All Roads Lead To Roma

The Vaticanand Environs


Best Wishes are extended to former
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
of Buenos Aires, Argentina
on becoming the
266th Pope on
13 March 2013

Pope Francis I


In the Links section of my website, there are links to other sites that have vast amounts of information and photos on the Vatican, so I will only touch on some of the treasures of this beautiful place here.  When you view pictures on this site designated by a camera icon, be sure to hit your "back" button to return to this page.

I have created a List of Popes with a link to another website with incredibly detailed information on each pope.  My list shows the name of the pontiff, the dates of the pontificate, his real/given name, birthplace, date of birth, and date of death (if known).  There have been 265 pontiffs since the first pope (St. Peter) in 32 A.D.

In Memoriam:  John Paul II.

NOTE:  Pope John Paul II and Blessed Pope John XXIII will be canonized as saints in a ceremony at St. Peter's Square and Basilica in Vatican City on April 27, 2014.  This will be the first time that two popes have been elevated to sainthood at the same time and also the first time that any person has been elevated to sainthood in such a short time after their death, which means Pope John Paul II will be elevated to sainthood just nine years after his death.

DRESS CODE NOTICE: Please be aware that there are monitors outside St. Peter's, which has a very strict dress code:  no skirts above the knee, no shorts, no bare shoulders (i.e., tanktops or sleeveless blouses), and you must wear shoes.  You will not be permitted inside the basilica unless you are dressed appropriately.  Slacks, however, are permitted. Appropriate Dress is a MUST!  If you are out sightseeing in shorts, miniskirts, tanktops, sleeveless blouses, etc., and wish to enter a church, you must be dressed appropriately (check my Dress - Etiquette section of the General Information page).  People who monitor visitors in churches have the right to refuse entrance if in their opinion the visitor is dressed inappropriate to enter.  One way to get around this is to carry long pants and a shirt/blouse with sleeves in a bag or backpack so that when you wish to enter a church, you can slip these garments on over your inappropriate attire before you enter.  Strict dress codes are especially adhered to at St. Peter's, so I wouldn't even try to enter wearing short skirts, shorts, or sleeveless tops.  You will be refused entrance.  I must say that the last time I was at St. Peter's, however, and this was in March 2002, I saw people going inside the Basilica in nice jeans.  Again, no shorts, or sleeveless tops, but quite a few were wearing jeans.

While inside the basilica, you must be silent and keep any children with you at all times.  Even though this is out of respect because St. Peter's is, after all, a church, you will hear a low hum of indistinguishable voices.  You cannot take pictures inside the basilica, though, I have seen people do so, with flashes, as well as videotape.  Flashes damage the paintings.  For souvenir pictures, it is best to purchase souvenir postcards.

NEW SMOKING REGULATIONS: I understand that the Vatican has now banned smoking anywhere on Vatican soil.  I presume this includes smoking in St. Peter's Square and under the Bernini Colonnades.  If you are caught, you will receive a Papal fine equivalent to $30US.  So, if you smoke, I would heavily advise you to smoke outside Vatican territory.

Correspondence to His Holiness.  In writing to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI or to any of the various Holy See agencies, you need to use the following address unless otherwise indicated under separate headings: Via del Pellegrino, 00120 Citta del Vaticano, ITALIA.  With the hundreds of thousands of letters and emails the Holy Father receives, The Holy Father's schedule does not permit him to personally answer most of them; however, if you wish to send Pope Benedict XVI a greeting, he would be most happy to receive it.  His email address is  Please do not send your letters or email requests to me because I am unable to forward them on to the Vatican.  You can write directly at the address listed above.

St. Peter's Square (Piazza di San Pietro).  Laid out in front of St. Peter's Basilica and over a portion of the Necropolis ("City of the Dead"), this piazza is perhaps one of the most recognizable squares in all of Rome.  Along each side are Bernini's breathtaking semi-circular colonnades that give one the feeling that the Basilica is extending its arms outward to envelop the visitor to the church.  On top of the colonnades are 140 marble statues of saints looking down upon the piazza.  There are twin fountains midway between Piazza Pius XII and the Basilica's stairs on either side, one by Maderno erected in 1614, and the other was built later to match it.  In the middle of the piazza is a gigantic Egyptian obelisk, originally erected in Heliopolis by King Nuncores and moved to Rome by Emperor Caligula (34-41 A.D.) and set up in the dividing island of his circus in the Vatican Meadows.  This circus was later renamed Nero's Circus.  As you are facing the Basilica, this former Meadows is to the left of the Basilica, past the left colonnade where Paul VI Hall now stands and where St. Peter was crucified upside down.  As with all obelisks erected in Rome's squares, it is crowed with a bronze cross.  This particular obelisk is different than the others in Rome in that within the bronze cross is contained a sliver of the True Cross (Cross of Christ brought back to Rome from Jerusalem by St. Helena).  In 1586, Pope Sixtus V moved the obelisk to its present site in the center of the piazza some 100 meters from its original place.

Vatican City is a sovereign country in and of itself, is the smallest nation in the world, and encompasses some 108 acres (about 440,000 square meters) and is completely surrounded by Rome.  It includes St. Peter's Basilica (the largest church on earth at over six acres) and the Vatican Museums with over 4-1/2 miles of corridors.

