The Vatican Museums are a world of artistic wonder located within the boundaries of the Vatican City.
Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century and enlarged by successive pontiffs, the Vatican Museums boast one of the world’s greatest art collections.
The museums contain approximately 70,000 works of which 20,000 on display.
There are 54 galleries in total, with the most famous probably being the Sistine Chapel with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Raphael’s rooms decorated by Raphael.
Exhibits, which are displayed along about 7 km (4.3 mi) of halls and corridors, range from Egyptian mummies and Etruscan bronzes to ancient busts, old masters and modern paintings.
The Vatican Museums trace their origin to one marble sculpture, purchased 500 years ago. The sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons was discovered 14 January 1506, in a vineyard near the of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Pope Julius II sent Giuliano da Sangallo and Michelangelo Buonarroti, who were working at the Vatican, to check out the discovery. On their recommendation, the pope immediately purchased the sculpture from the vineyard owner. The pope put the sculpture of Laocoön and his sons in the grips of a sea serpent on public display at the Vatican exactly one month after its discovery.
Home to two of the world’s most famous works of art – Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes (1508–12) and his Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment; 1536–41) – the Sistine Chapel is one of the main attractions of the Vatican Museums. It is the last of 54 galleries in the Museums.
The Raphael’s rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) is four rooms in the Vatican Palace that is also a masterpiece of the Vatican Museums. The four rooms were painted by the famous Renaissance artist, Raphael and his pupils. The rooms were originally painted as a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II. Raphael was commissioned by the Pope to transform and improve the decor of the rooms in 1508.
The famous double spiral staircase of the Vatican Museums were designed by architect and engineer Giuseppe Momo in 1932 and commissioned by Pope Pius XI. It is one of the most photographed pieces in a museum.
The building of the Pinacoteca, completed in 1931, was commissioned by Pius IX (1922 -1939), expressly to house a collection of paintings, belonging to various popes and started by Pius VI (1775-1799). The works, covering a period from the Middle Ages to 1800, are set in chronological order, in eighteen rooms.
Founded in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI, the Gregorian Egyptian Museum now houses ancient artifacts originating from ancient Egypt, and taken via Rome and Villa Adriana in Tivoli through the Imperial Age. Occupying nine rooms, this section displays sculptures and statues, clay figurines and bronze objects – among many others!
The Pio-Clementino museum takes its name from two popes, Clement XIV and Pius VI, the pope who brought the museum to completion. Pope Clement XIV founded the Pio-Clementino museum in 1771, and originally it contained the Renaissance and antique works. The museum and collection were enlarged by Clement’s successor Pius VI. Today, the museum houses works of Greek and Roman sculpture.
The Chiaramonti museum is effectively the long corridor that runs down the east side of the Belvedere Palace. Its walls are lined with many statues, sarcophaguses and friezes. Near the end of the hall, off to the right, is the Braccio Nuovo (New Wing), which contains important statues like The Prima Porta Augustus, Doryphorus, and The River Nile.
The Gallery of Maps takes its name from the 40 maps frescoed on the walls, which represent the Italian regions and the papal properties at the time of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585). They were painted between 1580 and 1585 on drawings by Ignazio Danti, a famous geographer of the time. Considering the Apennines as a partition element, on one side the regions surrounded by the Ligure and Tyrrhenian Seas are represented; on the other, the regions surrounded by the Adriatic Sea. The map of the main city accompanies each regional map.
The artist Bernardino di Betto (Pinturicchio) painted the rich frescoes in the Borgia Apartments, the area on the first floor where Pope Alexander VI lived. The paintings and frescoes, which were executed between 1492 and 1494, drew on a complex iconographic program that used themes from medieval encyclopedias, adding an eschatological layer of meaning and celebrating the supposedly divine origins of the Borgias. Most of the rooms are now used for the Collection of Modern Religious Art.
The Collection of Modern Religious Art was added in 1973 and houses paintings and sculptures from artists like Carlo Carrà, Gerardo Dottori, Giorgio de Chirico, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.
With 43,000 square meters (460,000 square feet) the Vatican Museums is the 5th largest museum in the world.
The Vatican Museums attracts about 6 million people per year.
On the last Sunday of each month, the Vatican Museum is open to the public for free. It is popular and common for people to wait in line for many hours.
The Vatican Museums currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments.
Not only Vatican Museums, but a whole Vatican city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.