When in Rome Part II: The Vatican Museums

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Before this trip, the only things I knew about the Vatican City were that Michaelangelo painted one of the ceilings and the Pope lives there. Turns out, it’s also home to a 16th-century museum where 20,000 pieces of the world’s most important works of classical art are on display. The Tasmanian couple who warned us that the Trevi Fountain was barricaded also told us that we could easily spend all day in this museum—and ladies and gents, they weren’t kidding.

Leslie: Inside the walls felt completely different from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Rome outside. There was plenty to see on the tour: the Museums that were completely packed with artwork and sculptures, the architecture, etc. By the time we got to the Sistine Chapel my mind was already reeling with all we had seen.

There were so many artifacts in this museum that sometimes it almost felt like we were walking through a hoarder’s estate sale—which is ironic, considering I’ve just learned that the Italian word for “galleries” is sale. (*snort*) But seriously, that is one estate sale I’d love to attend.

And the statues—oh, goodness, the statues. They were the absolute sassiest. There was so much attitude in those galleries that it’s a good thing Night at the Museum isn’t a real thing. That Athena, especially. Goddess of knowledge and warfare? Please. She’s the goddess of snark.

Not only were the galleries full of incredible artifacts and statues, but the buildings themselves were a marvel to behold. Every room had vaulted ceilings, painted walls, arched doorways, mosaiced floors, or all of the above.

I mean, seriously. Look at those ceilings. I got a crick in my neck from spending so much time looking up.

But I guess it kind of makes sense that the ceilings would be so spectacular, considering Michaelangelo spent four years suspended from the most iconic ceiling of all. For being one of his most famous works of art, I was surprised to learn that he didn’t want to do it in the first place. He considered himself a sculptor, not a painter, but Pope Julius II insisted he do it. The project damaged his eyesight and left his relationship with the Catholic church strained.[1]

And for all the hype, the Sistine Chapel wasn’t my favorite part of the Vatican. Don’t get me wrong, the artwork is incredible, and it was definitely cool to see it. Michaelangelo might not have considered himself a painter, but dang, son. He’s still way better at pushing a brush around than I am.

Leslie: Somehow, in my mind, the Sistine Chapel ceiling was one large continuous painting with the focus on Adam and God with their pointer fingers outstretched, touching in the center (like this) I really wasn’t expecting to see so many small scenes, each about the size of a postage stamp from the ground so far below (I may be exaggerating, but that’s what it felt like while craning my neck up to take it all in).

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the Sistine Chapel, and I’ve heard that people have had their phones confiscated for trying to sneak pictures. There are signs everywhere imploring visitors to be silent out of respect, but it’s hard to keep a shuffling mass of a hundred people crammed into a tiny space all that quiet. Every ten seconds or so, the scary-looking guards would bellow “SILENCIO!”, effectively ruining the very atmosphere of silent respect they were trying to enforce.

Leslie: I would have spent a lot more time here to study all of Michelangelo’s paintings in detail had the room not been so hot, and had we not been packed into the chapel like sardines. That part was definitely not what I was expecting…

Pro Tip
If you are at all claustrophobic, I might suggest not visiting the Sistine Chapel. Maybe it’s less crowded if you go early in the morning or late at night, but I can’t say for certain since we went in the middle of the day.

We didn’t pay to go into St. Peter’s Basilica, so the Sistine Chapel was our exit point out into St. Peter’s Square. The Pope had just finished speaking to a large crowd in the square, and there were still thousands of chairs set up. Many of the attendees were still milling about, so Leslie and I sat down to rest our feet and people watch for a few minutes.

Leslie: I truly enjoyed exploring Vatican City and all it had to offer.

  • The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
  • Official Site
  • Price: Adults €16
  • 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)
    Our Rating

From there, we walked over to the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was originally built by my buddy Hadrian as his own mausoleum. It’s now a museum, and although we didn’t go inside, it gave us a nice walk along the Tiber River. We tried to visit the Spanish Steps, but apparently, Rome decided to renovate everything while we were visiting, and it was also boarded up. Boo.

But since we had time to kill, we wandered the park surrounding Villa Borghese and trekked way back over to the Parco del Gianicolo, both of which provided beautiful views of the Roman skyline. After one more taste of Giolitti’s gelato, we headed back to our hostel for an early night before we flew to Vienna the next day.

Read more about my adventure with Leslie here.

Where We Stayed: Four Seasons Hostel Rome
Photo by Leslie

+ Great atmosphere and excellent staff, and it’s just a short walk to the metro. We interacted more with our roommates here than most of our other hostels, and we met girls from Malaysia, China, and Equador.

– The bathrooms left a lot to be desired (they were dirty and stinky and often out of soap/hand towels/toilet paper).

Type of Room: 8 Bed Female Dorm

Rating: 4.3 Stars (4.3 / 5)

Booked at HostelWorld[A]

[1] LiveScience

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