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Behind The Scenes at the Vatican Museums

Together with a group of bloggers, BrowsingRome was invited to join the VIP Access – Vatican Behind the Scenes and Sistine Chapel Tour with Walks of Italy. I am grateful to Walks of Italy for this invitation as it was an incredible and memorable experience.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Bramante Staircase

Bramante Staircase

It was an extremely crowded day at the Vatican but we were told by our guide, Vincenzo, that on average day, there are about 20,000 visitors who go through the Vatican Museums.  Considering those numbers, having privileged entrance tickets is a huge plus.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Lines Outside

Thank goodness we skipped this line!

Our security check went relatively quickly and after Vincenzo got us sorted with the tickets and headsets, we were raring to get started.  Fortunately, our small group, with only 9 people compared to groups of 50 people, made things more efficient.

Vatican Sistine Chapel - Beat the crowds

That was how crowded it was!

While we did also get a tour of some of the more popular areas opened to the public such as Raphael rooms, Gallery of Tapestries and of course the Sistine Chapel, what made this tour stand out was the access we had to closed-off areas to the public.  At all times, we had these areas to ourselves – very cool!

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour: Private Custodian

Dedicated Private Custodian

I sure felt like a VIP as we had a dedicated museum custodian who was there to unlock these hidden gems for our group. This shows you don’t have to be the Zuckerbergs to get a VIP treatment when visiting the Vatican Museums.
Vatican Sistine Chapel: Access

3 Hidden Gems at the Vatican Museums

Here is a glimpse of the hidden gems we visited on this tour in the Vatican Museums and I hope you get a sense of the splendor and beauty that we experienced through the photos.

1. Bramante Staircase (Scala del Bramante)

This unique double-helix staircase was built in 1505 on orders of Pope Julius II and has became immensely influential.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour: Bramante Staircase

It was used as a model for the Pozzo San Patrizio in Orvieto (a well) and when the new entryway to the Vatican Museums was built under Pope Pius XI in the early 20th century, the staircase was copied again to serve as the entry staircase to the museums. It is now the exit.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Guide describing Bramante Staircase

Our guide Vincenzo imparting his knowledge

With this design, mules could continuously walk up and down to allow an easy flow of carrying large items into the papal palaces.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour: Bramante Staircase_Mules

Gabinetto delle Maschere (Cabinet of the Masks)

The name comes from the mosaic on the floor of the gallery, found in Villa Adriana, which shows ancient theater masks.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Gabinetto delle Maschere

Intricate and beautiful

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Group in Gabinetto delle Maschere

Looking at the details

It also contains one of the best examples of a complete Aphrodite of Knidos called the Colonna Aphrodite, one of the most well-known copies of Praxiteles’ original classical Greek sculptures.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Aphrodite


Along the walls, several famous statues are shown including the Three Graces which have visibly influenced scores of Renaissance artists, including Raphael.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Three Graces in Gabinetto delle Maschere

And among these beautiful and elegant statues, tuck in the corner of the Gabinetto delle Maschere, there is this chair-looking like object.  Any guesses what it is?

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Chair in Gabinetto delle Maschere

What could this be all about?

We also had the opportunity to step outside onto the terrace, Loggia Scoperta, which offers a remarkable view.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Loggia Scoperta

They sure enjoy this spectacular view!

Cappella Niccolina

Perhaps one of the most important rooms in the Vatican Museums, this chapel was opened until 2006 when it began an extensive restoration that only completed in 2009. It has remained closed to the public ever since and we sure felt privileged!

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Cappella Niccolina entrance

Stepping into the Cappella Niccolina - What a privilege!

Inside is a masterwork by renowned artist Fra (Beato) Angelico. The chapel predates the entire Sistine Chapel and many hold it to be is an equivalently important fresco cycle to anything found in the Sistine.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Cappella Niccolina

It was built in the most ancient part of the Vatican palaces known as the Tower of Innocent III (12th century) and was created for Pope Nicholas V in 1447-1449, and derives its name from this Pope.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Cappella Niccolina - Pope Nicholas V

Used as his private devotional chapel it depicts the Episodes from the life of St. Stephen fresco-cycle by Fra Angelico and his assistants as well as Scenes from the Life of St. Laurence patterned after those in San Lorenzo fuori le Mura.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Cappella Niccolina Saint Stephen and Saint Laurence