St. Peter's Basilica, Piazza St. Pietro. Basilica open 7a-7p (Oct.-Mar. 6p).   Vatican Grottoes open 7a-6p (Oct.-Mar. 5p). Dome open 7a-7p (Oct.-Mar. 6p). There is an admission charge to the Treasury and Dome.  The Vatican Treasury is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (April-September) and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m October-March).  The entrance is on the left nave of the Basilica.  You can enter up to 30 minutes prior to closing (see my floor plan map under St. Peter's Floor Plan on the Locator Maps page on this website).  St. Peter's Dome is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (April-September) and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (October-March).  You can walk the entire route or take an elevator (Admission charge) to the Basilica's roof (Admission charge for the stairs) and walk from there to the top of the dome.  Again, see my St. Peter's Floor Plan for exact point of entrance to the lifts.

S. Pietro in Vaticano is the most imposing basilica of all Christianity, and it is the heart of the Catholic world.  One certainly does not have to be Catholic to enjoy this breathtaking basilica.  St. Peter's is built over the tomb of St. Peter, and was erected by Constantine shortly after 320 A.D.  Fearing it would collapse, Nicholas V commissioned B. Rossellino to rebuild it in 1452.  But, the construction was not begun until 1506 under Julius II to a Bramante design, who intended to "raise the Pantheon above the Basilica of Maxentius".  After him, the works were directed alternately by Giuliano da Sangallo, Raphael, B. Peruzzi and A. da Sangallo the Younger, until Michelangelo took over in 1546 and gave the unmistakable imprint of his genius to this awesome building.  He built the building in the form of a Greek cross surmounted by the majestic famed cupola.  On his death in 1564, the work, already well advanced, was continued by Pierro Ligorio, Vignola, Giacomo della Porta, and D. Fontana.  At the wish of Paul V, C. Maderno later transformed the shape from that of a Greek cross to that of a Latin cross, which lengthened the front wing and added the facade.  On November 18, 1626, Urban VIII consecrated the new basilica.

The face, preceded by a wide flight of steps in three tiers, with the huge statues of St. Peter and St. Paul at the sides, is gigantic (125 yards long by 50 yards high) with eight colossal columns and four pilasters supporting the trabeation crowned by a balustraded attic, above which the statues of Christ, the Baptist, and the Apostles (except St. Peter) of the Bernini school, and two clocks, stand out.

There are five entrances to the Atrium, its roof decorated with exquisite stuccoes.  Above the middle doorway is a small ship mosaic, "Navicella", by Giotto; it has almost entirely been redone.  The statue of Charlemagne by A. Cornacchini (18th century) makes a background to the left arcade, while in the right arcade is the statue of Constantine by Bernini in 1670.  The five doors give access to the Basilica:  the central one has bronze panels by Filarete (1433-45); the last on the right is the Holy Door which is only opened in jubilee years (the next one is 2000); the last door on the left (Door of Death) is the work of G. Manzu in 1964; the door on the right of the main door (of the Sacraments) is by V. Crocetti (1965), and that on the left is by L. Minguzzi in 1975.

Inside the Basilica

When you first view the interior, the vastness gives an impression of coldness, yet its beauty is almost indescribable.  It's area statistics are:  18,131 square yards, 608 feet in length; the length of the transept is 450 feet; height of the cupola is 435 feet and its diameter is 139 feet; on the floor of the Central Nave, marks show the approximate lengths of other large churches.  To get the full view of the massiveness, you need to stand in the crossing.  To give you a feel for its massiveness, looking up into the Dome from the Nave, it is as long as a football field standing on end.

Michelangelo's Dome is supported by four pilasters, each with niches that contain impressive statues of Saints Andrew, Longinus, Veronica, and Helena.  Each of these pilasters also contain important relics; namely, the head of St. Andrew, the Holy Lance that was used to pierce the side of Christ (found near the True Cross by St. Helena), the veil of St. Veronica, and a piece of the True Cross brought to Rome by St. Helena.  Around the Dome are the gigantic words "Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum", which translates to "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and I will give you the keys of the kingdom to Heaven".

Central Nave.  The first three arcades correspond to the lengthening carried out by Maderno.  Between the pilasters supporting the cornice above which the arched vault curves, are niches containing statues of founders of religious orders.  At the last pilaster on the right is the bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 13th century.  One passes under the shining Cupola (one of the largest and most majestic architectural works of all time -- see camera icon below), it rises above a high tambour supported on colossal pillars.  The vault, divide into 16 ribs is adorned by mosaics designed by G. Cesari.  In the pillars are niches containing loggias by Bernini, including the statue of St. Longinus (by Bernini).  The other three statues there were supervised by Bernini.  In the frieze of the trabeation (and of the tambour) is a Latin inscription which continues that in Greek of the apse (the letters are six feet high).  St. Peter's is 187m long, 58m wide across the aisles and nave and 140m wide at the transcept; the nave's maximum height is 46m (which is as tall as a 15-story building!).

