I've read most of the answers fairly quickly and I think you got most of the information you need, but I will tell you a little of our experience with our visit this past May. We stayed right down the street from Vatican City so we only had a leisurely 10 minute walk to Vatican City.
St. Peters Basilica - On our first afternoon, just a few hours after we arrived in Rome we left our hotel and walked to Vatican City. Walked around a bit outside and then saw a short queue to get into the Basilica which was closing in about 1 hour. By that time of the day the tour groups had already been through so after waiting in the security line for just a few minutes we were able to get into the Basilica for about 50 minutes. So I would advise maybe a visit towards the end of the day.
Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel - We had pre-bought our tickets about 6 weeks earlier and were amazed how many people were standing in line to buy tickets. Our ticket was stamped for a 10:45 a.m. entrance. We arrived about 10:30 a.m. and walked right in. Again you will go through security inside the doors. We spent the next 4 hours in the museum itself spending some brief time in some rooms and a lot longer in other. There are many tour groups that we encountered that literally were rushing from room to room, snapping pictures and moving on. Stay to the right or left and out of the middle of each of the rooms as you walk through. This is better for not being bumped by the crowd and you can take pictures a lot easier without someone walking in front of you.
We skipped a number of rooms toward the end as we wanted to get to the Sistine Chapel before we completely wore out and by this time we were getting a bit hungry. At the Sistine Chapel I had a podcast that I had downloaded which gave about a 30 minute tour of the Sistine Chapel. You can stand around the room and look all around and quickly have a strained neck. We stood close to the side for about 5 minutes waiting for one of the benches on the side to open up. When 2 people left we immediately sat down and listed to the podcast.
Anyway that was my strategy for the 5 hours we spent at the Vatican Art Museum and Sistine Chapel.
Pratically, the Vatican Museum became a "fait-divers" in the crowd's way to and from Sistine Chapel.
Does anybody really have time and spirit to see the Museum with the attention and detail it deserves? No. It is only there to allow people to make the photos, forbidden in the chapel. As they should be.
Can you imagine several hundred cameras flashing simultaneously at the ceiling?
So, the museum makes sense. I withdraw my protest.
The Vatican Museum is easily one of the most incredible museums on earth. It has a collection that is just mind blowing in its artistic quality and luxury. To me the sculpture was breathtaking but the paintings and ceiling decorations were awesome. This is a very large museum and you will be fighting crowds, so make sure to come early. I went with the group Through Eternity when I visited Rome. Since I love museums I could easily come back here and wonder for hours and hours. It's magnificent.
Be forewarned, the luxury in this museum is amazing.
Monday- Saturday 9 am- 4 pm. Museums close at 6 pm.
Sundays- Closed. Except last Sunday of the Month when admission is free
Your ticket for the Vatican Museum covers the Museum itself and the Sistine Chapel
Full price- 15 euro Reduced- 8 euro Scholastic-4 euro
The four Stanze di Raffaello ("Raphael's rooms") in the Palace of the Vatican form a suite of reception rooms, the public part of the papal apartments. They are famous for their frescoes, painted by Raphael and his workshop.
The Stanze, as they are invariably called, were originally intended as a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II.
Running from east to west, as a visitor would have entered the apartment, but not following the sequence in which the stanze were frescoed, the rooms are the Sala di Costantino ("Hall of Constantine"), the Stanza di Eliodoro ("Room of Heliodorus"), the Stanza della Segnatura ("Room of the Signatura") and the Stanza dell'Incendio del Borgo ("The Room of the Fire in the Borgo").
You can watch my 3 min 45 sec Video Rome Vatican Museums part 1 out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.
The Vatican Museums, inside the Vatican City, are among the greatest museums in the world, since they display works from the immense collection built up by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries, including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.
Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century.
