The Vatican Museums consists of six main areas: the Sistine Chapel; Raphael's Rooms; Pinacoteca; Gregorian Egyptian Museum; Gregorian Etruscan Museum; Ethnological Missionary Museum. In addition it is possible to visit the Vatican Gardens, Saint Peter's Basilica and the Historical Museum and the Papal Apartments if the Lateran Apostolic Palace.

The History of the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums originated as a group of sculptures collected by Pope Julius II (1503-1513) and placed in what today is the “Cortile Ottagono” within the museum complex. The popes were among the first sovereigns who opened the art collections of their palaces to the public thus promoting knowledge of art history and culture. As seen today, the Vatican Museums are a complex of different pontifical museums and galleries that began under the patronage of the popes Clement XIV (1769-1774) and Pius VI (1775-1799). In fact, the Pio-Clementine Museum was named after these two popes, who set up this first major curatorial section. Later, Pius VII (1800-1823) considerably expanded the collections of Classical Antiquities, to which he added the Chiaromonti Museum and the “Braccio Nuovo” gallery. He also enriched the Epigraphic Collection, which was conserved in the Lapidary Gallery.

Gregory XVI (1831-1846) founded the Etruscan Museum (1837) with archaeological finds discovered during excavations carried out from 1828 onwards in southern Etruria. Later, he established the Egyptian Museum (1839), which houses ancient artifacts from explorations in Egypt, together with other pieces already conserved in the Vatican and in the Museo Capitolino, and the Lateran Profane Museum (1844), with statues, bas-relief sculptures and mosaics of the Roman era, which could not be adequately placed in the Vatican Palace. The Lateran Profane Museum was expanded in 1854 under Pius IX (1846-1878) with the addition of the Pio Christian Museum. This museum is comprised of ancient sculptures (especially sarcophagi) and inscriptions with ancient Christian content. In 1910, under the pontificate of Saint Pius X (1903-1914), the Hebrew Lapidary was established. This section of the museum contains 137 inscriptions from ancient Hebrew cemeteries in Rome mostly from via Portuense and donated by the Marquisate Pellegrini-Quarantotti. These last collections (Gregorian Profane Museum, Pio Christian Museum and the Hebrew Lapidary) were transferred, under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), from the Lateran Palace to their present building within the Vatican and inaugurated in 1970.

The Museums also include the Gallery of Tapestries, a collection of various 15th and 17th century tapestries; the Gallery of Maps, decorated under the pontificate of Gregory XIII (1572-1585) and restored by Urban VIII (1623-1644); the Sobieski Room and the Room of the Immaculate Conception; the Raphael Stanze and the Loggia, which were decorated by order of Julius II and Leo X (1513-1521); the Chapel of Nicholas V (1447-1455), painted by Fra Angelico; the Sistine Chapel, which takes the name of its founder, Pope Sixtus IV; the Borgia Apartment, where Pope Alexander VI lived until his death (1492-1503); the Vatican Pinacoteca, created under Pius XI (1922-1932) in a special building near the new entrance to the Museums; the Missionary-Ethnological Museum which was founded by Pius XI in 1926, arranged on the upper floors of the Lateran Palace and later transferred, under Pope John XXIII, to the Vatican where it has been opened again to the public in the same building which housed the former Lateran collections. In 1973 the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Religious Art was added and inaugurated by Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) in the Borgia Apartment. The Vatican Historical Museum, founded in 1973 and transferred in 1987 to the Papal Apartment in the Lateran Palace, houses a series of papal portraits along with objects of the past Pontifical Military Corps and of the Pontifical Chapel and Family and historic ceremonial objects no longer in use. The Carriage and Automobile Museum is a section of the Vatican Historical Museum. In the year 2000, the Vatican Museums opened a new large entrance that provides visitor information and other services; on display are many new artworks, two of which were specially created for this grand entrance hall.

25 Facts about the Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous frescoes in the world and unsurprisingly it’s one of Rome’s most visited and valued historic sites. Set within the Vatican City and Museums, the Sistine Chapel welcomes around 25,000 visitors a day who flock to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece and marvel at the feat of artistry. As cameras are banned, it’s one to make sure you don’t forget!

Here are 25 fascinating facts about the Sistine Chapel to peak your interest, test your trivia knowledge and to give you all the more reason to go and visit this stunning attraction.

