It’s not often you hear that an art collection occupies nearly 5% of the territory of a country. This is precisely the case with the Vatican Museums, spreading all the way from the “northern border” down to St. Peter’s Basilica. The popes have been gathering works for this collection for more than 500 years. If you would like to see the entire collection, get ready for a 4.5 mile trek! This is how long it would take to walk through all of the 54 galleries, with hundreds of rooms.
The Vatican Museums are visited by a staggering number of people, 7 million per year! Along with the Colosseum, this makes the Vatican museums the most visited site in Rome, and in all of Italy! It is extremely hard to pick 5 out of thousands of works displayed in the collection, but we feel that these are most representative ones:
1. School of Athens
This glorious fresco painted by Raphael is sitting on the wall of what used to be the pope’s main office. Gathered in front of the philosophy school of ancient Athens are the greatest minds of Ancient Greece. But if Raphael’s contemporary would have looked at the wall, he would have easily recognized the faces of the famous artists and scientist of the Renaissance. Raphael has simply paid tribute to his fellow artists by painting their facial features as the old philosophers. Not bad for a 27-year old!
2. Belvedere Torso
You will walk into the Hall of Muses, and notice this broken, limbless piece of marble sitting in the center of the room. The pope loved the piece so much that he ordered Michelangelo to finish it and add the “missing” parts. The great artist respectfully declined, claiming that that the man who sculpted it knew human body better than the nature itself! When you later walk into the Sistine Chapel, look at Michelangelo’s muscly Jesus Christ, and let us know if his torso reminds you of someone.
3. Sphere Within Sphere
Sitting in one of the largest courtyards within the Vatican Museums is this modern sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro. A lot of debate can be done over what the meaning of the statue is. But hey, it’s modern art, so you can even come up with your version. Most common theories state that the statue represents a new idea being born from inside our brain, or perhaps simply the Vatican State located inside the city of Rome. The best thing about this piece, is that you can walk up to is, give it a push and see it spin around its axis!
“Arnaldo Pomodoro says that the inner ball represents the Earth and outer ball represents Christianity. The design of the internal layers which look like the gears or cogwheels of a complex machine symbolizes the fragility and complexity of the world.” -Kaushik, Amusing Planet
4. The Resurrection Tapestry
The long Hall of Tapestries is decorated by a series of scenes portraying the life of Jesus, like a giant comic book. You will recognize many event from the birth in the cave, all the way to the resurrection. Stop for a moment in front of the resurrection scene and look Jesus in the eyes. Now try to move left and right in front of it, and you will notice that wherever you go, Jesus will always be keeping his eyes on you! You cannot miss this stunning piece!
5. Laocoon & Sons
There are thousands and thousands of works in this great collection, but this one can boast the fact that it’s possibly the first one ever introduced in it! Legend has it that it was discovered from the ruins of the Roman Forum by Michelangelo himself! The sculpture represents a lesser known detail from a well known story: the war of Troy! Old priest Laocoon and his two sons are punished by the gods for opposing their will, and large serpents are sent from the sea to strangle them. When the Vatican museums celebrated their 500th birthday in 2006, it was the day Michelangelo brought this sculpture to the pope that everyone was commemorating!
The Vatican Museums are super easy to reach. The nearest metro stop is Ottaviano San Pietro, located on the red line (line A) of the Roman subway system. Buses 23, 81 & 492 will also bring you from the city center almost to the entrance of the Vatican Museums. There is a taxi rank in front of the entrance, and you will find one easily even if you exit on the opposite side, near St. Peter’s Basilica.
All of the Top 5 works of art in the Vatican museums can be seen on our small group and private Vatican Tours. Also, make sure you follow us on social media, as we will be posting interesting facts, tips and articles about the Vatican!