The Vatican Museums (‘I Museu Vaticani’) are some of the largest museums in the world with an enormous collection that varies from ancient Roman and Egyptian artefacts, religious objects, beautifully painted rooms and even modern art.
The 26 different museums of the Vatican are housed in a complex of multiple Apostolic palaces, and are by far the most popular museum destination in Rome, in part because of the famous Sistine Chapel.
During your visit, you will marvel at the many art treasures that the popes have collected in 54 halls since the 16th century.
The absolute highlight of the route through the Vatican museums is a visit to the Sistine Chapel (Capella Sistina). The name is derived from the founder of the chapel, pope Sixtus IV.
The impressive ceiling of this 15th-century Sistine Chapel was painted in the 16th century by Michelangelo.
It portrays the story of creation, the great flood and other scenes.
The side walls are equally beautiful with paintings of the life of Jesus made by Ghirlandaio, Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio and others.
The wall behind the alter shows Michelangelo’s painting of the ‘Last Judgement’.
The Sistine Chapel is mostly known for being the space where the cardinals meet for conclave when electing a new pope.
When a new pope is being elected, smoke comes from the chapel’s chimney twice a day. White smoke means a new pope has been elected, while black smoke means the cardinals were not yet successful in their mission.
Other highlights of the Vatican museums
If you would like to learn more about the background of the artworks in the Vatican Museums, we recommend using an audio guide. Do you plan not to spend too much time in the museums? Then – in addition to the Sistine chapel – these are the rooms and artworks you should not miss on your visit to the Vatican museums:
- Stanza della Segnatura: This room lies on the second floor and was originally pope Julius II’s library. Later it was used as a church tribunal. This room is one of the main attractions of the Vatican as it displays the works of Raphael Santi.
- Stanze di Raffaello: These rooms on the first floor were decorated by Raphael Santi for Pope Julius II. The paintings represent theology, philosophy, poetry and law. For instance, the famous painting of ’The School of Athens’ from 1509 depicts philosophy with philosophers Plato and Aristotle being displayed centrally.
- Laocoön group: A group of marble statues from 40 – 20 BCE of the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons. According to tradition, the priest wanted to prevent the Trojan horse from being let inside the city. The statue shows Laocoön being strangled by Poseidon’s snakes.
- La Galleria della Carte geografiche: The first floor is also home to the 16th-century gallery of maps with enormous topographical maps on the walls and the ceiling. The 40 beautiful wall panels were created by Ignazio Danti.
- The Vatican Pinacotheca: The ground floor houses a large collection of tapestries and paintings of the Vatican with works by the great masters, including Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Raphael Santi.