The Vatican remains one of the largest collections of art in the world, and is a must see on many peoples’ bucket lists. It is not only one of the most visited sites in Rome, but in the world. In this post we share some tips for how to visit the Vatican.
The beginnings of the Vatican start with the martyrdom of St. Peter in 67 AD, but it wasn’t until 1277 that it became the official residence of the Papacy. Each Pope added his own touches to the apartments, most famously in 1473 when Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the building of the Sistine Chapel hiring Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosselli, and Luca Signorelli to fresco its walls. It wasn’t until 1508 that Pope Julius II brought in Michelangelo to paint the famous ceiling, and a young Raphael to paint the frescoes of the Papal Apartments. It was this same Pope that began the collection of antiquities, which still forms the backbone of the Vatican’s collection. More than just the seat of Catholicism, the Vatican to this day remains a repository for artistic masterpieces.
The Vatican is generally broken down into two distinct entities: the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. While many people visit both in the same trip or tour, they are both massive sites worthy of deeper exploration. Also note that they do not necessarily open or close at the same hours. Those wondering how to visit the Vatican should carve out some time to properly explore.
The museums house the art collection within the walls of the Vatican City. More than six million people visit them annually, making it one of the most visited art museums in the world. There are 54 galleries ranging from classical antiquities and Ancient Egyptian pieces up to modern religious art. The most famous is of course the Sistine Chapel, which is famously the last gallery before exiting the museum. You could easily spend days lost in the many hallways and rooms filled with masterpieces when you visit the Vatican.
St. Peter’s Basilica started as a 4th-century church begun by Emperor Constantine the Great over the site of St. Peter’s tomb. By the 15th century, this building had fallen into disrepair, and Pope Nicholas V began plans for a new magnificent church to be built on the site of the previous one. In the end, Julius II, who famously started the art collection, decided to demolish the old basilica and commissioned Michelangelo to design the now-famous dome. Construction continued for more than 80 years before the dome was finished in 1590, the last year of the reign of Pope Sixtus V. The adornments in and around the Basilica continue to be added, including Bernini’s baldacchino, Cathedra Petri, and Gloria. Still an active church to this day, Catholics can still attend mass in the largest basilica in the world.
To visit the Vatican, the museums are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with last entry at 4:00 p.m. Those wondering how to visit the Vatican should note, however, that tour operators are allowed in earlier. It is best to visit either first thing in the morning, with the 8:30 a.m. start time being ideal if you are touring, or early in the afternoon (around 1:30 p.m.) when it tends to clear out a bit after lunch. Keep in mind that museums are closed for all major Catholic holidays, so it is best to check your trip dates against the religious calendar if you wish to include the Vatican. Tickets to the museum cost 21.50 EUR for adults, and 13.50 EUR for anyone under 18 years old. St. Peter’s Basilica is open to the public from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the late spring and summer, and 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the fall and winter. It is free to enter the main Basilica, though there are fees for some of the other sites within the church.
To get to the Vatican the nearest metro stop is Ottaviano on line A. This is the orange line that runs through the Flaminio (Piazza del Popolo), Barberini (Trevi Fountain), and Termini stations. Exiting onto Via Ottaviano, the entrance to the Vatican is just around the corner, less than a 10 minute walk.
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