The Popes have not only been spiritual guides but also connoisseurs of art, and it was in the early 16th century that Pope Julius II decided to preserve this art. The Vatican Museums contain over 70,000 works of art, of which about 20,000 are on display at any given point of time. Over 6.5 million tourists visit the museums each year, making it one of the top visited art museums in the world.
The Vatican Museums have 54 galleries which include the Vatican Historical Museum, the Sculpture Museums of Pio-Clementino, Chiaramonti, Gregoriano Etrusco, and Gregoriano Egiziano, as well as the collection of Modern Religious Art. The collection includes art and sculpture from across the Roman world and stunning Renaissance art, including the art created in the Museum buildings itself.
A visit to the Vatican Museums will showcase the works of greats like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Rapahel all under one roof!
Vatican Museum Highlights
The Raphael Rooms
The Stanze di Raffaello or the Raphael Rooms are a set of four rooms in the third floor of the Palace of Vatican. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, they were intended as a suite of apartments. Each of the rooms has all its walls adorned with High Renaissance works of art by Raphael and his workshop. The rooms are called ‘Hall of Constantine’, ‘Room of Heliodorus’, ‘Room of the Signatura’ and ‘The Room of the Fire in the Borgo’.
Gallery of Maps
The Vatican was not only involved in spiritual matters but also those of the land and accordingly Pope Gregory XIII had commissioned a series of maps of Italy in 1580. These topographical maps are drawn by a friar and geographer Iganzio Danti and spread across 40 panels in a 120m long gallery. It is said that the maps are about 80% accurate and depict Italy from each region including from the Apennines, Ligurian Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
The spiral staircase is one of the most iconic images of the Vatican Museums and there isn’t just one but two of these staircases! Known as the Bramante Staircase, the original one dates back to 1505 and is now not open to public, but a newer one built in 1932 inspired by the original is in the Pio-Clementine Museum and is used by public to enter and exit the museum. The unique feature of the staircase is the double helix design which involves two staircases in one!
Gallery of Statutes and Hall of Busts
The Gallery of Statues and Hall of Busts are two of the 54 galleries in the Pio-Clementine Museum in the Vatican Museum. The galleries contain Greek and Roman sculptures dating back centuries. The Gallery of Statues displays important pieces like Sleeping Adriane and the bust of Menander. The galleries itself are beautifully decorated with frescos on the vaulted ceiling by painter Cristoforo Unterperger.
Gregorian Etruscan & Egyptian Museum
Pope Gregory XVI initiated the setting up of these galleries at the Vatican Museum. In 1837 the Etruscan Gallery was opened which included 9 rooms full of Etruscan artefacts like Bronzes, Terracottas, and Jewellery. The Egyptian Gallery opened in 1839 and includes 6 rooms with Egyptian artefacts like statues, plaques, and metallurgical items. It even includes a reconstruction of Emperor Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli and includes statues of Osiris-Apis and Osiris-Antinous
The Sala Rotunda or the Round Hall is a gallery in the Pio-Clementine Museum. It is known to be inspired by the Pantheon and is a circular hall that contains niches for the display of huge statues. The hall itself was built in 1779 based on the design of Michelangelo and contains a breathtaking mosaic floor which contains mosaics from the 3rd Century AD. The centre of the room is occupied by a large red porphyry basin that must have been a part of a public arena of ancient Rome.