The Papal altar, under the celebrated Canopy by Bernini (1633) was made of bronze taken from the Pantheon.  Maderno's magnificent Chapel of the Confession is in front of the altar; 96 lamps burn night and day before the "Tomb of St. Peter".  The magnificent statue of Pius VI at prayer, by Canova, can be seen in the Grottoes, facing the Confessio.  NOTE:  A tour of the Necropolis ("City of the Dead") below the Vatican is a 'must see'.  From the entrance, you follow through the streets of the cemetery up Vatican Hill to St. Peter's tomb and end up underneath the present Vatican in the Sacred Grottoes, where you view the tomb from beneath the Vatican floor.  In the Basilica, you view the tomb from above the Vatican floor.  Incredible!

Right Aisle - Intricate mosaic pictures (you would swear were oils), taken from paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries adorn the altars of the aisles and transepts.  Numerous tombs of Popes line the walls, some in glass.  In the first chapel, at the altar, is the celebrated Pieta, a youthful work by Michelangelo in 1499.  After a vandal defaced a portion of the Pieta (he, Laszlo Toth broke the nose off the Virgin Mary with the entire left arm at the elbow on May 21, 1972), the sculpture was put behind bulletproof glass for protection.  The Chapel of the Relics contains a precious Medieval wooden Crucifix by Cavallini (13th century).  Also, the Pieta is the only work that is signed by Michelangelo.  His signature is on the breast band that goes over Mary's shoulder.

The Chapel of the Sacrament (the third) is closed by a  wrought iron gate by a Borromini and has a great gilded bronze ciborium by Bernini on the altar.  This chapel is strictly for those who wish to pray, so reverence and silence is enforced.  On the right (r. transept) in the passage after the curve of the apse is the beautiful monument to Clement XIII, a masterpiece of Canova (1788-92).  Apse or Tribune:  At the end, surrounded by a great glory of gilded stucco and supported by statues of four Doctors of the Church, is the Chair of St. Peter (see picture below), the bronze statue is by Bernini (1656).  On either side are the very beautiful monument to Urban VIII by Bernini (right); and the monument to Paul III on the left by Guglielmo della Porta.  Proceeding to the left, the altar of St. Leo Magno, with a great marble altarpiece (St. Leo Meeting Attila) by A. Algardi (1646).  In front of the left aisle, the Colonna Chapel, with a column from the ancient basilica, on which a picture of the Madonna is painted.  There is also Bernini's monument to Alexander VII.

Left Aisle:  Beyond the curve of the apse is the entrance to the Sacristy and the Treasure (also a must see; admission, but well worth it), and the Clementine Chapel (or of St. Gregory Magno), by Giacomo della Porta.  To the left, a monument to Pius VII by B. Thorvaldsen. Chapel of the Choir (third), used for sacred rites, is decorated with stuccoes also by Giacomo della Porta.  In the passage between the third and second chapels on the left is the fine monument to Innocence VIII, in bronze, by Pollaiolo (1498).  The altar of the Chapel of the Presentation (second) contains the remains of St. Pius X; to the right, the monument to John XXIII by E. Greco; left, the monument to Benedict XV by P. Canonica.  On the left in the nave is a monument to the Stuarts by Canova.  The first chapel contains the baptismal font, made from the cover of an ancient sarcophagus, with bronze ornamentation by C. Fontana.

Note about the paintings:  I had visited many times before I realized that some of the gigantic paintings inside the Basilica are not oil paintings but, rather, mosaic, coming from the Mosaic Factory on the Vatican Grounds.

Where is the Blessed Pope John XXIII Actually Buried?

Until recently, I presumed the body of Blessed Pope John XXIII was in the marble coffin that lies in the Vatican Grottoes bearing the pontiff's name on its side.  Back in 2001 when I was in Rome and visited St. Peter's Basilica, I noticed that a body with a wax face of Blessed Pope John XXIII had been placed in a glass sarcophagus under St. Jerome's Altar, which is located just around the corner of first major pillar that is supporting Michelangelo's Dome (number 21 on my Vatican Floor Plan; click here to see its location).  I thought it strange because I had just visited the Vatican Grottoes underneath the main floor of the Basilica and viewed and took a picture of the Blessed Pope John XXIII's Travertine marble coffin that lies in the Grottoes.

I have learned in late 2003 that, in fact, that once canonical recognition of the body of Blessed Pope John XXIII during a ceremony in early 2001, per the wishes of Pope John Paul II, the remains of the pontiff were transferred to a glass coffin under St. Jerome's Altar inside the Basilica from its original resting place in the Vatican Grottoes.  The original tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII remains in its original position in the Vatican Grottoes empty.

The reasoning for the transference, I believe, is that Vatican officials feared there would be too much congestion in the Vatican Grottoes after the canonical recognition of the Blessed Pope John XXIII due to mass pilgrimage of the faithful who gather at the beloved late pontiff's grave site, so the body was transferred to the main floor of the Basilica.  Since it has been transferred to its new resting place under St. Jerome's Altar, there are pews for visitors to gather and meditate, contemplate, and reflect.  The Blessed Pope John XXIII died on June 3, 1963 after a pontifical reign of five years.  The canonical recognition of the body of the Blessed Pope John XXIII was held January 16, 2001 in St. Peter's Square.  So, the mystery is solved.  The original tomb remains empty in the Vatican Grottoes where the pontiff had originally been buried while his body is on public view in a glass coffin on the main floor of the Basilica.  I have never been able to find out the real reason why the empty tomb bearing the pontiff's name remains in the Vatican Grottoes.