Open Monday to Saturday: the Ticket Office is open from 9 am to 4 pm. The Museums close at 6 pm. N.B. exit from rooms half an hour before closing time
Sunday (except the last Sunday of every month, free entrance from 9 am to 12.30 pm; the Museums close at 2 pm unless it coincides with Easter Sunday, the 29th of June (St. Peter and Paul), 25th and 26th of December (Christmas and St. Stephen)
January 1, 6, February 11, March 19, April 8 (Easter), 9 (Easter Monday), May 1, June 29 (St. Peter and Paul), August 15, 16, November 1, December 8 (Immaculate Conception), 25, 26.
The Admission Ticket permits the tourist to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and is valid for the day of issue.
Tickets are not refundable. Some sections of the Vatican Museums usually closed to the public can be visited on request.
Full € 15,00
Reduced € 8,00
Scholastic Ticket € 4,00
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!
Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II (at the suggestion of Bramante and to the frustration of Michelangelo) to paint the Pope’s rooms in the Vatican. Raphael was very young at the time, around 27 years old.
Each of the paintings in the Raphael Rooms represents a branch of knowledge; the School of Athens represents Philosophy, specifically Greek philosophy. Within the painting are many of the great Greek philosophers. It is thought that Raphael had a specific identify for each figure in the painting, although there are no notes by the artist left to tell us who all of the people are.
I have placed numbers on one of my photos that correspond to the list below which explains the possible identities of these people in the painting. Some were painted as a philosopher but in the likeness of a contemporary of Raphael, typically another artist. And Raphael painted himself in the painting as well.
1- PLATO (Leonardo da Vinci)
3- HERACLITUS (Michelangelo)
7- ALEXANDER THE GREAT
9- PLOTINUS (Donatello)
10- EUCLID or ARCHMEDES (Bramante)
12- PROTOGENES (Perugino)
13- PERSONIFICATION OF LOVE (Francesco Maria della Rovere)
R- APELLES (self portrait of Raphael – the one in the black cap looking at the viewer)
The architecture in the painting is thought to be a preview of Bramante’s plan for the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Since Bramante was a friend of Raphael and actually assisted him with the architecture portion of this fresco, it is quite possible that this is true, especially since it does look like the current St. Peter’s.
I think the School of Athens was my favorite piece out of all I saw while in Rome. I had studied it before and was anxious to see it. And it did not disappoint me. I was rather surprised to find it in a room smaller than I thought, with a window shining light on it (I would think the light would damage the painting), and no barriers to keep people from touching it (although it is high enough up that if they did touch it, only the base would be reached).
We were at the Vatican on a day when it wasn’t very crowded, yet the room was rather full of people. I found a spot on the opposite side of the room in a corner from which I could just appreciate the artwork. Because the room is small, you need to be on the other side of the room to really see the entire piece.
The Raphael Rooms are located on the way to the Sistine Chapel and you need to turn off to get to them. Follow the signs and don’t miss them. There are four rooms in the Raphael Room section; the School of Athens is in Room II.
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).
My top tip to enjoying the Vatican is to order your tickets in advance online to avoid waiting in the lines.
We went during a time when Rome wasn't crawling with tourists and tour groups, but it was still full of people and the horror stories of hours waiting in line just doesn’t make sense – you have limited time here and don’t want to waste it in lines. So go online to the official Vatican site – listed below - (not the expensive other sites that charge you high fees) and purchase your tickets online, print up the ticket they email you, and walk past all those who didn’t plan ahead. You still have to go through security, but then you collect your tickets at the windows inside after showing them your online voucher.
You will need to select a day and time for your entrance. Pick a day when you have plenty of time and go for an early start time. The museum and Sistine Chapel get rather crowded.
Oh – and don’t be suckered into one of the “tours” that people are trying to sell you between St. Peter’s Square and the museum. We must’ve been asked at least 5-10 times each time we walked that way if we wanted to join a tour. Just ignore them (or firmly say no) and keep going.
As you make your way through the Vatican Museum and head towards the Sistine Chapel, be sure to take the side track to the Raphael Rooms (located just before you get to the chapel and after the Gallery of Maps). These four rooms were designed and painted by Raphael for Pope Julius II (the same pope that was having Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel at the same time). Some of the rooms were designed by Raphael and carried out by his assistants, but inside are some pretty famous frescoes by the artist himself and well worth a visit.
