The Vatican sees over 25,000 people daily, making it the second most-visited attraction in Rome. That’s… A LOT of people.
So clearly, whether you’re religious or not, when in Rome– a visit to the Vatican is a must!
Even with only one night in Rome, I knew a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the extraordinary Sistine Chapel had to be on our itinerary. In order to make that happen, and to actually get anything out of it, I knew we’d need two things:
1. To take an organized tour.
2. To take an organized tour that allowed us queue-jumping privileges.
Honestly, even if you’re not short on time, to get the most out of your visit I highly recommend taking a guided tour. There’s just too much to see, especially in the Vatican Museums. Trying to take in everything on your own, especially in the biggest collection of the most important artworks and artifacts in the world, becomes overwhelming quickly.
So I booked my mother and myself on City Wonder’s no wait access Vatican tour, which promised skipping the lines while enjoying a guided visit to the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. Perfect.
The tour started early, but not terribly early like all the early access tours. Our group met a few minutes before 9am, where we were introduced to our tour guide David, just in time to watch the gates open for the day. The line outside was already blocks long. There was no doubt that the people in line had at least three hours of waiting ahead of them– and that’s just to get to the ticket office.
I happily bypassed all of them as our group walked straight inside the gates.
We started out our tour by stepping outside in the courtyard. There they had displays set up with all of the paintings that we would soon see in the Sistine Chapel. I didn’t realize was that all tour guides discuss the history and importance here, long before we even reach the chapel, but I guess it makes sense as it’s extremely crowded once you’re inside and there’s no talking allowed.
I loved learning about disgruntled Michelangelo, who didn’t actually want to paint the ceiling– after all, it was beneath him as a sculptor.
Not only did he not want to paint it, but he also insisted on doing it his way, despite the wishes of the Pope.
After all was said and done, Michelangelo had painted everyone nude and with muscular, powerful bodies that would soon pave the way for contemporary Western art.
And those who criticized him? Well, Michelangelo painted them in hell, with snakes biting at their privates and foolishly adorned in donkey ears. You’ve got to love his sense of humor!
Oh, and when they complained to the Pope, he only apologized, stating that he had no jurisdiction in hell and could therefore do nothing about it. Love it.
Sadly though, after Michelangelo’s death, artist Daniele da Volterra was commissioned to paint clothing on all of the figures in the Last Judgement fresco. Thankfully, he was not allowed to cover up anything on the actual ceiling.
These are just a few of the gems we learned thanks to David before actually heading into the Vatican Museum. And you know what? I actually really enjoyed learning about everything outside on those panels. It allowed us to get an up close look at the details, while being able to fully enjoy the real thing later on free of distraction or commentary.
Plus, going outside meant we got to sneak photos of the new Popemobile!
I know even with the help of David we barely covered a fraction of the museum’s collection, but I know we at least covered the most important bits.
We walked through the Gallery of Maps, which had the most beautiful trompe-l’œil ceiling, as well as the Galley of Tapestries, where David showed us the famous illusion trick.
I was actually surprised that most of the art in the Vatican Museum was actually not Christian. Instead we saw a wide variety of ancient Roman, Greek, Egyptian and, Renaissance pieces. There really was something for everyone.
Another exhibit I personally enjoyed was where countries send things representing their country as gifts to the Vatican. This exhibit is changing constantly, but when we were there it was featuring the people and culture of Bali– another place I have yet to visit.
Of course we also visited the famous Raphael Rooms.
These rooms, which serve as the public part of the papal apartments, are covered in frescos painted by Raphael and his students.
The School of Athens is easily Raphael’s most famous fresco, which is why it’s used as the image for Vatican Museum tickets!