as Euclid and Michelangelo in the foreground. Stanza di Eliodoro is dedicated to the heavenly protection granted by Christ to the Church. Stanza dell’incendio was the canteen and was painted by Raphael’s apprentices. Themes of the paintings were taken from the papal history, in particular, events from the lives of the Pope Leo III and Leo IV which glorified then current Pope Leo X. The most outstanding fresco of this Stanza is the Fire in Borgo when according to a legend in 847 there was a great fire in Borgo and Pope Leo IV made the sign of the cross to extinguish a raging fire. Further deep one can see the part of St Peter’s Basilica with an old facade. Nearby there is the Niccoline Chapel painted by Fra Angelico. Tourists can also visit Borgia apartments decorated by Pinturicchio and his successors.

Sistine Chapel in Vatican is not only the former home church but since 1492 it has been the site of the Papal Conclave that elects the new Pope. The Chapel is the outstanding masterpiece of the Cinquecento where one can observe the magnificent frescoes by Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Ghirlanadaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Signorelli and Michelangelo. Sistine Chapel was constructed between 1473 and 1481 by the architect Giovannino de Dolci who was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. By 1483 decoration of the chapel named after the Pope was completed. In 1508 Pope Julius II invited Michelangelo to come from Florence and to re-paint the ceiling of the chapel. They say that Michelangelo was not really craving for performing Pope’s order as he considered he was more of the sculptor. He supposedly agreed to fulfil the order to overcome his long-time rival Bramante. It took approximately four years to complete the work during which Michelangelo was doing his work by poor light throwing back his head or lying on scaffolding. Eventually Pope was very much satisfied with the result. In the centre of the vault there are nine stories from the Book of Genesis. In 1515, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design a series of ten tapestries to hang around the lower tier of the walls.

In approximately 25 years after work on the ceiling was completed, Michelangelo was commissioned to decorate the wall above the altar with the Last Judgement. In terms of the plot this painting completed decoration of the Chapel but many clergymen were bewildered and criticized the painting. In the centre of the composition there is beardless and strict Christ with the saints clustered in groups around him. At the bottom left of the painting the dead are raised from their graves and ascend to be judged. To the right are those who are assigned to Hell and are dragged down by demons. After Michelangelo’s death Pope Paul IV ordered his apprentices to cover some nude parts of the figures. When visiting the Chapel one might focus on particular stories from the Old and New Testament but it is better to perceive it as a single story from the Creation of World to the Last Judgement. Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel were restored several times, the last one was performed from 1980 to 1994 and caused concern, arguments and contradictions.

Almost all Vatican museums are united into a single exposition. Thus, in the Palace of Pope Innocent VII there is the Pio-Clementino Museum which exhibits the richest collection of Greek and Roman pieces of art. Museum Chiaramonti consists of a large arched gallery in which sides are exhibited several statues, sarcophaguses and friezes while Pinacoteca Vaticana includes Byzantine and European paintings of the XI-XIX centuries. There are also thematic museums and galleries: Egyptian Museum, Etruscan Museum, the Gallery of Geographic Maps, Arazzi Gallery (tapestries that picture the Acts of the Apostles). All in all there are 19 museums in 1400 museum facilities! Don’t forget to visit Vatican Gardens with the guided tour. By the way lately in spring and autumn Vatican Museums have been opening their doors for visitors during the evening and night time. However tickets for such visits can be ordered only via Internet.

On your way to the Vatican Museums or to St. Peter's Basilica have a bite of a mind-blowingly tasty tiramisu in a wonderful confectionery called Pompi located in Via Cola di Rienzo, 313 (a 5 minute walk from St. Peter Square). Since 1960 this place has been offering its guests more than 10 kinds of different tiramisu, ice-cream and unforgettable desserts! Yummy, this is probably the best tiramisu in Rome! This tiramisu bar offers its delicious products daily from 11 am till 11 pm, Fri and Sat till 2 am.

Address: Viale Vaticano
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 9 am – 6 pm, tickets are sold until 4 pm, Sun closed; last Sun of every month museums are open to the public for free from 9 am to 2 pm, entrance is closed at 12.30 pm; closed on 1 and 6 Jan, 19 and 31 Mar, 11 Feb, 1 Apr, 1 May, 29 June, 1 Nov, 25 and 26 Dec, 14 and 15 Aug; every Friday from 6 May to 25 Jul, 5 Sep – 28 Oct 7 am – 11 pm (tickets can only be bought online)
How to reach: metro Cipro, Ottaviano
Coordinates: 41.906565, 12.453539