The Sistine Chapel is the personal chapel of the pope and the place where new popes are elected. But its claim to fame is its paint job: colorful frescoes by Michelangelo, depicting the entire Christian history from the Creation to the Last Judgment. We'll start with Michelangelo's frescoes on the ceiling, painted in his younger days. We'll end with the work he completed nearly three decades later on the altar wall — the Last Judgment. These works are huge, and we'll talk about the monumental task of plastering and painting they entailed. On this 30-minute visit, we'll stand under dramatic episodes from the Bible, including one of the most iconic images of Western art — the touching fingers of the Creation of Man. Don't forget to download the handy PDF companion maps.
Sightseeing nitty-gritty: The Sistine Chapel is part of a visit to the sprawling Vatican Museum, which has erratic hours (observing Christian holidays), a dress code (basically no shorts or bare shoulders), and can have very long lines to get in. Get my guidebook and plan ahead, and check the latest information at www.vatican.va or tel. 06-6988-3860 or 06-6988-1662.
Normal hours are Mon–Sat 9:00–18:00, last entry at 16:00. The cost is €14, except on the last Sun of each month when it's free. Avoid lines with an online reservation at http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va, €4 booking fee. The always-crowded museum is most crowded mornings, Sat-Mon, rainy days, and any day before or after a holiday closure. The nearest Metro stops are Cipro and Ottaviano. Taxis are reasonable (hop in and say, "moo-ZAY-ee vah-tee-KAH-nee"). No photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Elsewhere in the museum, photos without a flash are permitted.
The Sistine Chapel is located at the far end of the museum. Signs everywhere direct you to it. Either sightsee your way to the Sistine, or go directly there while you're still fresh. The rest of the Vatican Museum is a virtual catalog of world history, featuring Egyptian mummies, Greek statues, Roman sarcophagi, Raphael frescoes, and the magnificent palace they're housed in.
[This audio tour was updated in 2015]
For more specifics, consult my guidebook. This was excerpted from Rick Steves' Rome 2010. Copyright 2009 Avalon Travel. Related information at www.ricksteves.com.
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