The Vatican Museum is one of Rome’s most significant buildings – not only for its Papal connotations and rich history, but for the extensive collections of art within its walls. Its total worth is estimated at around €15 billion – not a figure to be laughed at – so you can imagine just how opulent it will be.
On average walking around the entire Vatican Museum will take you a solid four hours if you were to try and see everything. Did you know it boasts an incredible 9 miles of art? Broken into 24 sections, with museums showcasing ancient art to sculptures, bronze statues and mosaics, not to mention a manicured courtyard, there is plenty to see.
If it all sounds a bit daunting then we’ve made it easy for you; follow our top ten highlights for a bite-sized but bountiful visit and be sure to leave knowing you’ve seen the best.
1. Spiral Staircase
As soon as you enter the Vatican Museum you will come across the impressive spiral staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1832. Now, as one of the most photographed staircases in the world, Momo’s staircase is famous not only for its home but for the sheer size of it.
Otherwise known as the Snail Staircase, it’s made up of two iron engraved stairways forming a double helix – pre-empting the symbol for DNA that would follow years later.
2. The Raphael Rooms
The four Raphael Rooms act as a grand entrance to the Vatican where you can’t help but be wowed as soon as you arrive. As the public part of the papal apartments, they join the museum with the Papal Palace and are famous for their frescoes by Michelangelo and Raphael.
Overlooking the Belvedere courtyard they boast some of the best of the Renaissance so explore the four amazing stanze: Sala di Costantino, Stanza di Eliodoro, Stanza della Segnatura and Stanza dell’Incendio del Borgo. There’s nothing ordinary about these rooms…
3. Gregorian Egyptian Museum
Founded in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI, the Gregorian Egyptian Museum now houses ancient artifacts originating from ancient Egypt and taken via Rome and Villa Adriana in Tivoli through the Imperial Age. Occupying nine rooms, this section displays sculptures and statues, clay figurines and bronze objects – among many others! If you are fascinated with ancient Egypt, this is a section not to miss.
4. Vatican Historical Museum and the Portraits of the Popes
As one of the most modern museums within the Vatican Museum, founded in 1973, the Historical Museum features a collection of portraits of the Popes from the sixteenth century to today. You can also see the ‘papamobili’ or Pope-mobiles, from the first carts and carriages to the little motorized white ones we have today.
5. Sistine Chapel
Consecrated in the late 1400s, the Sistine Chapel is one of the most visited churches in the world and is a stand-alone feature of the Vatican. Not only does Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Last Judgement, adorn the ceiling but you can admire Botticelli's long murals which often get overlooked. Marvel at the absolute intricacy of the fresco overhead and take a moment to appreciate this piece de resistance.
6. Papal Throne
Admire the red marble papal throne that now stands in the Vatican. Taken from its original home, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop in Rome), the red marble is believed to represent royalty and its other features include mosaics and frescoes, with two engraved lions as arm rests and a shining mosaic casting rays of sunlight, lauding whoever sat in the throne.
7. Gallery of Maps
The Gallery of Maps is located on the west side of the Belvedere courtyard and, as you’ve guessed, contains a series of painted topographical maps. Commissioned in 1580, it took Ignazio Danzi three years to complete the 40 panels. Doesn’t sound much? Well the gallery measures 120m in length, so it’s quite a feat!
8. Sala Rotonda
If you like the Pantheon then the Sala Rotonda will not fail to impress. Shaped like the central Roman building, but on a smaller scale, its curved walls are lined with huge statues and the floor is laid with stunning mosaics. Look out for the gilded statue of Hercules and the large marble basin in the middle of the room to catch the rain.
9. Gallery of the Statues
You’ve guessed it, the Gallery of the Statues is what it says on the tin. Within the Pio Clementino Museum, it stretches down a long corridor lined with statues down into the Gallery of Busts. Originally the walls were covered with frescoes of landscapes and cities with romantic cupids in the lunettes, however over time this room has been used to showcase the marble arts instead – equally impressive!
10. Pinacoteca Vaticana
The Pinacoteca Vaticana used to live in the Borgia Apartment until 1932 when it moved to its current location. It now houses a range of stunning paintings such as Raphael’s ‘Oddi Alterpiece’ and ‘Transfiguration’ to Leondardo da Vinci’s ‘St. Jerome in the Wilderness’. It’s a must-see for any Renaissance art lover and will end your trip to the Vatican with a bang.