About Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum: A glimpse into its history…

Pope Nicholas V initiated the development of the Vatican in 1447 and established the Vatican Library. He also appointed Bernardo Rossellino as the architect for the new St. Peter’s Basilica and Fra Angelico as the painter for the Niccoline Chapel. In 1471, Sixtus IV commissioned the construction of the Sistine Chapel, which was decorated with works by artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Pietro Perugino. Later, in 1508, Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to repaint the chapel.

The Vatican Museums were created when Pope Julius II, elected in 1503, moved his collection to the Octagonal Court. This collection included the Apollo Belvedere, the Venus Felix, the Resting Ariadne, and the Laocoon Group. New structures with galleries and pathways connecting them to the existing ones were built. Julius II also commissioned the decoration of Raphael’s rooms and the Helical Staircase, designed by Donato Bramante, as access to the upper floors from the Belvedere Garden. In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII authorized the Display of Maps on the west side of the Belvedere Courtyard.

In the 18th century, Benedict XIX renovated the galleries of the Vatican Museums and added the Bureau of Tapestries. Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s illustrations and archaeological discoveries helped to organize the museums. Pius VI and Merciful XIV planned the Pio Clementino Gallery, and Pius VII commissioned Antonio Canva to create a museum bearing his name. 

Gregory XVI established the Gregorian Etruscan Museum in 1837 and the Gregorian Egyptian Museum in 1839. In the Lateran Palace, the Profane Gregorian Museum was founded in 1844, and the art gallery (Pinacoteca) displaying paintings seized by Napoleon was established by Pius XI following the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The exhibition of works in the Catholic Church was also rearranged in 1870.

In 1970, the old Lateranensis collection was transferred to the Vatican Museums and incorporated into the Gregorian Profane and Pio Cristiano museums, as well as the Ethnological Gallery. 

The Collection of Modern Religious Art and the Carriage Pavilion were established in 1973 under Pope Paul VI. Between 1989 and 2000, the Gregorian Egyptian and Gregorian Etruscan museums were renovated and the Historical Gallery was created. 

The Vatican Museums have been recognized as some of the top museums in the world and a must-see for those visiting Rome. They contain art collections, paleontological specimens, and ethnological objects amassed by various popes over the years, as well as some of the most unique and artistically significant spaces in the Papal Palaces. 

In February 2000, a grand entrance was inaugurated on the north side of the Vatican walls, near the old entrance designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932. The spiral staircase with a handrail designed by Antonio Maraini is located on the slope and is currently used as the exit for the museum.

How to visit the Vatican Historical Museums?

There are various ways to visit the Vatican Museums and accommodate any request. Due to the long lines at the ticket office, it is recommended to purchase tickets in advance, allowing access to the Museums and the Sistine Chapel. 

Options for visiting the Vatican Museums range from basic entry, which can be purchased online and allows you to avoid the queue at the entrance, to Vatican guided tour. If you have limited time, you can take a specialist tour to visit the main rooms of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. If you have more time, you can take a longer tour that includes the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Both tours can also be done with a private guide. 

The Vatican Museums also offer a full-day group tour that covers the main sites of the Vatican, such as the Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Gardens, and the Castel Gandolfo palaces. Alternatively, you can take one of the two group tours of the Vatican gardens tours offered by the Museums: a walking tour with a guide or a bus tour with an audio guide. 

Within the Vatican Museums, it is also possible, upon request and with a private guide, to visit the “hidden” places, typically closed to the public, such as the Niccolini Chapel (Church of Nicholas V), the Bramante Staircase, and the Tapestries Gallery. In addition, from April to October, the Vatican Museums open their doors for a special Vatican evening tour on Fridays at 19:00, and a Vatican night tour can be arranged.