At the end of your visit to the Vatican Museum, you are led to the bookstore (don’t all museums have a bookshop at the end?) and from there you need to get down to street level. My favorite method is to walk down the double helix staircase that spirals in two directions with one way for people heading down and the other for people heading up (although I didn’t see anyone coming up this way).
The staircase was built in 1932 and is pretty amazing. It is richly carved on the outside of the steps facing the center of the space. Helical staircases do not have a central pole like a spiral staircase and typically have handrails on both sides of the steps. In the case of the Vatican Museum, the staircase is rather wide and not steep at all and the steps are not very tall, making for a smooth descent. The steps are wider apart at the top and become shorter and more frequent the closer to the bottom that you get. A double helix staircase is created by two separate staircases that are built within each other and share the same space – you can’t get from one to the other but have a clear view of the other staircase.
It is difficult to get a photo without people on it, but the photos with people are actually good to show how the downward spiral (which has people on it) versus the upward spiral without any people.
If you are unable to use the staircase, have a look at it before taking the elevators down. It is rather unique!
Not everyone who visits the Vatican is aware that it is a sovereign stateand has been since 1929. The Pope rules it as Europe's only absolute monarch! It includes St. Peter's Cathedral, The Vatican Gardens, The Vatican Museums, and the famed Sistine Chapel.
I suggest that all of these be on your agenda for a visit. But, I strongly recommend the Sistine Chapel.
Go early because you will, no doubt, have to stand in line. The last person to enter is at 1:00 PM. So, it's better to see it first and then see the Cathedral.
Michelangelo did the ceiling for Pope Julius II, and it shows the Creation of the World and The Fall of Man. It was restored in the 1980s. I had a sore neck from looking up at it. Some people bring mirrors to make it easier!
23 years later, Michelangelo painted the Last Judgementon the wall above the main altar. Some previous work had to be destroyed as well as a couple of windows to make the wall ready for the painting.
It took Michelangelo seven years to complete this work. The Last Judgment is, I feel, more powerful. It shows the souls of the dead rising up to face the wrath of God. The Pope wanted it to serve as a warning to Catholics (during the time of the Reformation.)
It also shows the "damned" who are hurled to the demons in hell. Charon who is the boatman who rows the people to the underworld in Roman Mythology is shown tossing people into the River Styx. It's interesting how these myths are mixed into scenes from the Bible!
I can tell you this, when you walk out of the Sistine Chapel, you know for certain that Michelangelo was a genius.
To be quite honest the Sistine Chapel was not how I thought it would look, and even though the ceilings mural is very impressive, I enjoyed the corridors with their paintings, sculptures, mosaics and other pieces of artwork more. When you are in the Chapel you feel everyone is impressed and trying to be quiet (although those not being quiet will be shushed by the guards), but still I was more impressed by other areas of Musei Vaticani.
The Sistine Chapel was built between 1475 and 1483. The most famous piece of art in the chapel is Michelangelo's fresco the Creation of Adam. Michelangelo also painted the Last Judgement, which is found over the altar in the chapel.
But please, don't just shuffle through the long corridors to look at the Sistine Chapel. Take in everything around you as you walk along the long corridors and go from room to room to room. Especially, I liked the 'Gallery of Maps', a gallery that is 120m long and holds 40 large (and incredibly beautiful) maps of the changing regions of Italy through the centuries. The ceiling looks golden and has many incredible works of art (paintings) - it is also along this gallery that you look out the windows and get a nice view of St. Peter's Basilica.
Admission (Museums and Chapel)
Adult: EUR 12
Reduced: EUR 8
Special: EUR 4
(check website for meaning of 'special' and 'reduced')
(Generally - check website for specific dates)
April 1 to October 31: 8:45am - 4:45pm
November 1 to March 31: 8:45am - 1:45pm.
Closed all Sundays and holidays.
Although on the last Sunday of the month the museum is open with free admission.