Most famous would be the School of Athens, located in Room II. In this fresco, Raphael has depicted many great scholars through the ages but used the likenesses of many current individuals – his theme is the triumph of Philosophy. Raphael does quite a bit with the perspective as well – look at how the wall seems to go straight back, adding depth to the room by his use of architecture in the painting. In the center of the painting are two men - Plato and Aristotle. Plato (the white bearded man on the left) is a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. Others in the painting are Socrates (the bald guy to the left of Plato), Epicurus (with a leafy crown), Ptolemy (on the right side of the painting wearing a crown and holding the earth), Archimedes or Euclid (unclear which, but painted to look like the architect Bramante – the man who introduced Raphael to Pope Julius) bends over and creates geometric shapes on a board, and Diogenes is the lone figure in blue on the steps. The grumpy looking guy in the center is Heraclitus, which is considered to be a portrait of Michelangelo that Raphael painted as a tribute to the artist after he snuck into the Sistine Chapel and saw the ceiling work in progress. And finally, Raphael includes a self portrait – on the far right – the man with the red tunic and black cap that is looking out at the viewer.
In Room III, the fresco Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple at Jerusalem gives us a portrait of the patron of these works – Pope Julius II – who is pictured on the far left in the red outfit and being carried on a litter. This piece depicts an ancient scene but refers to Julius’ success in wars to free the Papal States. On the window wall there is a wonderful scene demonstrating the angel freeing Peter from jail. The mastery of the artist comes out in this piece!
In Rooms I and IV, the frescoes were designed by Raphael, but mostly painted by his assistants and pupils. In Room I there is a nice fresco of the Coronation of Charlemagne while Room IV had a massive fresco of Constantine’s victory near the Milvian bridge, again sketched by Raphael but actually painted by others. Raphael died young and was never able to complete the project. (If you plan to go to the Pantheon on your trip, be sure to find Raphael’s tomb located on the left side after you enter the building).
Someone had asked me after my trip to Rome what the highlight of my trip was. My answer was seeing the Raphael rooms, and especially the School of Athens.
There is so much to see in the Vatican Museum, you will get overwhelmed unless you pace yourself. I had a list of must-see pieces of art that we looked for and then enjoyed the rest of the museum casually along the way.
I highly suggest you bring along some sort of guide book that will tell you what you are looking at since the labeling is not the best (it is in Italian and very minimal with just the name of the piece and artist). My guide book of choice for the art and architecture in Rome is The Blue Guide – Rome, by Alta Macadam, which has a very detailed section on the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s. This book will easily take you from room to room in the entire museum and tell you what you need to know about the art.
Our first stop after entering the museum was the Pinacoteca, which is the Vatican’s Picture Gallery. Here are works by Leonardo, Raphael, Bellini, Fra Angelico, Caravaggio, and many more. The rooms in the Pinacoteca are numbered (look above the doorways for the Roman numerals).
From there, let your interests guide you. Do your research in advance so you know what you want to see or you will wind up wandering and wasting precious time. There are lots of tour groups that seem to command the prime spots in front of the works, so you need to allow time to make your way to the front if you want to see some of these things up close.
Seeing the Laocoön sculpture was important to me, so we made our way around to that ancient piece that was found in the 15th century in a farmer’s field. It is located outside in a courtyard.
The closer you get to the Sistine Chapel, the more crowded it becomes. Apparently, some people skip the museum and head straight to the chapel. Wow – I can’t imagine since the museum is full of treasures.
Be sure to take time in the Raphael rooms (painted at the same time Michelangelo was painting the chapel ceiling).
The hallway with all the maps on the walls is an interesting walk through. At this point, however, the hallways are filling up with people waiting for the chapel. And the bookshop is taking advantage of people going slowly through this area with tables and displays set up for you to purchase items.
