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The Vatican Museums

      I seem to be starting a trend here.  That is, I find myself wanting to say that we just didn't have enough time to see everything.  But we expected that at the Vatican Museums.   The collections of the Vatican are overwhelming.  There is something fascinating to be found with every step that you will take.

     In the photo below you can see the new entrance to the Vatican Museums located on the Viale Vaticano (in Italian territory).  The statues above the entrance were sculpted by a man named Pietro Melandri sometime around 1932 when this entrance was built.  The statues portray Michelangelo (left) and Raphael (right) supporting the coat-of-arms of Pius XI.

   Stroll  through ( or scroll through ) the entrance, step into history, and start your tour with one of the links at the bottom of this page.

A Brief History of the Vatican City

    Originally, the official residence of the bishops of Rome was not the Vatican, but the Lateran Palace, which once belonged to the Roman family of the Laterans, and was donated to the Roman Church.  At this point in History St. Peter's was an out of the way basilica reserved for burials.  The first to build at the Vatican was Pope Symmachus in 501.  He built two Episcopal residences at the sides of the basilica.  In 781 Charlemagne altered, for his own use, a palace standing to the north of the basilica.  Eugene III built a "new palace", which Innocent III enlarged and enclosed within turreted walls.

     Nicholas III was the first pope to adopt the Vatican as his permanent residence.  For this reason he began, but did not complete, a fortified residence with angle towers, built around the present Court of the Pappagallo.  He also built a defensive wall, reinforced by battlements and towers, which probably extended to the north as far as the Mount of St. Egidius, where two centuries later Innocent VIII was to build his Belvedere Palace.  The military character of these early buildings testifies to their use by the popes as an emergency refuge.

The entrance to the Vatican Museums in Vatican City -24k

Long lines to get into the Vatican Museums - 17k

     The first reference to an art collection (or a "cabinet of rarities") in the Library, founded by Sixtus IV in 1475, goes back to the prefecture of Marcello Cervini, later Pope Marcellus II (1555).

     The Vatican City has about 900 inhabitants (including only 200 women), and covers an area of 44 hectares (1045m. x 850m.).  It has a military organization (the Swiss Guard, consisting of about one hundred men, who protect the Pope's person and the main entrances to the City); a flag (yellow and white with St. Peter's keys under the triple crown); a national anthem (the Pontifical March by Charles Gounod); its own currency, postage stamps and car license plates. 

   The Vatican City State has, along with the rest of the world, emerged from history to be recognized by the international community as a legal sovereign body with membership to various international organizations (Universal Postal Union, International Telecommunications Union, International Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works).


     As you can see in the image above, you are not the only one who would like to see the treasures housed in the Vatican Museums.  We arrived at 8 am on a Saturday morning.  This is one of the longest lines I have ever seen.  You are only seeing about one quarter of the line in the photo on the left.  The bulk of the visitors are out of site around the corner.  Several vendors have booths set up to sell all kinds of Vatican/Rome souvenirs, T-shirts and trinkets.

     In the Jubilee year (2000) the lines were even worse than those shown here.  In addition to the normal throngs of visitors the Vatican hosted some 80 million pilgrims that made the pilgrimage to Rome.  

     Admission to the Museums was 6 Euro (appx. $7.00 US) 

Looking up the spiral staircase designed by Momo - 18k

Looking down from the top of the Momo spiral staircase at the entrance to the Vatican Museums - 22k       After you brave the line and make your way through the entrance you will find yourself in an atrium.  The photo above shows the glass ceiling and the stunning bronze balustrade which was sculpted by Antonio Maraini in the classical style. The winding double helix ramp was, until recently, used by all visitors touring the Vatican Museums.    

    This magnificent spiral ramp (left), designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932,  transports you from the street level up to the floor of the Museums.  The ramp consists of two intertwined spirals; one leads up  and another leads down.  In the picture on the left you can see that people are entering the Museum on the left.  While the right hand side of the ramp (the exit) is empty.  Nobody is exiting because this picture was taken just after the opening time.

Credit for the Information in this tour:

Papafava, Francesco. Ed. Guide to the Vatican Museums and City. Vatican City: Tipografia Vaticana., 1986

Also, I have included information from the exhibits at the Vatican Museum and notes from the lecture of Professor B. Nucci (University of Maryland University College - European Division) Home | Italy MAPS | Academic Content | Links | About Us | Italy News | Italian Phrasebook | Italy Weather | Site Map

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