Built between 1475 and 1483, in the time of Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere, the Sistine Chapel has originally served as Palatine Chapel. The chapel is rectangular in shape and measures 40.93 meters long by 13.41 meters wide, i.e. the exact dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament. It is 20.70 meters high and is roofed by a flattened barrel vault, with little side vaults over the centered windows.
The architectural plans were made by Baccio Pontelli and the construction work was supervised by Giovannino de' Dolci. The first Mass in the Sistine Chapel was celebrated on August 9, 1483.
The wall paintings were executed by Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli and their respective workshops, which included Pinturicchio, Piero di Cosimo and Bartolomeo della Gatta.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was commissioned by Pope Julius II della Rovere in 1508 to repaint the ceiling; the work was completed between 1508 and 1512. He painted the Last Judgement over the altar, between 1535 and 1541, being commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese.
I know there are many tips written about the Vatican. I hope my tip will add some value and you will find some helpful information.
There is a line to get into the Vatican whether you go on your own or opt to be included in a group tour. The line is EXTREMELY long but can move fast at times. Reservations is highly recommended. Depending on the tour you choose and your guide you may not have to wait in this line/queue. We were fortunate not to have to wait in line. We paid quite a bit for the individual tour (info below) which was well worth it!
Below is the link for the official website of the Vatican where you can buy tickets and obtain other information about your visit. Ticket prices range from €15.00 to €269.00 per person depending on if you purchase just an entrance fee or opt for an exclusive guide for a tour. There are also group tours you could join and you could selectively have a tour of just the museum, the gardens, St. Peter's Basilica and Sistine Chapel, as well.
We have opted for an individual guided tour. If we had purchased this option through the official website, the cost for two people would have been €546.00 or US$786.00. Whew! That is a lot of money! Instead, we booked our guided tour from this website (recommended to us by friends):
The cost of our 4+ hour individual guided tour cost us €320.00 or US$449.50. This was a huge savings and definitely something to consider if you opt for a guided visit.
Our tour quide, Sandra, spoke English fairly well. She was quite knowledgeable and took us to see all the main points of interest at the Vatican. Towards the end of our tour, I asked if we could enter the crypta and she noticed a huge line/queue to enter it. She asked a guard if there was another entrance we could take and they said yes. We went through an obscure staircase down and no line! Vatican City is huge and there is sooo much to see. Just amazing! If you visit Rome, Italy and have not been to the Vatican, this is a MUST DO! One drawback is the number of tourists that are there. They don't seem to regulate how many people are in any particular area of the Vatican so it can be cumbersome.
DRESS CODE is strictly enforced. Shoes are required. Men are to wear long pants and shirts with sleeves. Women must have their knees and shoulders covered. Long skirts or dresses are okay as long as it covers the knees. NO SHORTS. Paper pants are available for purchase along with T-shirts and scarves in the souvenir shops outside of St. Peter's. The dress code used to pertain to St. Peter's Basilica only but now applies to St. Peter's Square (the dress code in Thailand to visit a temple was much stricter).
Remember, Vatican City is a sovereign country regulated by it's own laws outside of Italy.
It was suggested to me to exchange money at the Vatican because I would get a good rate with little to no fees but I couldn't find where this was done. It turned out, just withdrawing money from the correct ATM (Bank of America partners with) was the best exchange (no fees).
Vatican City has their own post office. Many people like to send their postcards from there because you will use a Vatican City stamp and postmarked from there. I didn't have the time to do this because upon on first day in Italy was our tour of the Vatican.
The Sistine Chapel is probably the most important reason for your visit. And if that's the case, go there directly once you entered the Vatican Museum. You can always go back to explore the other parts of the museum later once you had your fill of Michaelangelo's masterpiece. The Sistine Chapel is best enjoyed with a lesser crowd - another reason why you have to be at the Vatican Museum early.
For parents with kids, it is allowed to bring the stroller inside. Just be prepared to carry your child as there will be stairs along the way. And by the way you're not allowed to take pictures (or videos) inside the chapel. Well I took mine secretly that's why it's out of focus. Sometimes, being crammed among other tourists has its advantage.
