Outlined below is information on the Vatican to help plan your time in the museums, but we recommend you take an organized tour of the Vatican like our small group tours of the Vatican to ensure you make the most of your time inside these vast and overwhelming museums.
The Vatican museums are a testament to the power of papal art patronage and curatorial talent. For your information, the Vatican museum has a one-way system to prevent visitors from getting side-tracked in the maze of rooms, stairways and courtyards.
However, you can be selective within this framework or choose to follow one of four color-coded itineraries. Each itinerary, however, culminates in the Sistine Chapel.
As you begin your tour you will pass through the Egyptian Museum, where an underground tomb-chamber of the Valley of the Kings is reproduced, and then make your way through the long, sweeping corridor that forms the Chiaramonti Museum, a virtual warehouse of prepossessing busts of ancient Romans and fine copies of classical Greek works.
The sculpture of antiquity is also the focus of the Pio- Clementine Museum, which contains such masterpieces as the elegant Apollo Belvedere, the Lacoon Group and the Belvedere Torso. From here you can wind your way into the Etruscan Museum or continue on to the Rooms of the Greek Originals, filled with 5th and 4th Century BC Statues and parts of the original decoration of the Parthenon.
Covering the walls of the Gallery of Tapestries are enormous, expressive masterpieces of weaving based on cartoons by the pupils of Raphael. The Gallery of Maps is covered with frescoes that serve as an important record of 16th Century geography and cartography.
The required viewing of the Vatican Museums include the Raphael's Stanze, where young Raphael made his mark; the tiny Chapel of Nicholas V with exquisite frescoes by Fra Angelico; the Borgia Apartment which offers a virtual one-man show by the Renaissance master Pinturicchio.
A stroll through the Collection of Modern Religious Art will get you back in the 20th Century. The hundred of works by such artists as Rodin, Chagall Munch etc., provide proof that this subject is still persisting in modern art. The elaborately decorated Vatican Library is also considered part of the museum with more than a million books and prints.
Finally, no tour is complete without a visit to the 15 rooms of the Picture Gallery or Pinacoteca, which provide a fine survey of Italian Painting ranging from the Primitives of the 11 and 12 Century, the Florentine masters, to the painters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
You will know immediately when you have reached the Sistine Chapel, because not only everyone is in the room standing with his eyes turned toward the ceiling, but there is an amazing hush that descends as you enter.
Although the walls of the Sistine Chapel are covered with paintings by a number of Renaissance masters, including Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, they become secondary in the company of Michelangelo's extraordinary fresco covering the great vaulted ceiling. Also in this rooms, on the wall behind the altar, is his sweeping fresco The Last Judgment.