Visiting the Cupola (Dome)

My first visit in 1988 prompted me to climb 537 steps to the top of the dome of St. Peter's, well worth the trip though, the higher you go, the steeper the steps and the more curved the inside wall of the dome.  See some of my pictures below taken from the top of the dome.  There is an entrance fee and a lift to the terrace (roof) over the nave; access from the left aisle (8 a.m.-4:45 p.m. (6:15 p.m. in summer)).  From the terrace roof of the basilica, a magnificent view can be seen of the immense, graceful dome, which dominates the whole complex from the top of its 302 feet; the two side domes, added by Vignola, are purely decorative.  There is a spectacular view of St. Peter's Square from behind the statues that line the top of the facade of the Vatican.  There is a small souvenir shop atop the terrace that sells religious items.  Climbing still higher, one reaches the first railing (174 feet up), then to the second railing (240 feet up).  From both, an impressive view of the interior of the church.  Higher still, from the loggia (I am told it is 323 steps from the base of the drum to the top, not counting the few steps out on the roof to get to the drum), a superb view over the city.  Admission charge for both the elevator to roof and the stairs.

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.  (Viale Vaticano; see my locator map on how to get to the entrance to the Vatican Museums from St. Peter's Square, which is quite a walk around the Vatican wall); tel. 06/698.849.47, there is an admission charge, but the Museums are free the last Sunday of the each month.  Hours:  High season (mid-March to late October, Mon.-Fri. and last Sunday of the month, 10:00 a.m.-4:45 p.m.; Sat. 10:00 a.m.-1:45 p.m.  During the off-season, Mon.-Sat. 10:00 a.m.-1:45 p.m.  Except for Easter week, the museums are closed all religious and national holidays and the first three Sundays of each month.  See next paragraph for important update information about gaining access to the museums.  The Museums are wheelchair-accessible with special routes available.  Note that inappropriate attire is not allowed and you will be turned away.  No bare knees or shoulders (see Dress on my General Information page).  When I was there in October 2001, due to the high security resulting from both the Jubilee Year preparations and the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11th, entrance to the Museums are now through a different door (to the left of the original entrance).  The original entrance to the Museums and the spiral ramp are used for the exit from the Museums now.

Times are changing.  The Vatican has recently released information that it has initiated a new policy to better manage the ever-increasing crowds of people wanting to visit the Vatican Museums.  According to the article published in the February 22, 2007 issue of The New York Times, as of January 2007, under the new rules, only Vatican-approved tour groups with advanced reservations will still be able to get in at 8:45 a.m., which has been the normal hours the doors have opened for a number of years.  Their reason for that is that tour groups are easier to manage than the general public.  For at least the remainder of 2007, I further understand that individual visitors must wait until 10:00 a.m. to gain entrance into the museums.  These changes affect only the Vatican Museums and does not affect entrance to the Basilica of St. Peter, which is a totally separate entity.  The Vatican officials are indicating that the shorter hours are part of a plan to better manage overcrowding by phasing in a mandatory reservation system over the next year for all visitors, whether they are part of a tour group or are visiting individually.  I also understand from the article that as of January 2008, all visitors will require advanced reservations.  At this point in time, I do not know whether this will be available through an on-line advanced reservations system directly through the museum's web site (such as what the Uffizi Gallery in Florence did several years ago), whether one will have to write directly to the museums in advance for reservations, or whether the museums are going to be using an on-line booking service to provide advanced reservations.  I am sure as time goes by there will be more information about this.  I will post whatever I find out when I hear of anything further.  In the meantime, I have changed the entrance times above to 10:00 a.m. to be consistent with the Holy See's official notification that I read in the article.  I just happened to stumble on the article about what is happening in the Travel section or I would not have known either.

If you only visit one museum during your stay in Rome, this is clearly my choice.  I would still try to go early because the lines waiting to get in wrap around the Vatican City wall sometimes as far back as St. Peter's Square and will probably only worsen until they get this new system in place and running smoothly.  If you visit individually and are not part of a Vatican-approved tour group that can still enter at 8:45 a.m., through the remainder of 2007, as I read in the article, individual visitors cannot gain entrance until 10:00 a.m.

Several sources have indicated that visiting the museums around lunchtime avoids the long lines, but with this new system, I cannot vouch for that.  Except for the last time that I visited the museums, which was back in October 2001 where I was in line about one-half hour before its scheduled opening and only stood in line for about 20 minutes (I am sure this was because of the lack of tourists after the September 11th attack against the U.S.), I have stood in long lines waiting to get into the museums on various visits for well over an hour and sometimes two.  It just depended on the day, time of year, weather, etc.

I would imagine that during this transition period, lines will be much longer and wait times will probably increase.  I personally foresee a potential nightmare until it is all in place and smoothed out.  Again, when and if I hear of any new information, I will post it.  You might also want to check the museums' web site periodically for any more information on visiting but I do not know how often they update their web site.  There is a link to it on my Links page.  As of February 22, 2007, they have not changed the hours on their site to reflect what was reported in The New York Times.  I don't know how this will all play out but can only hope that it works as well as when the Uffizi went to an advanced reservation system.  Though the lines for the Uffizi used to be really long, it has never compared to the lines for the Vatican Museums.  Even so, I personally think any wait is worth the trouble because the vast collections contained within the Vatican Museums are well worth the time.

