From Michaelangelo to Michael Schumacher: visiting the Vatican Museums

The hordes of people queueing to get into the Vatican Museums took me so by surprise that I devoted a whole blog post to the queue.

However, there is so much more to the Vatican Museums than the crowd.  These museums truly house some marvels of art, sculpture and antiquities.

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The Vatican Museums began life in the 1500s as the private art collections of the Pontiff, which was opened up to the public to allow them to share in and appreciate the collected art.  A who’s who of history’s most famous artists have work in the museums, including Michaelangelo, Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael.  It is no wonder that the Vatican Museums attract the crowds that they do.

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I have to say, art, sculpture and antiquities are not really my thing, and Museums such as these are not normally on my agenda when travelling.  But all exhibits and artefacts aside, the building itself is absolutely beautiful.  I couldn’t take my eyes of the ceilings.

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Every single corridor we walked along was so ornately decorated and so much attention to detail.  I found the ceilings of the museums an attraction in themselves.

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Then there were some rooms where murals covered the walls and the ceilings.  The most stunning example of this was the Raphael Rooms.  Raphael was commissioned to decorate the private apartments of Pope Julius II, although he only completed two out of the four rooms prior to his death; the rest were completed by his pupils.

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For anyone independently visiting the museums without a tour guide, there are information boards in the main rooms to help interpret the stories being depicted in the artwork.  However, what Jim & I found was that the rooms would be very crowded, so it is difficult to get close to and stay close to the information boards for long enough to read them properly.  We gave up on that after a while, and just looked at and appreciated the art.

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The Sistine Chapel

This was actually quite a long way into the Museums, so Jim & I already had a touch of museum fatigue before we got there.  The Sistine Chapel is the private chapel of the Pope, and is famous for Michaelangelo’s ceiling frescos, which he painted single handedly over the course of 4 years.

I had mixed feelings about the Sistine Chapel.  There is no denying that the art is spectacular.  However, the actual experience of visiting wasn’t very relaxing or enjoyable.  The rules about visiting the Sistine Chapel are very strict – absolute silence and no photography.  Unfortunately, half of the people visiting paid no attention to the rules – one man caused a stir by very brazenly lying on his back on the floor to take a picture of the ceiling.  This created a bit of a school exam hall type atmosphere, with a lot of people packed in close proximity, and museum officials patrolling, forcing anyone they caught taking pictures to delete them, and constantly shushing the whisperers in the crowd.

The whole time I was there, I just kept thinking how amazing it must be for the Pope to be able to go into the Sistine Chapel  and appreciate it all by himself when all the crowds are gone.

Surprise attractions

In typical style, I visit a place housing some of the world’s most famous art, and two of my favourite aspects of the Museums had absolutely nothing to do with art at all.

1. The view from the window

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It was quite hot in the museums when we went to visit, and so when we spied an open window on a corridor, we made a beeline for it.  This gave an unexpected but lovely view of St Peter’s and the Vatican Gardens.

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2. Michael Schumacher’s steering wheel

Suffering from museum fatigue, Jim & I were having a little break sitting outside when we spotted a sign for an exhibition about the Pope’s vehicles.  Neither of us were that interested in seeing the cars and coaches, but it was underground and therefore cool, and nobody else seemed to he heading in.  After wandering around for a little while, I came across a steering wheel taken from Michael Schumacher’s Formula 1 Ferrari.  I don’t follow Formula 1, but I was ridiculously pleased by this steering wheel because it had so many different buttons and controls on it that it blew my mind that anyone could operate this whilst driving a car at 200mph.

So like any true philistine, it was Michael Schumacher rather than Michaelangelo that really made my day.

The rest of Vatican city

The Vatican is not all about St Peter’s and the Vatican Museums.  There are some very pretty little side streets with appealing restaurants, although all of the eateries in the Vatican are very much geared towards tourists and are priced accordingly.  There is also a famous gelateria called Old Bridge – we didn’t even get close to this as it was so thick with crowds waiting for their taste of the famous ice cream.

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We skipped the Castel Sant’Agnello as we were exhausted by sightseeing after the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s, but it sounds really interesting (it is apparently a notorious renaissance prison) and it is definitely somewhere that I would visit on a future trip to Rome.

How to get there

It is possible to reach the Vatican by foot, although depending on your start point it can be quite far.  We stayed near the Colosseum and so elected to take the metro.  Take metro line A towards Battistini and get off at Ottaviano – the entrance to the Museums is about a 10 minute walk through Vatican city – just follow the crowds.

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12 responses to “From Michaelangelo to Michael Schumacher: visiting the Vatican Museums

  1. Looked up “ice cream Vatican City” and a very english sounding Oldbridge Ice Cream came up. Still the blurb around it suggests it may be the one you referred to in your blog.

    “If you find yourself in Rome, around St Peter’s area, you will notice a long queue of people standing outside Old Bridge gelateria. During the period from March to September especially, Old Bridge gelateria is visited daily by thousands of people who in many cases have to wait in the queue for up to one hour before tasting our finest ice-creams.”

    I like a decent Ice cream but Spurelli’s in Amble sounds much more authentic Italian than “Old Bridge Gelateria”!

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