At the end of Roma, Part 2, we left for the Vatican Museums. When we arrived, we got to skip the line because we made a reservation online beforehand. We entered the doors, which are essentially doors through the wall of the Vatican City, accessed from a side street of Rome.
The entrance hall can only be described as chaos. It was packed to the gills with people who were all trying to make their way through airport style security. After we got through, we made our way to the will call window to retrieve our tickets. We went up the stairs to enter.
The museums are vast. They house one of the largest collections of art in the history of the world, built over centuries by the Popes. The famous Sistine Chapel is the highlight of the museums. They have not only Catholic art but a large collection of ancient pre-Christian art. You generally walk on a predefined route through the galleries, and along the way there are shortcuts if you want to skip some less important rooms. The buildings are quite old and grand, but some of the rooms in particular are cramped and lacking in modern amenities.
I was overwhelmed. I can appreciate art, but it’s hard for me to appreciate too much art at once… it starts to become boring and you go through the motions. We were herded through the rooms like sheep and it was very crowded. We had also walked many miles that day already, so I was tired. It was obvious, however, that they had some very important and beautiful stuff in there. One room I enjoyed had many maps of Italy through the centuries, both of the country as a whole and of specific regions. I probably should have spent more time in that room studying the maps carefully. If I return to these museums, I definitely will.
Occasionally, while walking through the museums, you’d pass a window with a great view of the City of Rome (as well as a nice breath of fresh air):
We walked, and we walked, and we walked some more. We were tired and feeling a bit claustrophobic. Every few minutes you’d see a sign with arrows pointing forward to “Cappella Sistina.” The arrows deceivingly made it seem like the Sistine Chapel was right around the corner. After an hour of walking and looking at these signs, we wondered how long it would be until we reached the Chapel! (They also offered several shortcuts but we didn’t think we needed one so we took the long way)
Finally, we reached the Chapel. It was crowded and you never saw more people looking straight up in your life. No photos are permitted, and they try to keep it as silent as they can… every few minutes they do a PA announcement essentially telling people to shut up! Here’s an image from Wikipedia since I couldn’t take any photos.
It was very beautiful and impressive, but we were exhausted. I enjoyed seeing da Vinci’s the Last Supper in Milan more, because it was quiet, easy to get into, and it was the only work in the “museum” so it allowed for more focus. If you go to the Vatican, I would recommend going to the Vatican Museums on a weekday, not on a Saturday after the Pope just had an audience. I would also consider skipping ahead to the Chapel first, before you are exhausted and/or bored. You can go back to the beginning for more after, if you so please. I may return for a second visit this summer.
The Museums also have a wonderful courtyard which we visited for some fresh air.
Panoramic (Click to enlarge)
I believe there was much more to the museums – whole other wings – and also more to the gardens. We decided that we had had enough for this trip, however. Next we visited St. Peter’s Basilica.