You really need several visits to this museum to see it all – there are more than 4 miles of galleries! Plan ahead and come prepared to get the most out of your visit. Create a list of the must-see pieces you want to view lest you be disappointed after you leave. Be sure to find those works of art but don’t ignore the rest along the way. Look up at the ceilings and down at the floors. The entire building is a work of art!
The Statue of Apollo Belvedere is one of the most famous statues in the Vatican. Rediscovered in Rome in the late 15th century, this is thought to be a copy (Roman) of the original bronze statue by Leochares (about 350-325 BC)
Located in the Pr-Clementino Museum this sculpture tells the story of Laocoon, a Trojan priest who threw a spear into the Trojan horse in an attempt to warn his fellow trojans. The historian Pliny references this work and attributes it to three sculptor: Athenodorus, Agesander and Polydorus.
Located in the Hall of Statues, it is exhibited together with the Apollo Belevedere.
Don't crash the place ! Buy a ticket !!! Um- well the place is protected as well as Fort Knox itself, so it would be virtually impossible to do the above. Ignore my previous comment!
The admission ticket is valid for visiting BOTH the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel only on the date of purchase.
As on the day of writing this tip [24th May 2005 13:53 Mid East time], and as per the official Vaticani museum site, the prices of the 'biglietti' (tickets) are as follows:
Regular: Euro 12,00
Reduced: Euro 8,00
Special: Euro 4,00
Free of charge
You qualify for -
1- Reduced admission fees, IF you;
a- Go through an educational facility.
b- Are a pilgrim.
c- Are a student under 26 years of age.
2- Special admission fees, IF;
a- Your's is a visit organised by a school located in Rome (excluding university level).
b- No point 'b', just point 'a', here. Stop looking for CHEAPER ways to view such fine display of art! huh!
3- Free-of-charge Admission, IF you;
a-, b-,,, z- Too many to list. Check the below link for details:
[Sidenote: Eva & I didn't qualify for any of the above reduced rates. We had to pay the entire amount. UNFORTUNATELY? In case you're wondering, it was well worth it!
Don't sue us if these prices aren't as per what you paid! Get your official prices from the website link below ]
Reservation is not required, but of course, tickets are non-refundable.
Other benefits of the ticket ~
The ticket is also valid for entrance to the Vatican Historical Museum and Noble Apartment of the Lateran Apostolic Palace (near the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome) during regular opening hours if used within the five consecutive days from the date of purchase (included).
The Vatican Museum is divided in several sections. You can start from the Egyptian museum, which occupies ten rooms, then you can see the Chiaramonti museum, where about one thousand Greek and Roman sculptures are shwed.In the lapidary gallery there are thousands of inscriptions which make in the richest one in the world.
In the Pio Clementino museum, besides numerous Roman sculptures, which are copies of famous Greek original ones, like the Laocoonte, you can admire the bronze "Amazzone ferita" and some works by A. Canova, like the "Perseo".
The Etruscan museum keeps objects coming from Etruria excavations and private donations in addition to Roman works and a collection of Greek vases. Among the most remarkable pieces there are those coming from the famous Cerveteri tomb.
The Raffaello's rooms are a fixed stop in the Vatican Museums: they are so called because keep frescoes by the famous artist. In the room of the Segnatura, which was the Giulio II's study, you can find the "Disputa del SS. Sacramento", the "Scuola di Atene" and the "Parnaso".
In the Constantine's room there are some frescoes by Master's pupils. Going on, you can see the Raffaello's loggia decorated with scenes of the Old and New Testament; it was begun by Bramante and completed by Raffaello.
A little bit further, there are Chiaroscuri's room, the ceiling of which is decorated with Raffaello's designs, the Nicolina Chapel with frescoes by Beato Angelico and the Borgia's flat decorated nearly in full by Pinturicchio's frescoes. The collection of modern religious art occupies 55 rooms and consists of about 800 paintings and religious sculptures.
The museum comes to an end at the Sistine Chapel its magnificent paintings and the ceiling painted by Michelangelo. See my tip on the Sistine Chapel for further information.