Upon exiting the Museums, you can wait for one of several elevators to take you downstairs, or take the marvelous Spiral Ramp (Giuseppe Momo; 1932), a great photo opportunity from atop the staircase.  If you have no mobility problems, you may want to opt for the staircase because you may have quite a long wait for an elevator, even though there are several.  The staircase is unique in that if you are going up, it is one-way, and if you are coming down, it is one-way; but looking at it from atop the staircase, you cannot tell there are really two separate one-way staircases.  Awesome!

I have added the floor plan to the vast Vatican Museums on my Locator Maps page.  It only shows the location of all the rooms, museums, and courtyards.  It does not show the routes of each of the different tour options.

After purchasing your ticket, you will go through the turnstile and be confronted with four tour options (A, B, C, or D) which are color-coded lines on the floor, with a huge schematic poster showing what each takes you to.  Each color represents a different route with a different time frame ranging from 1-1/2 to about 5 hours to complete.  Each ends up at the Sistine Chapel.  I, for one, took the longest one (D, which is yellow I believe) and walked past those areas I was not interested in and lingered longer in those areas that were of interest to me, because I didn't want to miss anything.  The supposed five-hour trek was completed well under 3-1/2 hours, and I was able to view everything I wanted to see leisurely.  But, it depends on the crowds; be prepared to spent a half-day there just in case, so you won't be disappointed.

Also at the beginning of your tour, you can opt for a self-guided tour with the traditional museum audio tape and headset if you desire, but that takes longer.  VERY IMPORTANT SUGGESTION:  I highly recommend you purchase a copy of the museums guide before starting your tour through the vastness of the museums.  It is truly overwhelming and there are too many things of interest to see for me to even try to start listing here.  Be prepared because there is an overabundance of artifacts, many not labeled.  If you don't get a guide, you will miss out on thousands of artifacts that I could not possibly begin to list within these pages.  Not only that, it makes for a wonderful addition to your home library.  I will note those things that really impressed me, though.  There is also a very nice souvenir shop in the Courtyard of the Pinecone where the "strange-looking bronze sphere is located, too (see below).

  So, what's with the gold ball in the courtyard!  I have gotten many e-mails wanting to know what the unusual sculpture is that is the centerpiece of the Courtyard of the Pinecone at the Vatican Museums.  This bronze sculpture is called Sphere Within Sphere (Sfera Con Sfera) and it measures four meters in diameter.  It was created by artist Arnaldo Pomodoro in 1990 for the Vatican Museums.  Pomodoro's specialty is the casting of gigantic columns and/or globes.  In this magnificent sculpture, the fractured surface of the outer sphere reveals a very complex inner sphere that represents the harsh difficulties that the modern world finds itself in at the end of the second millennium.  One needs to view this masterpiece from every angle.  Many people want to have their picture taken beside it, so be prepared to stand for a while before getting a picture of it in the way you wish to.

On the right, you will enter the Missionary-Ethnological and History Museums, and straight ahead after a corridor, you will find the Courtyard of the Armor.  The vestibule overlooks the Courtyard of the Pigna (pine cone), which is in front of the apse by Bramante.  From this point, you come upon the Atrium of the Four Gates.  To the left are the Sculpture Museums and to the right is the Library.  I have put together a floor plan of the Museums and it is located on my Locator Maps page.

Egyptian Museum.  This museum was created under Pope Gregory XVI in 1839 and contains nine rooms, including The Hemicycle Terrace.  These rooms house mummies, sarcophagi, and various items of everyday life in ancient Egypt.  Of note:  In Room III, most of the statues come from Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli.  In Room IV is an ancient  Statue of the Priest Udja-Hor-res-ne dating from 525 B.C.  In Room V, there are three exquisite pink granite statues plus the colossal Statue of Queen Tuia, mother of Ramses II of the 13th century B.C.

Chiaramonti Museum.  This gallery of sculptures is named after its creator, Pope Pius VII (1800-23) whose family name was Chiaramonti.  It has two wings designed by Bramante that connect the pontifical palace with the Belvedere Pavilion of Innocent VIII, which encloses the huge Belvedere Courtyard, also by Bramante.  The Courtyard has three parts:  Cortile del Belvedere, Cortile della Biblioteca (Courtyard of the Library), and, to the north, Cortile delle Pigna (Courtyard of the Pine Cone, or Fir-cone).  There are 59 sections to this museum, all with Roman numerals, even numbers are on the right, odd on the left.  Of special interest to me was in Section XXXI, from the 1st century A.D., a relief of The Three Muses, among a vast number of other artifacts.

It also contains the Lapidary Gallery (which houses a multitude of pagan and Christian inscriptions, sarcophagi, and the like), and The New Wing, which houses many ancient sculptures.  One piece that stands out above all the rest in my mind is a marble statue of Augustus of Prima Porta, which was found in Livia's villa at Gallinas Albas on the via Flaminia in 1863.  What stands out in the hemicycle is the gigantic Statue of the Nile, which was found in 1513 near St. Maria sopra Minerva on the site of the Temple of Isis.