A little piece of history. The Sistine Chapel was built between 1475 and 1483 in the time of Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere. The first Mass was celebrated on August 9, 1483. The wall paintings were done by Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli and others.
In 1508, Pope Julius II della Rovere commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to repaint the ceiling and completed the work between 1508 and 1512. The Last Judgement (over the altar) was painted between 1535 and 1541, commissioned by Pope Paul III Farnese.
Here's an interesting trivia. Over the years, the paint became darker because of the soot accumulated from the burning candles. Michelangelo being a genius and a forward-thinker probably anticipated this and so he did something really clever. He inverted a very small piece of stone from the painted ceiling. Years later when the authorities did an extensive examination to determine the state of the frescoes and the ceiling, they noticed a blank or unpainted piece of stone. Puzzled, they removed it and discovered the other side was painted. That gave them the idea of how the colors would have looked like during Michelangelo's time. And of course they restored the frescoes and preserved it back to its "pristine" state.
Even if you are not Catholic, I firmly recommend everyone to come into the museum. It is simply stunning!
Here is one tip I didn’t read anywhere and it might be useful. There is no doubt the best way to go into the Vatican museum (and probably every single museum in Italy) is with a tour. BUT the tour only last about hour & 1/2 and it’s for sure you wont be able to appreciate everything. So here is my advise: if you could dedicate an entire day to this museum (or at least a whole morning) , pay for the tour, as you can get in earlier than thousands of people (this is literally: when I left the Vatican, the line was probably 1000 people!) after you get into the Vatican, skip the tour, do it on your own. I know it sounds silly to “waste” the explanation from the tour guide but..TRUST ME, if you are well informed, you could do it by your own and have the museum virtually for yourself at least for the first few hours.
PS/ don’t rush into the Sistine chapel as it will be impossible to get back into the museum after you reach it! The chapel will be there at the end of your tour. Even if you are the first or the last person, the chapel will always be SUPER CROWDED!...so..what's the rush??
The Vatican Museum is the first museum that should come to your mind when in Rome. Entry price is over EUR 10 but it is all worth it. What you should be aware of is the waiting cue - when I got up in the day scheduled for visiting Musei Vaticani (the italian name) - getting off the metro station with the same name, I've seen the biggest cue I have ever seen in my life. The cue of people was at least 4 people wide and it was stretched along the wall of the Vatican, measuring at least 2 kilometers !! and probably would took me two hours to reach the entry. Be warned for fake guides that carry an umbrella or a Rome guide, saying he have places in the cue for a 'free' guided tour. Those are not at all official guides, it is a scam and you will pay for their 'services'. So, instead of staying the first hours of the morning at the cue, with the sun in my head, I have visited San Pietro Basilica, for about four or five hours, and when I got back, surprise, the cue was merely a few meters.
If you wish to Visit the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel and you are not willing to be on a long line to get in, you have two options:
1) go there at lunch time 1-2pm when big groups are normally having lunch.
2) book a guided tour arranged directly by the Vatican Museums with highly professional guides.
Once you get to the museum(15 min. earlier) tell the sicuruty at the exit gate on Viale Vaticano, that you have the tickets booked and they will show you where to pay for the visit.
The visit cost 23.50 euro per person and group will be of about 30 people.The visit will last 2 hours.
Make sure you send the request well in advance (only by fax):
+39.06.69885100; You can also give them a ring to double check: +39.06.69884676 (with out +39 if you are already in Rome!!)
If you are going to visit the museum on your own I suggest to check the official opening times and closed dates on the Vatican Museums web site. Here is the link:
I have seen many wrong information on several guide books and other web sites.
Update, Apr '08. New extended entry times at the Vatican! Your guidebook is probably out of date. Even better news! Lines may become a thing of the past. Starting June 1, tickets for the Vatican Museums will be available for purchase online at www.vaticanstate.va. WOW! If this is true, I am delighted.
