Rome Stories and Tips

The Musei Vaticani: Treasure hoard of the Papacy

The Vatican inner courtyard Photo, Rome, Italy

I was captivated by one single statue in the Musei Vaticani. The statue was in the immense Pio Clementine gallery with it's thousands of white marble busts. One tiny statue caught my eye of a haglike figure clutching a bottle and with the latin inscription - Agrippina. Was this the mother of Nero? Famously poisoning her husband and being killed by her own son. It was difficult to tell the labelling was so bad. But that is what is so great about the Musei Vaticani - even the most famous of treasures are just one among thousands. Here you will pass through feet-numbing corridors full of frescoes by Raphael, paintings by Tintoretto and the most famous art masterpiece in the world - the Sistine Chapel (covered in a seperate journal). Even if you don't normally like museums you will be stunned by the Vatican museum. After all the pope's have been collecting for hundreds of years and it is all there, dear tourist, for your enjoyment.

This is your one chance to see inside the Vatican. John Paul's apartments are across the Piazza on the west side of St Peters so the great Vatican palace stretches north from the Piazza and overlooks the vast Vatican gardens which can be visited on a separate tour. The pope's were in a unique position to not just acquire art but to instigate it and commissioned the greatest artists of the day to decorate their apartments. On the whole they were a dour lot generally going for scene's of the old testament and the apostle's. The papacy even tamed the notorious Borgia's whose apartments are the second highlight of the museum (I think you can guess the first)whose comments when they arrived in the Vatican were "God has given us the papacy..let's enjoy it.."

A hell of a lot of people enjoy the Musei Vaticani which means massive queues. If you do a day sightseeing on this side of the Tiber then hit the Musei first before the Basilica. Everyone heads for St Peters first from the metro giving you that extra hour in the morning to walk straight in. To reach it take the metro to Ottoviano and a quick route to the main entrance means head along Via Guilio Ceasre from the metro. A quick turn south along Via Leone IV and the caramel walls of the Vatican will loom above you. You can walk from St Peters Square but the crowds are horrendous and the pavements so narrow some people are squeezed onto the road. The entrance fee is 18,000 lira and my second tip is to invest in an audio guide for another 5,000 lira. This was a god-send as upon each work of art is a number. When this is punched into the audio-guide it tells you about this work of art. It's like having your own personal tour-guide to the museum.

When you enter the marble corridors of the Vatican museum you are in part of the papal palace. This was the Belvedere palace created in the 15th century and connected to St Peters by long long corridors decorated by great artists. That was so refreshing about the Vatican, unlike the Prado or Louvre the works of art wern't on the walls they WERE the walls. Anyway, the palace is gigantic and it takes alot of stamina to cover it. When you get tired you can sit in the Vatican courtyard which is overlooked by the dome of St Peters (see photo) and is where the tourgroups are briefed about the Sistine Chapel as no speaking is allowed inside the Chapel itself. The first museum you come to is the Museo Egizeo (Egyptian museum) with its mummies, saicophagai and Egyptian statues. It's good to see that the pope's pinched as much out of Egypt as everybody else.

The Pio Clementine was a long marble corridor with thousands of Roman busts and statues. There were too many for the audioguide and the labelling was insufficient but the effect of all these ancient eyes staring back at you was disconcerting. I found a fabulous marble statue of the Emperor Tiberius which made him look very noble. Nearby was the Sala Rotonda - one of the most gorgeous rooms in the palace - dominated by a colossal porphyry basin and surrounded by huge statues of Emperor's and god's including a large one of Hercules covered in gilt. Further on was the Animal room with every statue of an animal possible - goats, bulls, crocodiles, camels and panthers. And the Greek Cross room was full of Egyptian statues and a saicophagai of the Emperor Constantine.

You soon pass into the great corridors leading to the papal apartments. The first of these is the gallery of Candelabra's with more statues and a ceiling of gilt that gleamed as we passed underneath. The gallery of tapestries depicted those from the school of Raphael. Raphael's sponsor was Pope Urban IV and the tapestries show Herod's massacre of the firstborn. As you approach the Sistine Chapel the souvenirs and crowds increase. And one of these huge corridors is the fascinating gallery of maps. They were basic overviews of Italy but the crowds could pinpoint Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica and Venice. And then the Borgia apartments which was my favourite. Raphael was commissioned to design the apartments and to stand in the middle of the apartments gazing up at his paintings on the ceilings with stirring classical music playing on the audio-guide was one of the highlights of my visit to the Eternal city. I went back to these apartments again and again...

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