Visiting the Vatican Museums can be an overwhelming experience. There is so much to see, that your eyes start wandering from one piece of art to the other, without really knowing where to look. But the truth is, no matter how long you spend in the Vatican Museums, it will never be enough to get a grasp on the art, history and beauty that overflows from its collections. With this is mind, we’ve put together a list of 5 must-see highlights of the Vatican Museums to help you make the most of the collections.
1. Gallery of Candelabra
The Gallery of Candelabra takes its name from the massive marble candelabra as well as the marble columns that subdivide the room in six different sections. This gallery was originally an open “loggia” but was walled and closed up around 200 years ago. Arranged under Pope Pius VI Braschi between 1785 and 1788, the gallery was completely renovated during the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII Pecci.
2. Gallery of Tapestries
This Gallery is a 75m long corridor of oversized storytelling tapestries. There are tapestries belonging to two different periods. The first belong to the Barberini workshop in Rome which commemorate Pope Urban VIII. The second are from Flemish weavers from the Pieter Van Aelst’s School in Brussels. These tapestries were based on drawings by Raphael’s pupils, commemorating the life of Jesus. The tapestries were first shown in the Sistine Chapel in 1531.
3. Gallery of Maps
The 120 meters long Gallery of Maps takes its name from the 40 maps frescoed on the walls. Pope Gregory XIII commissioned the giant maps of Italy so he could explore the peninsula without leaving his residency. They were painted between 1580 and 1585 based on drawings by friar and geographer Ignazio Danti. And on the ceiling are spectacular works by Cesare Nebbia and Girolamo Muziano.
4. Sistine Chapel
We know it’s almost silly to include this in our must-see guide on a Vatican Museum tour as we know that this is The Highlight, if not The Reason most of you visit The Vatican Museums, but we had to make sure it was in here somewhere! Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity.
Today it’s the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.
5. St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. St. Peter’s Basilica took approximately 120 years to build, spanning 20 popes and almost every famous Renaissance architect that you can think of, including Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo. The Basilica contains spectacular works of art that include Michelangelo’s only signed piece, La Pietà, and Bernini’s Baldachino over the papal altar. The basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter – an apostle of Christ and the first pope. If you’re up the challenge, climb St. Peter’s Dome. The views are well worth the heart-pumping exercise. Read more about How to Climb St Peter’s Dome.