Vatican Museums, Rome

Vatican guards and their gloriously antiquated ceremonial uniforms, Rome, Italy

Vatican guards and their gloriously antiquated ceremonial uniforms. Vatican Museums. Photo by Paul Ronga.

Visiting the Vatican Museums

Musei Vaticani house perhaps the richest collection of art in the world. The 12 museums include Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s four fresco rooms as well as the best of Roman, Etruscan, Greek, Egyptian, Assyrian and modern religious art, but are always crowded and a long line may be anticipated to get in.
The full 7kms (4 miles) and 1, 400 rooms of sights will need at least two days of attention but there are colour-coded highlight walks.
Vatican Museums are not in St. Peters Basilica. They’re a little out of the city centre but easily walkable from the Piazza Navona area or take the tube to Cipro-Musei Vatican.

Vatican Museums courtyard, Rome, Italy

The main courtyard of the Vatican Museums. Photo by Karelj.

10 interesting facts about the Sistine Chapel

1. The Sistine Chapel – Cappella Sistina in Italian – takes its name from the man who commissioned it, Pope Sixtus IV: ‘Sixtus’ in Italian is ‘Sisto’.

2. Some 25, 000 people a day, or five million people a year, visit the chapel.

3. Entry to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel costs €16, an annual revenue for the Vatican of around €80 million or £70 million a year.

4. Sisto’s chapel had the same dimensions – as described in the Old Testament – as the Temple of Solomon on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

5. Sisto conducted the first Mass in the chapel on August 15, 1483.

6. For such an important building the Sistine Chapel is remarkably plain outside – a high, block-like rectangular brick building without adornment. It has no grand façade and no processional entrance door: all entry points are internal, from other parts of the Papal Palace.

7. The Cappella Sistina served then (as now) as the pope’s private chapel.

8. A screen, or transenna, divides the chapel about two-thirds down to separate the pope and his entourage from pilgrims and the rest of any congregation.

9. The Sistine Chapel is most famous for Michelangelo’s frescoes, but long before Michelangelo, Sisto commissioned painters such as Botticelli to fresco the two long walls of the chapel: one side told the story of Moses, the other the story of Christ. Even without Michelangelo’s work, these earlier paintings still represent one of Europe’s greatest fresco cycles.

10. The pope who commissioned Michelangelo’s frescoes in 1508 was Julius II, the nephew of Sixtus IV. The English word nepotism derives from the Italian nipote, meaning ‘nephew’ from the papal practice of favouring relations. Often popes’ nephews were actually their sons.

Visiting the Sistine Chapel

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums, Rome

The Last Judgement by Michelangelo Buonarotti, in the Sistine Chapel.

The must-see art in Vatican Museums are Michelangelo’s Last Judgement painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Raphael’s frescoes in the four rooms known as Stanze di Rafaello.
What really distinguishes these works from, say, the Louvre in Paris, is that the pictures are painted on the walls and ceilings, not hung on them. The difference is dramatic.

The The Sistine Chapel ceiling, Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Visitors are not allowed to photograph the Sistine Chapel. TBH we’d like to know how people manage to photograph the Vatican Museums without being troubled by herds of sheeple or the Museum guards.

The Disputation of the Sacrament, Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy

The Disputation of the Sacrament, painted by Raphael in 1510.

The Vatican’s second prize for perfectly executed wall paintings is The Disputation of the Sacrament, which includes many true historical figures such as popes, cardinals and Dante. Unlike Michelangelo’s first prize winner, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, visitors are allowed to take photos of the paintings.

Raphael's fresco of the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Vatican Museums, Rome

And if you like a little more fight action then Raffael Sanzio’s your man (aka Raphael). This is his fresco of the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

A corridor with fresco ceilings in Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy

One of the Vatican Museum’s incredible corridors and the usual bumbling crowds.

The Vatican Museum's Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library, Rome

The Vatican Museum’s Sistine Hall of the Vatican Library. Photo by Michal Osmenda.

Battle of the Greeks and the Amazons, Vatican Museums, Rome

Something a bit different tho’ plenty of pain/anguish/torment on display as usual, this is the Battle of the Greeks and the Amazons beautifully carved out of white marble onto the side of a sarcophagus. The Pio-Clementine Museum, one of the Musei Vaticani. Photo by Colin.

The view over the Vatican State from the top of St Peter's Basilica, Rome

The view over the Vatican State from the top of St Peter’s Basilica, with Rome’s city centre on the far right and the Vatican Museums on the immediate left. The Castle of Sant Angelo is visible in the left centre by the Tiber river. Photo by David Iliff.

Getting Vatican tickets (preferably in advance)

The queues for Vatican tickets are likely to be long and time-consuming (1 or 2 hours) at busy times. Closed Sundays. The Museums are FREE on the last Sunday of the month from 9. a. m – 12. 30 a. m. and September 27th (World Tourism Day). Jump the lines for a few $$!

• Go to Rome Museums, pay the fee and get a booking number for any/all of these sights which you give to an office at the front of the queue and kaboom you’re in, tho’ you still have to pay the standard entry fee.


The ticket gives you the right to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel for only the day of issue.
Tickets may be reserved from 60 days before the date of the visit; they are not refundable.
Emails date, preferred time, names of each participant. They check availability and give instructions on how to pay.
Various time slots are on offer during the day. You can choose a preferred time, but if not available you will be informed and decide before paying if the time slot assigned by the Vatican Office is convenient for you.

• Alternatively pre-purchase your ticket at the Vatican ticket office for a small extra fee and reserve your half hour time slot, but don’t be late or you’ll end up at the end of the queue. Buy tickets months in advance if possible.

• Join a guided tour that gets in to the museums through a special entrance. You won’t have to book in advance for these, just cruise Piazza San Pietro (in front of St Peters) and pick what suits. Naturally you will pay a hefty surcharge on top of the entry fee.

So that’s the end of the Roman Empire.