Museums of Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI (Museo Pio-Clementino).  Started by Pope Clement XIV (1769-74) and completed by Pius VI (1775-99), this vast museum contains:  the Apoxyomenos Cabinet; the Casali altar; and the Vestibule (this is the entryway to the Bramante Staircase which is a circular staircase inside a square tower, commissioned by Julius II).  Note at the foot of the staircase is the famed Fountain of the Galley.  This can also be viewed from an upstairs balcony which overlooks the piazza and provides a great view of the skyline of Rome.  The Eight-sided Courtyard in the center houses the following cabinets (niches) with exquisite statuary:  (from the left going clockwise) the Apollo Cabinet (130-140 A.D.), part of the Tigri Fountain which Michelangelo placed here.  There are also some intricately carved sarcophagi here.  Continuing on, the Laocoon Cabinet which contains the famous marble Laocoon by Agesander, Polydorus and Athenodorus, which was found in 1506 near the Seven Chambers of the Esquiline in the Domus Aurea (in ancient Rome, it was kept in the Palace of Titus; a copy of this magnificent statue is also in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence but nothing compares to the original); the Hermes Cabinet; Canova's Cabinet; the Room of the Animals (mind-boggling that there are so many items in this room; try to look for the crab made of green porphyry, which is a very rare stone); the Gallery of Statues (originally an open loggia) and also two very fine candelabra from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli of the 2nd century A.D.; Gallery of Busts (again, too many to try and count); Cabinet of the Masks (named for the mosaics decorating the floor space which were originally in Hadrian's Villa); Room of the Muses; The Round Room which was built in 1780 by M. Simonetti that is covered by a come modeled after that of the Pantheon and a decorated floor with magnificent mosaics from Otricoli, and a gigantic porphyry basin in the center of the room, which was originally in the Curia of the Roman Forum; and the Hall of the Greek Cross, which contains the sarcophagus of St. Costantia, daughter of Constantine (350-360 A.D.), and the porphyry sarcophagus of St. Helena, mother of Constantine dating from the 4th century A.D.

Gregorian Museum of Etruscan Art.  This museum was created by Gregory XVI (1831-46) and was opened in 1837.  Among its riches is the famed Regolini-Glassi Tomb.  It also contains the Hall of the Sarcophagi, the Room of the Bronzes, the Guglielmi Room (housing the Benedetto Guglielmi collection containing objects that were found in the necropolis of Vulci), the Room of the Jewels containing various pieces of jewelry dating between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C., also from the necropolis of Vulci, and The Terracotta Room which houses various urns and funerary statuettes of different periods.

Antiquarium Romanum.  These are three very small rooms containing minor works and ancient Roman objects.  My favorite room is The Falcioni Room, which contains the Falcioni collection that was obtained by Leo XIII in 1898.  Excellent examples of artifacts made by the early Romans and Etruscans are housed here.  There is also a very fine ivory doll with limbs that move, which was originally dressed in gold material and was found in Rome near the Church of St. Sebastian in a sarcophagus which is said to be that of a young girl who died between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. that is beautiful.

Vase Collection.  This has four rooms with a Hemicycle.  The rooms are the Room of the Sun-Dial, The Astarita Room, The Room of the Italiot Vases, and Sala della Biga (which was built during the reign of Pius VI in 1775-99), and contains a first century B.C. Roman biga, and the two-horse chariot which sits in the middle of the room.  I think the most remarkable piece besides the two-horse chariot is an olpe by the Painter of the Vatican 73, displayed in Case B in the Room of the Sun-Dial, which dates back to Corinth around 630-615 B.C.

Gallery of the Candelabra.  This loggia has six sections and contains various statues and sarcophagi, including the Statue of Artemis and, from the Trajan era, two pairs of candelabra which are in Section III.

Gallery of the Tapestries.  Not one of my favorite places because I am not into tapestries; however, as tapestries go, they are exquisite.  The tapestry exhibit opened in 1814 under Pius VI.  Note especially the intricately frescoed ceilings.  Truly amazing work.  Of those tapestries that are there, I think the one I liked the best is the 1549 Flemish tapestry depicting The Death of Caesar.

Gallery of the Maps.  Again, not one of my favorite hallways, but take note of the frescoed ceilings by Cesare Nebbia and others under the direction of Girolamo Musiano.  Midway through the hallway is a small souvenir counter that you can purchase different items, and there are benches to sit down on while you gaze up at the ceiling in amazement.  You can also look out onto the Vatican Gardens from this enclosed loggia as well.  The 40 separate panels of maps are painted directly onto the walls, each pertaining to a territory, region, or island of Italy.  These were painted by Father Ignazio Danti of Perugia between 1580 and 1583.  The Stories of the Saints with the scenes generally relating to the locations on the maps, as well as Bible Stories.

Apartment of St. Pius V.  The tapestries here are by Pieter van Aelst of the mid-16th century.  The small rooms and the Chapel are frescoed by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

Sobieski Room. John III Sobieski was King of Poland and this room takes its name from the gigantic painting that takes up the entire north wall.  The painting is by Jan Matejko and shows the victory of the King over the Turks outside the walls of Vienna in 1683.

