12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Vatican

Since 1929, when the pope reached a deal with Mussolini, the Vatican has been an independent state, the world’s smallest at just 0.44 square kilometers. But within its walls are enough attractions to keep tourists busy for several days, so it’s important to prioritize your sights. The two must-see sights are St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, but the Vatican Palace contains beautiful rooms decorated by the greatest artists of their time, as well as priceless collections in more than a dozen museums. In addition to the major museums, smaller collections will appeal to specialized interests: the Museum of Secular Art’s ancient sculpture, the Museum of Sacred Art’s finds of catacombs and early Christian churches, the Map Gallery,

1 St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica
 

The centerpiece of the Vatican, the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica was built between the 16th and 18th centuries, replacing earlier buildings begun in 326 on what is believed to be where St. Peter was buried. Ironically, it was the sale of indulgences to finance this building in the 16th century that led Martin Luther to begin the Protestant Reformation. The work of famous artists begins before you enter the church: the portico features an equestrian statue of Constantine by Bernini and fragments of a mosaic by Giotto above the large doorway. It comes from the old church, just like the double bronze doors. The massive nave – 185 meters long and 46 meters high – rises to a dome 119 meters above and can accommodate a congregation of more than 60,000. Compare it with the dimensions of other large churches marked in the floor. To your right, Michelangelo is famousPietà sculpted when he was only 24, sits behind reinforced glass. Also on the right is the richly decorated Chapel of the Sacrament , with Bernini’s tabernacle and his rival Borromini’s bronze grille.

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Michelangelo’s dome is held on four huge pentagonal piers, and below that, beneath Bernini’s beautiful baroque bronze baldacchino (canopy), is the papal altar. Below is the tomb of St. Peter. The bronze throne in the apse, flanked by papal tombs, is also by Bernini. Tombs of more popes are in the right aisle. At the Baptistery are the stairs (an elevator is outside at the Gregorian Chapel) to the roof, from where you can climb 330 steep steps in the dome to the lantern for a look at the structure of the dome and a beautiful view over St. Peter’s Square . Below the church is the crypt, with more papal tombs and an excavated cemetery, which about 250 people can visit per day on a guided tour.

Address: St. Peter’s Square, Rome

Official site: https://mv.vatican.va

2 Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
 

Built by Pope Sixtus IV in 1473-84, the Sistine Chapel is a rectangular hall that is the Pope’s domestic chapel, also used for services and special occasions. After the death of a pope, the conclave is held here to choose his successor. Recognized as the pinnacle of Renaissance painting, the frescoes by Michelangelo and others that cover the walls and ceiling were extensively restored from 1980 to 1994, removing layers of candle soot, dust, varnish, grease and overpaint to restore their original luminous colors. to reveal. The side walls are covered with large frescoes of biblical scenes against the backdrop of the Umbrian and Tuscan landscape, painted for Sixtus IV by the most celebrated painters of the day – Perugino, Botticelli, Rosselli, Pinturicchio, Signorelli and Ghirlandaio. These paintings from the late 15th century already reflect the ideas of humanism, recognizing people as individuals and important in the historical process. The left wall shows Old Testament scenes, the right wall the New Testament scenes.

The frescoes on the ceiling were painted by Michelangelo, almost entirely unaided by assistants, during the reign of Pope Julius II, between 1508 and 1512. Michelangelo’s ambitious idea was to depict creation as described in Genesis, beginning with God separating light from darkness, creating the sun and moon, separating land from sea, and creating Adam and Eve, and continuing the story of Noah. At the bottom of the vaults are colossal figures of the prophets and sibis. Michelangelo began work on the large fresco on the altar wall in 1534, depicting the last scene in the world’s story, the Last Judgment. Its dramatic presentation and artistic finesse rank it as one of the greatest achievements of European painting.

3 Pinacoteca (image gallery)

Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) xiquinhosilva / photo modified
Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) xiquinhosilva / photo modified
 

Although it was robbed of many of its treasures by Napoleon, the Pinacoteca contains 16 rooms of priceless art from the Middle Ages to contemporary works. The photos are arranged in chronological order and provide an excellent overview of the development of Western painting. Medieval art includes Byzantine, Sienese, Umbrian and Tuscan paintings, as well as a Giotto triptych and a Madonna and St. Nicholas of Bari by Fra Angelico. There is a triptych by Filippo Lippi, Coronation of the Virgin by Pinturicchio, and a Madonna by Perugino. One room is devoted to tapestries from cartoons by Raphael; his Madonna of Foligno; and his last painting, the famous 1517Transfiguration . Portraits include da Vinci’s unfinished St. Jerome , a Titian Madonna and Caravaggio’s Entombment .

