The Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums begin just beyond a massive bronze door that, like magic, takes you out of Italy and into the smallest country in the world: the Vatican. There are priceless works of art here, collected by the popes or often expressly commissioned by them.

More than 70,000 pieces are on exhibition in over 42,000 square meters, with another 50,000 pieces preserved in the vaults and storerooms. Forget about seeing everything in a single visit: it simply can't be done.

To the millions of visitors that come here from every part of the globe to admire these marvels, the whole complex seems to be one gigantic museum but the Vatican Museums, with their full name "Papal Museums and Galleries", are the Museum of Museums, the result of the union of various collections, collections that often take the name of the pope that began them.

The most sought-after stop on the Vatican Museum trail is without doubt the Sistine Chapel however every room is rich in history and precious examples of life from every era.

The birth of the Museum was almost by chance: it all began in 1506, when an ancient sculpture was found in a vineyard on the Esquiline Hill near Nero's Domus Aurea. It was only later that it was recognized as one of the most famous statues ever: the Laocoonte, described even by the Latin author Pliny. The subject of the work is taken from an episode of Virgil's Aeneid in which the seer and priest Laocoonte, for having predicted Ulysses' use of the Trojan Horse, was punished by the gods who sent two enormous snakes to strangle him and his two children in their deadly coils.

Like all the pontiffs, Pope Julius II had always shown great interest in artwork, and he immediately summoned Michelangelo and Giuliano da Sangallo to authenticate the sculpture. The pope then decided to acquire it, making sure no one else could do so before he did.

So the dramatic Laocoonte was put on exhibit in the Vatican, enriching Pope Julius II's collection that was the seed of what would ultimately become the Vatican Museums. The Laocoonte was placed in Bramante's Belvedere Courtyard where Julius II grouped all his ancient statuary, transforming it into the "Courtyard of the Statues". Visitors came from all over the world just to admire the sculptures and artists stopped there to copy the masterworks.

The Museums as they appear today, were created in the second half of the 18th century and are made up of two parts: the actual Museum and the popes palaces, naturally only the portions open to the public. The visit is an incredible stroll through the history of art where you can meet the greatest artists ever, through their most important works.

You can organize your visit according to the time you have at your disposal; the shortest takes at least two hours, the longest, around six. You'll discover masterpieces in a sort of crescendo as you pass from one room to another; in fact, the rooms themselves are works of art, frescoed by artists like Fra Angelico, Pinturicchio or Raphael.


The Vatican Museums:

  1. The courtyard of the Pinecone
  2. Chiaramonti Gallery
  3. Braccio Nuovo
  4. Pio-Clementino Museum
    1. Octagonal Courtyard
      1. Apoxyomenos
      2. Apollo del Belvedere
      3. Laocoonte
    2. Galleries of the statues
    3. Belvedere Torso
    4. The round hall
    5. Sala a Croce Greca
  5. Gregorian Egyptian Museum
  6. Gregorian Etruscan Museum
  7. Gallery of the Candelabra
  8. Gallery of Tapestries
  9. Gallery of Maps
  10. Sala Sobieski
  11. Raphael’s rooms
    1. Hall of Constantine
    2. Room of Heliodorus
    3. Room of the Segnatura
    4. Room of the fire in the Borgo
  12. Sala dei Chiaroscuri
  13. Cappella Niccolina
  14. Appartamento Borgia
  15. The Sistine Chapel
    1. The ceiling
    2. Last Judgment
  16. Musei della Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
  17. Pinacoteca Vaticana
  18. Museo Gregoriano Profano
  19. Museo Pio Cristiano

Pictures of Vatican Museums

Created: 09 Aug 2013
Last update: 13 Jun 2023

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