With 54 galleries, no one does museums quite like the Vatican. Over the years, the Catholic Church has collected and amassed one of the finest collections of art and history on Earth. Whether you are religious or not, the quality of the Vatican’s cultural artifacts is so impressive that almost everyone can find something to appreciate amongst the exhibits, displays, corridors, and steepled ceilings.
Founded by Pope Julius II, it was added to and enlarged by successive pontiffs over the years, becoming the conglomerated, gallery/museum it is today. Almost 4.5 miles of corridors lead guests through displays of mummies, old world maps, paintings, murals, statues, and chapels. Modern art accompanies classical pieces, and some of the most famous creative works ever produced crowd the walls. Buy a ticket and take the tour to experience one of the best funded and well maintained galleries to have ever existed.
Museo Storico Vaticano
Founded in 1973, but officially opened in 1991, this historical museum is located on the main floor of the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran. There is a unique collection of 16th century pope portraits for those interested in the succession, and old religious relics used in ancient papal ceremonies. The basement even has a set of retired Popemobiles on display, including even the first car used by the pope.
If you are a fan of classical sculptures, this is the place for you! Featuring seven prominent galleries (Greek Cross Gallery, Sola Rotunda, Gallery of Statues, Gallery of Busts, Cabinet of the Masks, Sala delle Muse, and Sala Degli Animali) the scope of craftsmanship on display is truly incredible. Pope Clement XIV founded this museum in 1771, though it originally contained renaissance and antique works.
Museo Gregoriano Egizio
One of the more unique museums you’ll find in the Vatican, in Museo Gregoriano Egizio the relics and artwork are almost exclusively Egyptian. From ancient papyrus scrolls to mummified animals, the Grassi Collection and reproductions of the Book of the Dead, it is a refreshing and exotic dive into the ancient history of Italy’s mysterious neighbor to the South.
Galleria delle Carte Geografiche
The final gallery out of a trio that includes the Gallery of the Candelabra and the Tapestry Gallery, this museum is sure to spark the interest of anyone into geography and cartography. The walls are covered with 40 different topographical maps from the 16th century, along with illustrations of Italy tracking the evolution of our perception of Earth (although most of these have as much artistic value as they do navigational information).
Stanze di Raffaello
Remember Pope Julius II who founded the Vatican Museums? Well, these were his private apartment chambers at one time. And he had very expensive taste in art. Raphael himself painted several of the rooms (and the others were completed by students following his style). The paintings adorning these chambers depict allegories and famous historical events like Plato and Aristotle convening with their philosophy students in Greece, or Constantine's battle with Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge.
Any list of Vatican Museums would be incomplete without the mack daddy of them all - the Sistine Chapel. Two of the most famous works in the world can be found here: Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes and Giudizio Universale. But, because of it’s reputation, the chapel can get really crowded and you may be sharing the room with up to 2000 other people. Don't worry, though, there is a lot to see. Wander around and examine the paintings from different angles and perspectives and you are sure to notice new things. Michelangelo was insanely detailed and logged around ten years painting his masterpiece ceiling.