The Vatican Museums’ vast collection of artwork spans the centuries, and is a site not to be missed when in Rome. Contained within these 54 galleries are some of the world’s most impressive collections of artistic masterpieces. With so much to see and explore, a day’s tour is woefully inadequate to experience it all, yet is enough to comprehend the importance of these museums to world history.
Come along with us for our own whirlwind one-day tour within the walls of Vatican City. Our day begins before Vatican City itself has fully awoken. Our adventure starts in a nearly empty courtyard, the early morning sun lighting up across the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Another bright and beautiful day dawns in Vatican City, and we are excited to be a part of it!
Vatican Museums’ Magnificent Halls & Walls
Our journey begins just outside the Sistine Chapel for an early hours access into the Vatican Museums. Our path wraps back from the Sistine Chapel, around the museums, and through the Pinecone Courtyard, St. Peter’s Basilica peaking up in the background.
Front and center is Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Bronze Globe. Though seemingly out of place, this definitely modern piece of art almost speaks to the movement of time represented within these walls, from the ancient works of art to the more modern masterpieces.
Stretching over four miles, these halls, walls, galleries and chapels contain a dizzying array of artwork. Though one morning, even one day, will not cover it all, what is seen will surely leave a lasting impression, and instill the need to one day return again for more.
From painted ceiling panels with brilliant golden details, to walls covered in 15th century maps of Italy, the eye will find it hard to stay focused on one spot for very long. Try though! Slow down, soak in the minutiae of these intricately drawn, quite accurate maps with their somewhat whimsical styling that includes sea serpents and the god, Neptune.
Walk through the Gallery of Tapestries, where extraordinary 16th century Flemish tapestries representing moments of Christ’s life drape across gilded museum walls. Contemplate the famous tapestry rendition of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” woven with intertwining hues of rich red and silken gold.
Stand before the Resurrection of Christ, perhaps the most famous of these Flemish tapestries. Move from end to end, watching his eyes. It is as if he is watching you. Woven from gold and silver thread, silk and wool, a single tapestry took as long as nine years to create!
From stunning wall frescos framing doorways to detailed wall panels to ornately painting ceilings, the Vatican Museum halls themselves are simply stunning pieces of art!
Brilliant Frescos and Masterful Paintings
The depth and breadth of historical, masterful artwork inside the Vatican Museums defies words. Perhaps most impressive besides the Sistine Chapel are the frescos adorning the walls and ceilings of the Stanze di Raphael.
Raphael’s Stanze is an exquisite rendition of High Renaissance artwork masterfully created upon the walls of what was originally Pope Julius II’s apartment suite. Explore in depth the four rooms of this papal apartment that are open to the public.
Wander through Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura. Look closely at the School of Athens fresco. This is Raphael’s representation of a gathering of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, including Plato and Aristotle. He also included the faces of his contemporaries, Leonardo Da Vinci, Bramante, and Michelangelo!
Step into the Sala di Constantino. Stare up at the ceiling for yet another painted masterpiece. Does it not look 3-dimensional? The Hall of Constantine was designed by Raphael, but completed by his students due to his untimely death. Still incredible!
Stand beneath the ceiling fresco of the Meeting of Leo I and Attila, intricately painted by Raphael and his assistant, Romano. That’s Saints Peter and Paul bearing swords, floating in the sky above as if watching over Pope Leo below.
Though Raphael’s Stanze and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel dominate, don’t miss the museum’s vast collection of more modern artwork the likes of Vincent Van Gogh’s Pieta, Salvador Dali’s The Announcement, and Marc Chagall’s Pieta Rouge. Yes indeed! The paintings and frescos of the Vatican Museums truly do span the centuries!
Incredibly Detailed Statues & Busts
The Vatican Museums are also world renown for their vast collection of intricately carved statues and busts, capturing in ornate detail moments of history as well as ancient legends.
Wander through mazes of marble, past the ancient statue of Apollo’s priest, Laocoon, and his two sons on the steps of an alter, trapped in battle with coiling serpents. The sculpture, found in 1506 on Rome’s Esquiline Hill, was carved around 30 BC.
Walk through the Room of the Greek Cross, with it’s massive sarcophagi dating to the 4th century AD. Don’t miss Nero’s bathtub! It’s here too. Witness legends and historical figures alike, their impressions upon ancient history still evident today in carved marble and bronze.
Step into the Round Room, where 2nd century BC mosaic floors depict the Battle of Centaurs. The tiles were transported here piece by piece from their ancient home! Examine a giant monolithic basin in the middle, surrounded by marble sculptures in alcoves of red.
Around every corner, upon every wall, above on every ceiling, is something to amaze, to awe, to instill a love of art, here within the walls of the Vatican Museums. And yes, one day is surely not enough to fully explore, to fully appreciate, this enormous collection of masterpieces. But it is enough time to begin!
Have You Explored the Vatican Museums?
Our Vatican Museums experience was lead by our wonderful guide from Walks of Italy Pristine Sistine Vatican Tour. Splurge for a guided tour, especially if you have only one day for Vatican City and wish to experience the Sistine Chapel with as small of crowds as possible. You’ll be happy you did! It was money well spent for our limited time within Vatican City.
Have you been to Vatican City? Did you experience the Sistine Chapel, explore the Vatican Museums? Did you go it on your own, or book a tour as we did? Do share!
Read more about our experiences during our one-day tour of Vatican City at:
- Lasting Impressions Inside Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel
- Favorite Photographic Moments Inside Vatican City’s Papal Basilica of St. Peter
- Vatican City in One Day – 7 Top Tips To Maximize Your Time
Read more about why we chose Walks of Italy for our tour at: 5 Favorite Reasons to Explore Rome With Walks of Italy.
Sistine Chapel images via Wikipedia. All other images by C. Biederman.