Perhaps the greatest collection of exhibits in the entire world, the jaw-dropping Vatican Museums combine sublime Renaissance masterpieces with time-honored Roman relics.
The Vatican Museums collection was created by Pope Julius II in 1506 — the same year the foundation stone was laid for St. Peter’s Basilica — to display the masterpieces acquired by the Catholic Church over the previous centuries. These works, which include paintings, sculpture and historical artifacts, now attract more than 5 million visitors each year.
There are many smaller collections that make up the Vatican Museums collection, with each boasting spectacular works of art, but there are a few particular highlights visitors should prioritize. The Pinacoteca Vaticana art gallery contains renowned paintings and altarpieces by Old Masters including Giotto, Raphael and da Vinci as well as Caravaggio's signature work The Entombment of Christ. The Museo Pio-Clementino is home to examples of Greek and Roman sculpture. There are also sprawling collections of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, contemporary religious art and decorative Italian maps through the ages.
Most notably, there are a series of rooms dedicated to the Renaissance master Raphael. Originally intended as a suite of apartments for Pope Julius II, but now existing as a shrine to the great artist. The four rooms here have some of Raphael’s greatest surviving frescoes and other works, including The School of Athens, Adam and Eve and The Parnassus.
However, perhaps the most famous room isn’t actually in the museum’s collection, but en route to it. The Sistine Chapel was designed and painted by the finest group of interior decorators ever assembled. The walls are covered in stunning frescoes by Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Rosselli and other great Renaissance artists, while the ceiling has what is considered Michelangelo’s greatest work, The Creation of Adam and Eve.
The Vatican Museum is in central Rome and is open Monday to Saturday, and is also open the last Sunday of each month when entry is free. It is closed for several holidays throughout the year. Check the museum’s website for details.
You can walk there from the city center; the most direct route is to cross the Tiber and walk straight up Via della Conciliazione. The Metro train station Ottaviano is a short walk away along Via Ottaviano.