What comes to mind when you think of the Vatican? Saint Peter’s Basilica, from which the pope still gives his addresses? The Vatican Museums, with their unparalleled collections that would take you four years to see if you spent just a minute looking at each artwork? For most, the answer is the Sistine Chapel.
Built in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, even in its own day the Sistine Chapel was one of world’s great wonders. The chapel was named after the pope who commissioned it, Sixtus IV (1414 – 1484), who had it converted from the cappella magna (Great Fortified Hall). The Sistine Chapel could still serve as a fortification because of bubbling tensions the Papacy in Rome, the Medici Family in Florence and Turks threatening Italy’s west coast.
Few people know the name of the Sistine Chapel’s architect, Giovanni dei Dolci. But everybody has heard of the Sistine Chapel’s main artist – Michelangelo Buonarotti. His famous frescoes, like the Last Judgement and the ceiling cycle of biblical scenes, are the main attractions that draw the Sistine Chapel’s multitude of visitors and render if one of the greatest artistic and architecture achievements on the planet.
The structure of the Sistine Chapel was completed in 1481. But as impressive as its rectangular, six arched windowed walls and barrel-vaulted ceiling were, the interior did not quite match the splendour. The Sistine Chapel still needed a rich artistic programme. This is where the Florentine Renaissance Masters came in.
While most people think only of Michelangelo, his was not the only hand to leave a mark on the chapel. Other artists who painted its walls include Perugino, Pinturicchio, and Botticelli, whose Birth of Venus is one of the centrepieces of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. But Michelangelo’s legacy has proved the most lasting, deservedly receiving the most amount of attention during any tour of the Sistine Chapel.
From 1508 to 1512, Michelangelo worked practically single-handedly on the Sistine Chapel ceilings. Under the watchful eye of Pope Julius II, he toiled away, seeking perfection despite not being a natural fresco artist. Few can criticize the end result. Michelangelo’s achievement earned praise sung throughout the ages (and not a little bit of controversy too). Visit the Vatican with us today and we’ll tell you just why.
The Sistine Chapel still serves a key purpose in the Vatican. The pope uses it as his own private chapel. It is the preferred site of various papal ceremonies. And most importantly, it is the seat of the Papal conclave, where the Vatican’s cardinals gather to elect a new pope whenever a vacancy arises.
Monday – Saturday 9:00AM – 6:00PM
Last Sunday of each month 9:00AM – 2:00PM
1, 6 January
11, 19, 22, 28 February
8, 26 December
Pick your times. The best times to visit the Sistine Chapel are early in the morning before general opening. You can do this through our exclusive Sistine Chapel Tour with VIP Earliest Access. Or, if you’re more of an owl, you can tour the Vatican by night once the crowds have dispersed.
Dress appropriately. The Sistine Chapel is still a functioning place of worship, and so wearing clothes that cover the legs and shoulders is essential. If the temperature is sweltering outside, pack a polo shirt or shawl to cover up with once inside.
Savour the moment and go at your own pace. Visiting the Vatican is truly a once in a lifetime experience, and the amount on offer is almost overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to go with a guide who can take you through the highlights and pick what’s best for you, whether on your own private tour or in the intimacy of a small group.
Until you have seen the Sistine Chapel, you have no adequate conception of what man is capable of accomplishing