4 Raphael Rooms

Raphael Rooms xiquinhosilva / photo modified
Raphael Rooms xiquinhosilva / photo modified
 

These rooms, commissioned by the art-loving Pope Julius II and after him by Pope Leo X, are covered in a stunning series of frescoes by Raphael. In rediscovering the traditions of historical painting, Raphael started an art tradition that would be followed for centuries. In each of the scenes, he employs a classical symmetry in composition, placing the characters in perspective around a central focal point. The Stanza della Segnatura and the Stanza di Eliodoro were both painted by Raphael himself; the Stanza dell’Incendio di Borgo was done by his students under his supervision, and the ceiling by Perugino; the Stanza di Constantino was painted after Raphael’s death by Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni. Frescoes in the second room, Sala della Segnatura,Sistine Chapel , represent the supreme achievement of Renaissance painting. The paintings convey the culture of the period in all its splendor and show humanistic themes – the natural sciences that can be achieved without divine revelation, philosophy, history, mathematics, civil law and justice.

5 Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square)

Piazza San Pietro (Saint Peter's Square)
Piazza San Pietro (Saint Peter’s Square)
 

The large Piazza San Pietro in front of St. Peter’s Basilica was built by Bernini between 1656 and 1667 to provide an environment for the faithful from all over the world to gather. It still serves that purpose admirably and has been fulfilled every Easter Sunday and other important occasions. The large oval area, 372 meters long, is enclosed at each end by semicircular colonnades surmounted by a balustrade with 140 statues of saints. There are fountains on either side of the oval and in the center is a 25.5 meter Egyptian obeliskbrought by Caligula from Heliopolis in AD 39. and set up in his circus. It was moved here in 1586, no small task at the time as the monument weighs 350 tons. The focal point, however, is the basilica’s façade, from whose central balcony the pope gives his blessings and announces atonements and sacrileges. From here, the senior member of the College of Cardinals announces the name of a new Pope elected by the conclave.

6 Pio Clementino Museum

Museo Pio Clementino David McSpadden / photo modified
Museo Pio Clementino David McSpadden / photo modified
 

The Vatican Museums have the largest collection of ancient statuary in the world, found mainly in Rome and the surrounding areas, most of which are displayed in the systematic arrangement designed by Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI from 1769 to 1799. These galleries contain such’ A wealth of beautiful and important pieces that even a list of highlights is long. In the Sala, a Croce Greca is missing the red porphyry sarcophagi of Constantine’s daughter Constantia and his mother St. Helen, both richly decorated with figures and symbols. In the Sala delle Muse look for Belvedere Torso, a first century BC work by Apollonius of Athens that was admired by Michelangelo. In the Gabinetto delle Maschere is a mosaic floor of theatrical masks from the Villa Adriana in Tivoli. In the Cortile del Belvedere is one of the most famous statues in the Vatican – the Apollo Belvedere. In the Galleria delle Statue, keep an eye out for the Candelabri Barberini, the most beautiful old candelabra in existence, also from the Villa Adriana in Tivoli. Galleria dei Busti contains, along with lunette frescoes by Pinturicchio, the famous Laocoön group, a masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture that shows the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons in mortal combat with two enormous serpents.

7 Borgia Apartment

Appartamento Borgia Herb Neufeld / photo modified
Appartamento Borgia Herb Neufeld / photo modified
 

Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia, had built a private residence for himself and his family in the Vatican Palace and commissioned Pinturicchio to decorate its walls and ceilings. Between 1492 and 1495, the painter and his assistants painted a series of scenes combining Christian subjects with humanistic themes from antiquity and the Renaissance. The first room shows prophets and Sibyls; the second, the Creed, with prophets and apostles. The third room is decorated with allegories of the seven liberal arts; and the fourth, with legends of saints. Scenes from the New Testament occupy the fifth.

