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Published August 14th 2012
Did you know that the Popes were avid collectors of art?
I've been to Rome several times and can't get enough of the Eternal City, but I was several visits in before I visited the Vatican Museums. It's widely known that the Roman Catholic Church possesses tremendous riches, many of which can be seen in St Peter's Basilica. However a short walk round to the Museums is a mouth-gaping experience for lovers of art.
The Papal collections began with sculptures amassed by Pope Julius II between 1503 and 1513. The patronage continued under various popes throughout the centuries, culminating with the Vatican Historical Museum that was inaugurated in 1973 which was later transferred to the Papal Apartment in the Lateran Palace in 1987. To commemorate the Millennium a new entrance was opened in 2000. Even the ramp is a work of art, whether you are climbing it, or admiring it.
Vatican Museum Ramp
The Monumental Ramp (picture courtesy of the website)
A visit to the Museums can take in as much as an entire day. It really depends on how long you want to stay and what you want to see. You also need to take account of the queuing factor, which can be anything up to two hours. If you visit during the summer don't forget to take cold drinks and a hat and make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Sections of the Vatican Museums (picture courtesy of the website)
You can explore at your leisure, or there are options for guided and educational visits, such as pilgrimages, art and faith and educational. There are also signed tours for the deaf (in Italian sign language) and tactile tours for those with visual impairments.
Among the many galleries exhibiting their treasures are the Gallery of Tapestries (containing 15th to 17th century tapestries), and the Gallery of Maps, a fascinating collection illustrating exactly how much more we now know about the rest of the world.
My favourite part of the Museum is the Pinacoteca (created by Pius XI between 1922 and 1932). There are 460 paintings on view, including masterpieces from Caravaggio, Titian, Leonardo, Raphael, Veronese and Giotto.
It's not restricted to Renaissance art and spans the 12th to the 19th centuries. Arguably the most famous section of the Museums is the Sistine Chapel. In our rush to get there we took the short route and managed to miss the Raphael rooms. We had to backtrack and managed to get there just before closing time.
Obviously the Sistine Chapel is the most famous part of the galleries. Be warned: the queues are long once you're there; you are regimented in, through and out, are not allowed to make much noise and can't spend more than a few minutes gawping at the wall and ceiling frescoes with all the other tourists. Although photography is permitted everywhere else, it is prohibited in the Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel (picture courtesy of the website)
When in Rome (as they say) please make a point of visiting the Vatican Museums. If you can't make it many of the collections are online and can be viewed via the website.