  1. The Sistine Chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned the chapel’s construction on the foundations of the original Capella Magna in 1477.
  2. It was Pope Sixtus IV who invested money into building the chapel and some draw similarities between its new layout and that of the Temple of Solomon described in the Old Testament.
  3. Before work started on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508, it had been decorated with a fresco of a blue night sky with golden stars, painted by the Umbrian artist Piero Matteo d’Amelia.
  4. When Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he wasn’t very pleased, as his main artistic profession was to sculpt. It was with much displeasure that he undertook the role.
  5. Michelangelo hated painting the ceiling so much that in 1509 he even wrote a poem lamenting to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia how he’d “grown a goiter from this torture”, due to the physical strain of the work.
  6. Although many believe Michelangelo painted the ceiling lying on his back, he actually constructed his own scaffolding, so that he could paint standing up for more precision and control.
  7. The whole area of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel measures about 1/6 of a football field – that’s around 12,000 square feet.
  8. Don’t be fooled into thinking the only works of art on show in the Sistine Chapel are those by Michelangelo. You can also see frescoes and works by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Pietro Perugino, Cosimo Roselli and Sandro Botticelli.
  9. It took Michelangelo four years to finish the fresco and he left God until last, wanting to have refined his technique enough to depict him perfectly.
  10. The God Michelangelo painted as an older man with flowing grey hair inspired centuries of Christian paintings to come, later turning it into the archetypal representation of all Godly figures around the world.
  11. The Last Judgement wasn’t actually painted in the same time as the great ceiling fresco. In fact Michelangelo returned twenty-two years later, in 1536, to begin his masterpiece on the wall above the altar.
  12. It’s hard to believe that Michelangelo completed the entire ceiling without being able to review his piece as a whole, since the scaffolding remained in place right until the very end. This means that the first time Michelangelo saw his work, was the time it was unveiled!
  13. Although the ceiling and frescoes are near-perfect, there is one tiny part of the sky in the panel depicting Noah’s escape which is missing, due to an explosion at a gunpowder depot in 1797 that caused the plaster to fall off.
  14. There have been many analyses of The Last Judgement and the allegories and representations within the paintings. Some believe The Creation of Adam draws many parallels to the anatomy of the human brain due to the way it has been painted with the stem, frontal lobe and artery – which is reasonable given Michelangelo’s expertise in human anatomy.
  15. Other interpretations include Saint Bartholomew holding the skin of a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself…
  16. Among the things that couldn’t be misinterpreted were the nudes painted in the frescoes. In 1564, the Council of Trent deemed the images inappropriate and Daniele da Volterra was ordered to cover them up by painting fig leaves, clothing and other items to hide their indecency.
  17. However, some of the drapes were removed to reveal the original painting during the big restoration efforts of the 1980s-1990s.
  18. Another recurring motif is the acorns which populate the frescoes. This is a nod by Michelangelo to the patronage of Pope Sixtus IV, whose family name was Rovere – meaning oak, in Italian.
  19. The Sistine Chapel is now a historic building of such acclaim that over five million people come to visit a year – that’s equal to the population of Norway!
  20. It’s not only visitors who pay homage to the Sistine Chapel. It’s also the Pope’s private chapel, guaranteeing a few extra visits.
  21. Come election time for a new Pope, the College of Cardinals meets at the Sistine Chapel – as they have done since 1492 – to submit their votes under oath.
  22. The process is so intense that there’s even a room nicknamed the Room of Tears to represent the emotion the lucky chosen candidate will feel after winning the election.
  23. It’s not just photos that are banned during visiting times to protect the colours from fading. During election time the College of Cardinals also has to be scanned for bugs before entering. There are 115 security checks in total!
  24. If you have exposed shoulders or are wearing items of clothing that ends above the knee, you will be refused entry or asked to cover up within the Sistine Chapel. Visitors to this site should respect the code of conduct and dress appropriately.
  25. The most dangerous thing about tourists visiting the Sistine Chapel is the damage not visible to the naked eye. The sweat, carbon dioxide and skin flakes of the five thousand visitors a day pose a threat to the restoration of the masterpiece. The creation of a humidity and temperature control machine is underway.

The Sistine Chapel will forever be one of Rome’s most popular places to visit thanks to the sheer scale of the masterpiece and the feat of exceptional artistry. Thanks to its location within Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel will remain protected and upheld by Papal traditions and forever considered one of the most important religious destinations in the world.

Sistine Chapel Facts Produced by Omnia Vatican & Rome

Find Hotels in Rome for your visit.

Book tickets
Shop online

Opening information

Monday to Sundays 9:00 to 18:00, last entrance at 16:00, restrictions Sundays.

Temporary exhibitions

Permanent collections

Top artworks

Comments and reviews

Image of chaina

how much people can be in the museum at list one day

Image of mike lockwood

At least 20,000 per day visit the Vatican Museum. It is well worth a visit - there is nothing like experiencing The Sistine Chapel & there is so much else to see too.

Write a comment or review

Contact information

Book tickets
Online shop
Shop online
Viale Vaticano
View map
+39 (0) 6 6988 4676

Other museums nearby

Members who have been here

Get the App!