8 Niccolline Chapel

Cappella Niccolina FotoGuy 49057 / photo modified
Cappella Niccolina FotoGuy 49057 / photo modified
 

It’s easy to miss this gem as you exit the Raphael Rooms and go through the Sala dei Chiaroscuro, where your attention will be drawn to the wooden ceiling. But in the corner is a small door to Nicholas V’s Chapel , completely lined with frescoes by the early Renaissance Florentine monk, Fra Beato Angelico. The subjects of the frescoes are the life and martyrdom of St Stephen and St Lawrence, and as with Fra Angelico’s work, these paintings speak of a deceptive simplicity, gentleness and devotion that almost convey the genius of this talented artist. sees the head.

9 Etruscan Museum

Etruscan Museum xiquinhosilva / photo modified
Etruscan Museum xiquinhosilva / photo modified
 

Founded by Pope Gregory XVI in the mid-19th century, the Etruscan Museum has 18 rooms of artifacts that shed new light on the life of the Etruscans and their idea of ​​the afterlife. Among the finds of the Etruscan tombs excavated throughout Tuscany are not only funerary items, but also works of art and objects from the daily life of these enigmatic people. Particularly noteworthy are the grave goods found in the tomb of Regolini-Galassi at Cerveteri, the March of Todi, a head of Athena, and a number of very fine Etruscan vases.

10 Vatican Library

Vatican Library xiquinhosilva / photo modified
Vatican Library xiquinhosilva / photo modified
 

The value of its contents makes the Vatican Library the richest in the world, with 7,000 incunabula (printed before 1501), 25,000 medieval handwritten books, and 80,000 manuscripts collected since the library’s founding in 1450. And that’s just the ancient books ; it does not count all the books it contains that have been printed since the late 15th century. In the 70-meter hall, built by Domenico Fontana, you can admire some of its most precious treasures – beautiful hand-lit Gospels, biblical codices, ancient printed books, parchment manuscripts and ancient scrolls and papyri. The library also has a recently expanded collection of papal coins and medals.

11 Egyptian Museum

Egyptian Museum CK Golf Solutions / Personalized
Egyptian Museum CK Golf Solutions / Personalized
 

The Egyptian Museum in the Cortile della Pigna was re-established in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI, the first collection previously collected by Pius VIII. Much of the collection was brought from the Villa Adriana in Tivoli, where they had been collected by Emperor Hadrian. Complementing Hadrian’s collections are artifacts collected by 19th-century collectors. The compilation here isn’t huge, but the nine rooms display some fine examples of Egyptian art from the third millennium to the sixth century BC. Highlights include basalt and wooden sarcophagi, statues of gods and pharaohs, bronze statues, mummified heads, stelae with hieroglyphic inscriptions, statues of gods and animals, and papyri. In the last two rooms you will find art from ancient Mesopotamia,

12 Chiaramonti Museum

Museo Chiaramonti Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
Museo Chiaramonti Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
 

Founded by Pope Pius VII in the early 19th century, the Museo Chiaramonti is housed in a long gallery leading to the Papal Palace and in the Braccio Nuovo. The museum focuses on works of Greek and Roman art and contains a number of Roman copies of earlier works by some of the most famous Greek sculptors, the only file of them that survives. Among the highlights of the thousand-odd sculptures, friezes and reliefs are the Augustus of Prima Porta, a statue of the emperor found in his wife Livia’s villa; a statue of the god of the Nile; and Speer Carrier , a copy of Polycletus’ work. In the Sala della Biga, at the entrance, there are two discus throwers, copies of works from the fifth century BC. A 1st century miller’s funerary monument was found in Ostia, and two beautiful gilded bronze peacocks are believed to have come from Hadrian’s Mausoleum.

We recommend these convenient hotels within walking distance of the Vatican City:

  • Hotel della Conciliazione 4-star hotel, pedestrian street, nice lobby, well-appointed rooms, free breakfast.
  • Vatican View: boutique hotel right in the center, fantastic location, beautiful views, stylish rooms, luxurious bathrooms with rain showers.
  • Caesar Palace: budget bed-and-breakfast, warm hospitality, elegant decor, large rooms, continental breakfast with cappuccino.
  • Adriatic Hotel: budget hotel, short walk to Vatican City, near restaurants and supermarket, nice roof garden.

Read also:

10 Highly Rated Museums and Palaces in Rome

11 top-notch day trips from Rome

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