Of the many galleries in the Vatican, the Gallery of the Maps is often a crowd favorite. Displaying maps from all over the world created by Roman topographers during the 16th century, you can get a glimpse of what they thought the world looked like centuries ago. In this guide, we cover what you need to know about the Vatican Gallery of Maps before you visit.
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Vatican Gallery of Maps Guide
As one of the holiest spaces in the world, many visitors travel to the Vatican for religious purposes. However, you don’t need to be religious to appreciate the incredible collections and works of art held in the Vatican Museums. The Gallery of Maps provides a scientific approach to some of the museum’s most interesting artwork. Find out more about this gallery and how to visit, here’s what we’ll cover:
- History of the Gallery of Maps
- What Do the Maps Show?
- Restoration of the Gallery of Maps
- Gallery of Maps Facts
- Vatican Tours with Gallery of Maps
History of the Gallery of Maps
As you approach the Sistine Chapel, you’ll be led through a series of hallways and galleries. One of the most impressive galleries you’ll visit on this stroll is the Gallery of Maps. It consists of 40 frescoes of maps, detailing the Italian regions and papal properties that existed during the time of Pope Gregory XIII.
The frescoes were created by Ignazio Danti between 1580 and 1585. Pope Gregory XIII had good reason to commission Danti for this task, as Danti had already built himself quite a portfolio by this time.
Before designing the frescoes for the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museums, he had served as a mathematics professor in Bologna. And before that, Danti designed the Sala della Carte Geografiche in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
What Do the Maps Show?
The frescoed maps in the gallery show the entirety of the Italian peninsula including additional areas like Corsica and Sardinia. As you walk toward the Sistine Chapel, you will find lands on the Tyhrennian coast on the left and lands on the Adriatic coast on the right.
Each of the frescoes features a different region of Italy, with the region’s major city specifically pinpointed. You’ll also find that the frescoes highlight important battles in Italy that occurred in these regions, such as the Battle of Lepanto, the Siege of Malta, and more.
Are the Maps in the Gallery of Maps Accurate?
Interestingly, Pope Gregory XIII had these designed so that he could explore his peninsula without having to leave his home. Clearly, it’s tough to say that the maps are completely accurate.
One of the heads of restoration of the Gallery of Maps, however, has said that the contents of the maps at present are accurate for the most part. What the artists didn’t know, though, they chose to omit.
Restoration of the Gallery of Maps
These enormous yet delicate frescoes have been on display for nearly 500 years. Over the centuries, the maps have deteriorated due to moisture, dust, and overall poor maintenance.
The damage became so significant at some points, with stains and even material erosion, that visitors believed the maps presented geographic inaccuracies. Many Vatican Museums visitors would even ignore Danti’s topographical works and rush to the Sistine Chapel, with no concern for the Gallery of Maps because of the damage.
In 2011, the Vatican decided to restore this precious gallery and turned to the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums to fund a full restoration. During this meticulous maintenance project, the art restorers would lay special paper over the maps to absorb yellow glue from a previous failed restoration project.
From there, they were able to remove some of the stains and restore the maps to the beautiful masterpieces they were designed to be. You’ll find the Gallery of Maps near the Gallery of the Candelabra and Gallery of Tapestries.
Gallery of Maps Facts
- The Gallery of Maps stretches as long as a football field.
- If you look at the map of Sicily, you’ll notice that all of the cities are upside-down on the map. That’s because they made the map according to how it would look if you were seeing it from Rome.
- The Gallery of Maps is the world’s largest series of painted maps.
- The most recent restoration of the maps cost about $2.3 million.
- The current calendar we use today is named after Pope Gregory XIII (the pope who arranged for the design of this gallery), which brought about the idea of leap years.
Vatican Tours with Gallery of Maps
Supposedly, if you stand in front of each art piece for one minute in the Vatican Museums, it would take you 12 years to see everything. How incredible is that! While it’s certainly possible to visit the museums on your own, I highly recommend you join a tour guide.
Not only will a tour guide get you skip-the-line access, they’ll also guide you through the Vatican Museums quickly—getting you in and out before you go into overload and without missing anything important. There are lots of Vatican tour options to suit your interests and schedule, compare our best Vatican City tours.
In all of our Vatican tours, you’ll witness the Gallery of Maps up close. Check out the video below for the top things to see at the Vatican—the Gallery of Maps is featured at number five and you’ll get a preview of this beautiful space.
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our Vatican Guide for more info.