St. Stephen depicted in the top half and St. Laurence the bottom half

Certainly these artworks were extremely influential and may have even served as catalyst for the construction and painting of the Sistine Chapel under Pope Sixtus IV less than 40 years later.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Cappella Niccolina_Ceiling_Frescoes

Ceiling fresco - The evangelists

Final Words – Behind the Scenes at the Vatican Museums

Naturally, the tour culminated at the Sistine Chapel where everything that Vincenzo had pointed out and explained earlier eventually made sense.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - Belvedere Torso

Belvedere Torso

With so many treasures at the Vatican Museums, the experience can be  overwhelming and as Vincenzo had mentioned, he could spend 3-hours just describing the Sistine Chapel. That was the duration of the tour and reflects what a challenge it is to fit everything within that time frame.

Vatican Sistine Chapel Tour - School of Athens

School of Athens - Can you spot Michelangelo?

Vincenzo cleverly selected and described certain features during the tour and literally, it felt like he was giving us pieces of a gigantic puzzle that slowly came together and at the end, you were eventually able to see the entire picture.

Personally, I was impressed and if I have visitors in town who plan on visiting the Vatican Museums in the near future, I definitely know where to send them.  They will be in good hands and will have an experience of a life time.

For more information on this VIP Access – Vatican Behind the Scenes and Sistine Chapel tour, visit Walks of Italy’s website.

Here are other posts by bloggers who joined the tour:

VIP in the country next door by Codecables

The insider’s job by SpacedLaw

Are We Supposed to be Here?: Behind the Scenes at the Vatican by Young in Rome


About Diana


  1. Excellent article! It was so much fun. I hope I soon find the time to write my own blog about this visit.

  2. Excellent piece and excellent visit. Thanks for including me! Everyone should try to do this tour.

    • Hi Erica, thanks for leaving a comment. Glad you were able to make it and as it’s my first time with a guide at the Vatican Museum, I sure got a lot more out from this visit!

  3. Great post! That totally whet my appetite. :) :)

  4. Great post my friend!! Wow..would have loved to see the Cappella Niccolina! Had no idea it was there!! And the double helix stairway is incredible….very similar to the one at Chateau Chambord in France…incredible design! Thanks for taking me back to the Vatican.

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for leaving a comment. The next time you are in Rome, give me a buzz! It would be great to meet up. I know you would have loved to have seen these hidden gems and for sure appreciate them :)

  5. Thank you so much Diana for taking me along. I can only second Nathalie and Erica

  6. The odd seating, Sedes Stercoraria – ideas differ from a Roman bidet, imperial birthing stool or aPope’s Chair (to assure the gender of the pope before ordination).
    Great photos. Thank you for sharing, and lucky you!

    • Wow you got that right. Whatever it is was meant to be, it’s an interesting object nonetheless :-) The Vatican has its share of mysteries.

  7. Frank Del Bosque

    I really enjoy the spectacular photos of the museum!! I would really like to know the feeling
    Of being there and enjoy it in person!!!

    • Happy to hear you enjoy the photos. It’s a glimpse of the amazing attractions we saw there and hopefully, one day soon, you will get the chance to experience it too in person.

  8. Diana, I am hoping to book this for some of my clients thru the link you provided. I see that the October calendar is not available and they don’t expect it until early/mid September. This makes scheduling iffy for my clients and wondered if you had any insight as to the prospects of this being available in mid to late October? I lived in Italy for 2 years, south of Rome and visited the Vatican many times and wish I had had this opportunity…fascinating. I mentioned to Walks of Italy that I had read the description on your blog.
    Thanks and I am enjoying your info and suggestions.
    Ciao, Linda
    T’amo Italia

    • Hi Linda,

      I am pretty sure they will have this available in October as they would otherwise not have it listed on the website. However, I am sure you can understand that I am not in a position to give you a guarantee :)

      Your clients would love this tour as it is fascinating and though I have been to the Vatican Museums more than once, a guided tour makes a world of difference. Even more so when it’s a VIP one where you get to see rooms closed off to the public. Is this their first visit to Rome?

      Glad you enjoy the blog and thanks for reading :)

      A presto,

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