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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
With this design, mules could continuously walk up and down to allow an easy flow of carrying large items into the papal palaces.
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.
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.
Along the walls, several famous statues are shown including the Three Graces which have visibly influenced scores of Renaissance artists, including Raphael.
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?
We also had the opportunity to step outside onto the terrace, Loggia Scoperta, which offers a remarkable view.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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