Room of the Immaculate Conception.  This room, frescoed by Francesco Podesto, is located in the Borgia Tower.

Raphael's Rooms and Loggias.  Definitely one of the highlights of the entire Vatican Museums as far as I am concerned.  It was reconstructed by Pope Nicholas V (1447-55) of the 13th century palazzo of Nicholas III (1277-80).  These four rooms were originally decorated by Bramantino, Sodoma, Perugino and Baldassarre Peruzzi in the early 16th century, but Julius II fired them all and commissioned Raphael to come in and decorate all four rooms beginning in 1509.  Unfortunately, Raphael only completed three of the four rooms before his death in 1520.  The four rooms are: Room of Constantine, Room of Heliodorus, Room of the Signature (the first to be completed), and the Room of the Fire of the Borgo (the last that Raphael completed).  In the center of one of the rooms is a beautiful carved display case with jewel-encrusted Bibles).

Loggia of Raphael.  This is the second of three arcades built one on top of the order on orders of Julius II.  Bramante started it in 1508 but Raphael completed it.  There are 52 scenes from the Old and New Testaments called The Bible of Raphel.  The Loggia is divided into 13 bays and the vault of each bay has four miniature paintings.  The paintings in the Room of the Chiaroscuros are largely by Taddeo and Federico Zuccari.  The Chapel of Fra Angelico, which adjoins the room, has very fine frescoes by Fra Angelico, commissioned by Eugene IV (1431-47).  Between 1448-50, Fra Angelico also covered the Chapel of Nicholas V as well.

Collection of Modern Religious Art.  There are 55, count them, 55, different rooms in this museum, which was opened by Pope Paul VI and contain paintings, engravings, sculptures, and the like that have been donated to the Holy See by private individuals or the artists themselves.  They start in the Borgia Apartment, which is named for the Borgia pope, Alexander VI.  Of special interest to me were the Hand of God by Rodin (Room II), Giacomo Manzu's Chapel of Peace (Room XIV), a stained-glass window by Jacques Villon representing the Crucifixion (Room XXXI), works by Max Ernst (Room XXXIX), and works by Mexican artist Diego Rivera in Room XLVII.

Sistine Chapel.  Definitely no introduction is necessary here!  Truly a masterpiece.  I was fortunate enough to see the ceiling before the 15+-year restoration started and saw it twice in between before seeing it totally completed.  From the old dull-colored ceilings and altar wall of The Last Judgment to the rich and brightly-restored frescoes you now see is awesome.  One wonders how in the world one person could do such a magnificent job back in the early 1500s.  It is said that due to the scaffolding and up-close work by Michelangelo on the ceiling, that it wrecked his eyesight for good.  Michelangelo was in his early 30s when Pope Julius commissioned him to do the ceiling which took him four years to complete (1508-12).  At the time the Sistine Chapel was commissioned, Michelangelo was busy at work on Julian II's tomb in at S. Pietro in Vincoli near the Coliseum, where the famed Moses and St. Peter's Chains are located.  He was ordered to cease working on the tomb to do the Sistine Chapel.  Michelangelo returned to doing the tomb in 1513 after the Chapel's completion.  When I first viewed the ceiling frescoes back in 1988, we were permitted to lay on our backs on the floor of the chapel and look up.  Now, you are not allowed to do that, just from the sheer number of people packed inside the Chapel at any one time.  If you are claustrophobic, be prepared for huge crowds of people inside the Chapel.  The best way to view the ceilings, if you can get one of the seats around the edges of the Chapel floor, is to bring a pair of binoculars.  It is so high up, even though it is breathtaking from afar, you miss all the intricate detail without the privilege of a closer look.  Of course, posters, postcards, and books about the Sistine Chapel are available at the bookstore, which are highly recommended.

Vatican (Apostolic) Library.  This Library was created by Nicholas V (1447-55).  Domenico Fontana built the elongated gallery and salon, which was commissioned by Sixtus V (1585-90).  Of note are:  The Room of Messages (sent to Pius IX); Chapel of St. Pius V; Room of Messages (sent to Leo XIII and Pius X); Room of the Aldobrandini Wedding; Room of the Papyri; Sacred Museums, designed by Pope Benedict XIV in 1756; the Gallery of Urban VIII, the Sistine Rooms and, finally, the Sistine Hall which were decorated by the likes of Paul Bril, Orazio Gentileschi, and others.  Of interest are porcelain vases and the candelabra used for the coronation of Napoleon I which were donated to Pius VII.  The last rooms of the Vatican Library include the Paoline Rooms, the Alexandrine Rooms, the Clementine Gallery, the Museum of Pagan Antiquities and the Museum of Sacred Antiquities.  During my first visit in 1988, near the porcelain vases donated by Napoleon I, there was the Book of Heaven listing names of people scheduled to enter Heaven.  I have not seen it since in any of my subsequent trips.

