I had heard from other people who had visited the Vatican Museum how absolutely amazing it was. After visiting it ourselves I can truly say it really is amazing! The Vatican Museum is an absolute art lovers paradise. It features works of art and treasures from over the centuries, all of which were collected and accumulated by various popes. You really will walk around with a sense of awe and wonderment as you look at the enormous collections of art and treasures from all around the world, and all different time periods of history.
As we were staying in Rome, we were very close to Vatican City, which houses the Vatican and the adjoining Vatican Museum. Vatican City is just to the north of the Rome city center, and is very accessible by public transport. Fun fact: Vatican City is a country in itself, and is the smallest country in the world!
From Rome itself we aimed to take the Rome Metro (Line A), which runs straight to Ottaviano-S. Pietro, which is a station just outside the walls of the Vatican. This is the way you should go to the Vatican and would have been fairly fast! But on the day we were going there was some kind of maintenance or problem on the Metro line, so we had to take a bus instead. There are a couple of bus lines that run from Rome to close to the Vatican. This guide has a lot of information about transportation. The bus dropped us close by the Vatican, with only a short walk required.
We had purchased tickets ahead of time for the Vatican museum. There can be very large queues to purchase tickets on-site at the museum, so booking ahead is advisable. This can be done online through the museum. Admission tickets are for both the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. There are frequent deposits of bus loads of people to the museum, so it can get quite crowded at times. It apparently isn’t unusual for people to queue for hours outside to get entry to the museum.
Before entering the museum we picked up lunch in a little café, and bought slices of pizza. It is a very Italian thing to just purchase a slice of pizza, rather than a whole pizza. We stood in the little cafe and quickly ate our pizza, before walking over to the museum.
We didn’t have too much of a wait at the museum to enter, because we had purchased our tickets ahead of time and bypassed the long lines. Visitors have to pass through security, including machines that scan your bags, just like at the airport, and the security lines can be quite long and intense.
The Vatican Museum is actually a collection of buildings that have been added to consistently over the centuries. The entire museum contains the extensive art collections of various popes over 5 centuries, totalling 54 galleries of art works and treasures. The collection of art and treasures spans from ancient Egypt through to the 20th century. Works of art on display include works by Raphael – there are 4 beautiful rooms just dedicated to work by Raphael alone, including his Madonna of Foligno, and his last painting, The Transfiguration. There is also the Loggia of Raphael, which is a 65-metre long space which is full of frescoes by Raphael. There are extensive works by Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci and many others. The museum is not just home to Renaissance and masters of the various centuries, it also contains extensive modern artworks by artists such as Bacon, Chagall, Dali, Paul Gauguin, Kadinsky, Matisse and Van Gogh.
The museum also contains extensive Greek and Roman sculptures. The Gregorian Egyptian Museum has works which were mostly from Hadrian’s Villa in Trivoli. Here there are Egyptian, Assyrian and Mesopotanian works of art. The world’s largest collection of maps is also found here in the Gallery of Maps: A gallery that features quite remarkable maps from all around the world and through the centuries.
We walked around without a guide, but stumbled upon many guided groups as we went through the museum, where we picked up nuggets of information. In hindsight we should have gone with a guide. The guides are official Vatican Museum guides and are a wealth of information. They can also take you to parts of the museum that you would not normally head to on your own.
The Sistine Chapel itself was just as spectacular as I hoped it would be, with its Michelangelo masterpieces of the Creation of Adam and the Last Judgement. At the time we went the room itself was very crowded. Many people only visit the Vatican Museum for the Sistine Chapel – and you can bet that everyone in the museum is going to head there at some point. I have heard that first thing in the morning is the best time to visit. Silence is requested in the Chapel, and the many docents constantly make noises and signs for you to be quiet (“Shush!” is a universal language!). You are also not allowed to take photos in the Sistine Chapel, and the security guards here are pretty hawk-eyed, so don’t expect to get away with secret snaps!
Leaving the museum, we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square. St. Peter’s Basilica sits right in St. Peter’s Square. It is free to enter St. Peter’s, however they do charge for additional parts of the church, such as climbing the cupola. Entering St. Peter’s Basilica church my daughter was frowned upon for wearing shorts by the security guards at the front entrance. However, we had been prepared that this might happen, so we had bought a cheap little skirt at one of the street stalls outside the train station in Rome. The ‘security guards’ on the door of St. Peter’s will frown upon legs showing in shorts, and also tops with spaghetti straps etc. St. Peter’s is a very holy place, and it is always best to respect this.
The inside of St. Peter’s is absolutely beautiful – and huge. It is definitely one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been inside. Allow at least an hour or two to really see around this magnificent building.
St. Peter’s Square is amazingly large, and you can gaze upon the balcony where the pope regularly appears. The Swiss Guards have the most wonderful colorful costumes, looking just like Renaissance princes. The Swiss Guard are tasked with protecting the pope himself, and fun fact they are actually the smallest and oldest standing army in the world.
You won’t regret visiting the Vatican Museums, especially if you are an art lover. It is so easy to visit here from Rome there and back in a day, and afterwards you will have the honor of having visited the world’s smallest country!