A Tourist in Rome - Vatican Museum
|Location:||Northern edge of the Vatican, entrance is at Viale Vaticano and Via Tunis|
|Metro:||Cipro Musei Vaticano|
|Time:||2 to 4 hours|
|Hours:||Monday - Saturday 9 AM - 8 PM, closed Sunday|
The Vatican Museum is a very large museum where you can spend anywhere from a couple hours to several days. It can be overwhelming and can get very crowded. To avoid lines, you should buy your ticket online in advance, and check the hours and days the museum is closed against when you plan to go. You must reserve the date and time you want to go, and you must print the voucher they email you. Then, at the museum, you can bypass the ticket-purchase line and go directly to the "Entrance with Reservations"line on the right. Once inside, you exchange your voucher for a ticket, showing your ID. Although mornings are among the most crowded times to visit the museum, I recommend you go then, spend the morning and lunchtime in the museum, then see the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, the Dome Walk and St. Peter's Square in the afternoon and evening. I suggest this route because it reduces your walking distance. If you begin with the Basilica area, you'll need to walk around the outside of the Vatican to get to the entrance of the museum (about a 30 minute walk of about a mile), and when you finish the museum, you'll be back at the Basilica entrance anyhow. But that extra walk is the only reason I make this suggestion, you might avoid crowds better by seeing the museum during the afternoon when the crowds there are thinned a bit. In any case, to get into St. Peter's Basilica or to take the Dome Walk or to visit the Museum, you must dress such that your shoulders and knees are covered, and shorts are prohibited. The museum has two exits and you should decide which route you'll take before you enter. The main exit is near the entrance, at the north edge of the Vatican. If you rent an audio guide, you will must use this exit since you must return your audio guide, but then you're that mile away from the Basilica. If instead you forego the audio guide, and don't have a bag large enough to have to check, you can exit from the Sistine Chapel at the end of the museum directly into the Basilica. This is the route I recommend, to save time and walking distance. However, I've read that sometimes that exit is closed since its officially only for tour-guides and their groups. If it looks like people are being turned away, just blend in with a tour-group.
The Pinacoteca is the painting gallery in the Vatican Museum. If you wish to see it and you're planning to exit the museum from the Sistine Chapel, you should see the Pinacoteca at the start of your tour. After the Pinacoteca, you'll be back on track for the normal direct route through the museum. You'll begin with an Ancient section (my favorite) with Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan areas, followed by a very long hallway with statues (I like this part, too), tapestries, then maps, followed by a set of many rooms from the Renaissance period, and finally to the SistineChapel. Now that you understand the task that awaits you, pace yourself and skip the sections you're not interested in so you can make it through in the time you want, and with the remaining energy that you want. If you want to see the Pinacoteca (I breezed through it in about 20 minutes), the photos below are what I'd consider the highlights.
On to the Ancient section! Pass through the Egyptian Pillars to enter the section of Mummies, Egyptian Statues, Hieroglyphics, the Apollo Belvedere, Laocoon, the Hall of Animals, the Belvedere Torso, Hercules and the Porphyry Basin, and Sarcophegi. The Apollo Belvedere (1st photo below) is a Roman Copy, made during the 4th century BC, of a Greek original that features perfect anatomy and a natural pose, unlike the stiff poses of prior times. Laocoon (2nd photo below) tried to warn the Trojans not to allow the Trojan Horse into the city, but the gods, wanting the Greeks to win, sent huge snakes to crush Laocoon and his two sons to death, as told by the middle of Book 2 of Virgil's Aeneid. This was sculpted in the 5th or 4th century BC, and features unquestionable motion and emotion. It was lost for 1000 years, but found in the ruins of Nero's Golden House. The Belvedere Torso (3rd photo below), with its knotty muscles and raw power, was a favorite of Michelangelo. Did he recapture the personality of the Belvedere Torso in his Moses? I probably spent about 30 or 40 minutes in this section, and other highlights from this section are below:
Next up in the museum is a 1/4-mile-long hallway to test your endurance. It's crowded since everyone is condensed into a narrow hallway, and everyone is getting antsy to see the highlight at the end of the museum, the Sistine Chapel. But enjoy the journey, while you're here. The first part of the hallway has more sculptures, among them, Diana the Huntress (1st photo below), Artemis, and Bacchus. After that are tapestries, then maps, before your reach the Raphael Rooms. Some interesting works in the long hallway are shown below:
The Raphael Rooms show huge works of art; try to not be numb to them by this point (as I was). Raphael's Constantine Frescoes, 1517-1524, depict the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, in which Constantine saw a sign from God, used it in battle to defeat Maxentius, then made Christianity the official religion of Rome. The ceiling shows a pagan statue knocked to the ground and broken, with a Christian cross dominating above it. A room further on, the Liberation of St. Peter depicts the moment that angels appeared to the imprisoned St. Peter and rescued him by breaking his chains (those chains are now in the church of St. Peter in Chains). The School of Athens celebrate the rebirth of learning during the Renaissance. La Disputa depicts religion during the Renaissance. A few rooms of modern art end the section of the museum with Renaissance artwork.
The last stop in the Vatican Museum is the Sistine Chapel, where no photos are permitted. Remember where the door is that you walked in. Once you've made it into the chapel, take your time and enjoy the world-renowned artwork of Michelangelo; remember that you'll likely not be returning here ever again, and an extra half-hour here won't matter much to the schedule in the long-run of your life. Then either exit the side of the chapel to walk back to the exit near the museum's entrance to turn in your audio guide or pick up your checked bag, or exit out diagonally from where you entered, blending in with a tour group to enter St. Peter's Basilica, which you're right next to at this point, without the long walk outside. If that door diagonal to where you entered the chapel is closed, just hang out for a few minutes; you'll get your chance.
I'm not going to attempt to explain the Sistine Chapel better than the Wikipedia articles about the ceiling and about it's history, but I can give you these clues to orient yourself to what you're seeing. First, running down the spine of the ceiling (1st photo below) are 9 rectangular scenes from the old testament. Starting at the front of the chapel (the right side of the 1st photo below), the 9 rectangular panels show
At the end with the altar is the huge painting of The Last Judgment (center of 1st photo below), painted 23 years after the ceiling, which shows how the righteous (on the left) are carried up to heaven and the wicked (on the right) are pushed down for their punishment. If a long study of this grim wall with no one smiling can't make you straighten up and fly right, you might want to give up trying. Is that Charon the ferryman at the bottom, just right of center, wacking people with his oar? And Jesus, at the center near the top, with Mary under his raised right arm, is he a completion of the Belvedere Torso?