The new hours: The museums are now open all year from 8:30 to 18:00 (6 pm) (last entry 16:00 (4 pm), including Saturdays!
For now, if not booking a tour, best to go around noon (winter) or later (as early as late March), when the line is shorter. I've taken the Vatican's own tour, and although you skip some collections, the tour was good. You can go back to see whatever you missed after the tour. Book a tour or check the schedule here: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Info.html
The last Sunday of the month, it's free but packed! Mondays are crowded because most other museums are closed. See my tip here: Free Sundays at the Vatican.
Helpful, but not necessary to rent an audio guide; many exhibits have English signs. The Sistine Chapel is a long way from the entrance. If you rent an audio guide, you'll have to go all the way back to return it & retrieve your ID. Otherwise, you can exit right onto St. Peter's.
With your back to the altar in the Sistine Chapel, exit via the right hand door instead of the left.
On the way to the Sistine Chapel, you can visit several museum collections (Egyptian, Etruscan, the Raphael Rooms, etc.) or you can skip them. It's up to you. But these collections are truly wonderful. Note that the Painting Gallery, the Pinacoteca, is the opposite direction at the museum entrance.
The cafeteria has decent food at reasonable prices. Bathrooms are nearby and also near the Sistine Chapel.
Do yourself a favor with a bit of research on the Sistine Chapel before you go. Otherwise it's so overwhelming you won't know what you're looking at. Buy or borrow a book, or try a website like: http://www.christusrex.org/www1/sistine/0-Tour.html
The Laocoön group is a marble sculpture of a father and his two sons. The father is a priest from Troy during the time of the Trojan War who warns the Trojans not to accept the wooden horse from the Greeks. He and his family were punished by poisonous sea snakes, the scene depicted in the sculpture. Here you can see the agony in the father’s face as he is attacked by the snakes and realizes that not only will he die, but his sons also will die and his family line will end. The agony is expressed in the father’s contorted face and muscular body, while the sons don’t appear to be in as much pain as the snakes wrap around them.
This sculpture is Greek and thought to be created around 50 BC by Rhodes sculptors Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus; Pliny wrote about this sculpture and it was thought to not exist until it was found in a farmer’s field on Esquiline Hill in 1506. Pope Julius II purchased the sculpture and placed it in the Vatican where it has been viewed by artists since then, influencing such masters as Michelangelo.
An interesting note is that when the sculpture was found in 1506, the father’s arm was missing; however, 400 years later, in 1905, the original arm was found in a Roman antique shop and reattached in 1958. The piece, originally thought by Pliny to be one piece of marble, is actually comprised of three sections.
The Laocoön sculpture can be found in the Belvedere courtyard in one of the corner niches. When I visited, it was rather crowded with school groups, but I was patient until I could get up in front of the work. The area around the sculpture is limited so if the museum is very busy, you may have to wait quite a bit before getting too close. There is a good sign in front of the sculpture with the story of the piece in English (rare for the Vatican Museum to have such good signage).
The Vatican is an entire day of sightseeing in itself -- they are not kidding when they say get there early... the line is around the block by 8 in the morning!
If you can afford the 45euro or so per person, hop in with a tour group. The line is shorter and you get someone to walk you through and explain lots of the pieces in the museum.
The tour we took went through the museum and ended in the Sistine Chape,l
From there, we explored the Sistine Chapel, headed back inside for a bite to eat in the cafeteria, and then got in line to climb the dome of St Peter's Basilica.
After that, get in line to go under to the catacombs and see the tombs of past popes.
Once you get inside St Peter's, walk the perimeter so as not to miss anything - there are so many beautiful areas inside. Plus, you will see some of the popes that were cannonized (made a saint) Papal law says if a pope is up for sainthood, their remains must be brought up to the basilicia for public viewing. It sounds gross, but it is somewhat amazing.
After St Peter's, walk out the main doors into the square.
I highly recommend that one plans on spending at least 6-8 hours on the premises so they can stop and enjoy all that is around them.