Vatican Picture Gallery (Pinacoteca).  This Gallery was created by Pope Pius VI (1775-99), and contains 18 rooms.  There is an exquisite huge circular painting (the oldest in the Gallery) of the Last Judgment by Johannes et Nicolaus Pictores that is magnificent.  Room VIII is devoted to the works of Raphael including eight tapestries (produced in Brussels) based on the cartoons provided by Raphael.  Of special interest is one of Raphael's best paintings, The Madonna of Foligno (1513-13).  In Room IX, you will gaze upon Leonardo da Vinci's St. Jerome and an exquisite Pieta by Giovanni Bellini.  I think one of my favorites is a Caravaggio found in Room XII (this room is devoted to Caravaggio's work) called Descent From the Cross (1602-04).  Room XVI is for moving exhibitions so they change periodically.  If you are a Bernini follower, Room XVII contains the original clay models of the bronze sculptures for the Chapel of the Sacrament and St. Peter's Cathedral.  The last room, XVIII, contains a collection of Byzantine icons.

Gregorian Museum of Profane Art.  The collections housed in this museum were originally in the Lateran Palace, the Museo Gregoriano Profano, the Museo Pio Cristiano, and the Museo Missionario.  John XXIII ordered that they be moved here in 1970.  The building runs parallel to the Pinacoteca.  I think the most interesting item here is part of the surviving marble facing from a circular tomb that was found near Vicovaro.  On the way up the stairs, you can see two mosaics from the 3rd century that were found at the Baths of Caracalla which represent Athletes.  In the corridor between the two mosaics is the Jewish Lapidary, which shows the inscriptions in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.  These were found in the Monteverde Catacomb during the first to third centuries A.D.

Christian Museum.  Pius IX founded this Museum in the Lateran Palace to house artifacts found during the excavations of the various catacombs.  They were moved to the Vatican Museums in 1963.  A multitude of sarcophagi are on display here, all of them well-preserved and are very well worth viewing.  I think the most interesting one that I saw was the Sarcophagus of the Five Niches, which has scenes from the Old Testament and stores of SS. Peter and Paul.

Missionary Museum of Ethnology.  This museum was created in 1927 with artifacts from the Missionary Exhibit of Holy Year 1925 and from the Borgia Museum.  Over the years, private donations from the Catholic Missions in countries outside Europe have made this museum grow to what you see today.  Especially interesting is the Asian section, showing cults from Chinese Taoism to Japanese Shintoism, and Buddhism to the Lamaism of Tibet.  There is also a great African section worth viewing, as well as exhibits from the pre-Columbian religions of the Incas, Mayas, and Aztecs of the Americas.

Carriage Museum.  Paul VI founded this museum which was constructed under the Square Garden.  It contains the carriages of the cardinals and popes, along with the first automobiles used by the popes.

Postal Museum of Stamps and Coins.  Located in the lower floors of the Borgia Tower, and was opened to the public in September 1987.  Hours:  Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. till noon.  Admission is free, but in order to visit, you need to apply to Arco della Campane.

This museum has four separate rooms, a stamp collector's dream to browse through.  The first room contains stamps of the Vatican State from 1929 to the present, along with the original sketches and designs used to make the stamps.  The remaining rooms house exhibits regarding printing and cancellation of stamps, numismatics, and the last room is reserved for special exhibits and conferences in the field.

Vatican Gardens.  This lush 58-acre garden sits to the north and west of the Vatican.  Guided tours are limited to 33 people each so you need to make your reservations in advance at the Vatican Tourist Office.  Tel. 06/698.844.66.  Hours are:  Mon.-Sat. 8:30am-7pm.  Hours, Apr.-Oct. Mon., Tues., Thurs.-Sat. at 10 a.m.  Closed Wednesdays.  Nov.-Mar., Sat. at 10 a.m.  Weekdays by request for groups.  Admission charge and well worth it if you have the time.  A two-hour tour (partly by bus, partly on foot) with a guide.  You need to make reservations at least 2-3 days in advance.

St. Anne's Church (official full name is St. Anna dei Palafrenieri).  This small church sits just a few meters inside St. Anne's Gate inside the Vatican Walls off via di Porta Angelica.  It is the parish of the Vatican City and was begun in 1572 by Vignola for the Congregation of the Footmen of the Papal Court (which no longer exist), during the reign of Pius V.  It was assigned to the Agostinian Fathers.  After Vignola's death the following year, it was completed by his son, Giacinto Barozzi.  The Baroque-style facade was added later by Alessandro Specchi, the dome by Giandomenico Navone, Ignazio Stern for the frescoes, Giovan Battista DeRossi for the panels above the door, and Sebastiano Orlando for the presbytery.  The interior with two side chapels is among Rome's earliest with an elliptic plan.  When finished, the congregate's duty were to venerate Mary's mother and ask for her intercession to God, and to pray for the souls of the dead; from their church, the adjacent borough was named.

This church is also the church non-Vatican State citizens often get married in, but it is very difficult to get the necessary permission unless you have the right contacts.  You should start with the parish priest in the church where you attend and go from there.  Also, even though the church sits just a few meters inside the Vatican Walls, special permission to see it is required, as is any other part of Vatican City (other than the St. Peter's Square area, the Basilica of St. Peter's, and the Vatican Museums).  You can also ask the Swiss Guard at St. Anne's Gate that is directing traffic in and out of the Gate if you can pop in for a look.

For other churches in the area of the Vatican, please see my Churches and Basilicas page.

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