The Vatican Museums and

the Sistine Chapel

In the heart of the Vatican: Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel

The Vatican Museums are considered among the most important museums in the world, and visiting them is an essential for anyone who comes to Rome. Here the Popes have, over time, collected and preserved some of the greatest masterpieces of all time and the most precious artifacts of the past. First and foremost, they made the art collections from their buildings available to the public.

A bit of history ...

The world’s first public museum, it was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) who decided to donate his collection of classical sculptures to the Roman people and to open the very first museum in the Capitoline building. Implementing a project of Nicholas V (1447-1455), he also founded the Vatican Library – the second public library in Europe after the St. Marco Library in Florence. Following in these footsteps, his nephew, Julius II (1503-1513), donated his own ancient marble sculptures to the Holy See to be exhibited in the garden of statues – today, the Octagonal Courtyard - the site of the future pontifical museums and galleries. Over the years, these collections were expanded thanks to the renewed interest in the Greek-Roman civilization during the Renaissance. The present collection continues to grow thanks to a new Christian humanism exalted by Raphael in the frescoes in the Signature Room – Julius II’s study.

The museums were in this embryonic state until the 18th century, when archeology and art history were born from the pages of Winckelmann and the Abbot Lanzi (the first was Superintendent of the Antiquities of Rome - the second wrote the History of Italy’s Painting between 1795 and 1796). In those years, the Pio Clementine Museum was emerging in the Vatican, first at the request of Pope Clement XIV and later by Pius VI. From that moment on, new collections were added, eventually covering a vast span of history and art from ancient Egypt to the present day.

The visit

The tour will be a journey back in time: a dip into the history and art of the great civilizations of the past. With their magnificently painted walls, the Vatican Museums are considered the largest museum of frescoes in the world. Visiting the breathtaking Sistine Chapel represents a spiritual break during an intoxicating journey. During the Holy Mass on the occasion of the Restoration of 1994, John Paul II verbally emphasized the sacredness of the place in which every image, every picture, every scene dresses the story of the Holy Scriptures in unparalleled beauty. The chapel was defined by Michelangelo as "a granary" and his grandiose opera has made it an invaluable masterpiece. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and was built by John de' Dolci between 1475 and 1481, according to Baccio Pontelli’s design by order of Pope Sixtus IV. It is the official private chapel of the Popes in which, even today, solemn religious services and conclaves for the election of Pope are held.

During the visit one can admire priceless antiquities and works of art, and the splendid frescos of the Raphael Rooms. The culmination of the visit is the Sistine Chapel, with the Michelangelo’s great work: the vault depicting the Creation and the Last Judgment.