Don't forget your camera, you can take photos in most places on the grounds.
Built between 1475 and 1483, the Sistine Chapel is today the Pope's official private chapel in the Vatican and the place where cardinals from around the world assemble to elect new popes.
The chapel is rectangular in shape and measures 40.93 meters long by 13.41 meters wide (the exact dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament). It is 20.70 meters high and roofed by a flattened barrel vault.
The Sistine Chapel's main attraction is its magnificent artwork, including Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment", a spectacular fresco covering thousands of square feet of the chapel's ceiling and wall and a "Genesis" ceiling fresco, also painted by Michelangelo, depicting God creating Adam. Botticelli's masterpiece "Temptations of Christ" can also be viewed in the chapel.
Give yourself enough time for the Vatican Museum and Saint Peter's Basilica. We did not! We got there about 0900 on New Year's Eve and did not have enough time to see everything, especially since the sites closed early that day.
We went to the Vatican Museum first. Two very important tips 1) either buy your tickets ahead or purchase a tour and 2) Do not check your bags if you don't have to. We had a backpack and would not have had to check it, but we did anyway and that was a big mistake - one that probably cost us seeing the inside of St. Peter's Basilica. Be careful about purchasing a tour, we had pre-purchased tickets (which we had to purchase a month in advance because they sell out quickly) from the Vatican website, but would have purchased a tour through a reputable company like Romewalks (recommended by Rick Steves) otherwise. If you wait in line to buy a ticket expect a 2+ hour wait!
You have to go through security before entering. They didn't make us check our backpack, but we did anyway. The museum is huge and probably impossible to see all in 1 day. We started our tour with the tapesty and map gallery rooms. The map gallery was one of my favorites, though the room was extremely crowded and the large tour groups very annoying as they shoved their way through. We went through many more rooms decorated from top to bottom with breathtaking artwork including even modern art.
We missed the Ancient World galleries including the Egyptian Room and Greek sculptures. Oh well, something to see next time!
One of the last rooms we toured was the Sistine Chapel. No pictures allowed. Words cannot due it justice, you must see for yourself.
The reason why checking the backpack was a mistake - there is an open door to the right at the end of the Sistine Chapel that will take you into St. Peter's Basilica. The door is marked "tours only", but according to Rick Steves you won't get stopped if you use it, which appeared to be correct. However, we had to go back to the entrance and get the backpack.
We purchased a couple trinkets for family members in the gift shop, got our backpack, and walked around the outside of Vatican City to get to the square and St. Peter's.
The Vatican Museums is the home of the of greatest and largest collections of art in the world. It is so large that a thorough visit of all the treasures that he serious of museums have to offer, is a very daunting task. For this reason the museums offer for colour coded itineraries. Each is suppose to take a certain amount of time for a tour and is geared to what your interest might be. As the collections are highly varied in interest it is almost certain that most visitors will find that some of the galleries are not for them, so decide before hand which galleries you are most interested in seeing and then choice from the map at the museums entrance which tour will go through these galleries. I took the yellow coded itinerary during my tour and think this covered a fair amount of ground. No matter which itinerary you choice, all of them visit the Sistine Chapel, the most famous room in all of the museums.
Other rooms that you should consider are the Raphael Rooms which of course feature some of the greatest works of Raphael. The Borgia Apartments which were designed for Pope Alexander VI. The Pio Clementino Museum which has an excellect collection of Greek and Roman sculpture. The Pinacoteca features some of the finest works by major Renaissance and Baroque artist as Raphael and Caravaggio. The Collection of Modern Religious Art has religious works by such notables as Chagall, Picasso and most important Rouault whom there is an entire room dedicated to. The Egyptian-Gregorian Museum has a decent collection of ancient Egyptian pieces including mummies
The museums are open from 8:45am to 3:45pm Monday to Friday. On Saturday they are open until 1:45pm. The museums are only open on Sunday on the last Sunday of the month from 8:45am to 1:45pm. Admission is 10 Euros.