Vatican Museums, Rome What started as just a small collection of sculptures has, over the centuries, turned into a complex of the world’s most magnificent museums featuring one of the finest collections of art on the planet. History of the Museums The Vatican Museums were founded under the patronage of two 18th century popes - Clement XIV (1769-1774) and Pius VI (1775-1799) – who were among the first to open collections of art to the general public for viewing, therefore promoting culture among the masses. Appropriately, the first building in the museum complex, the Pio-Clementine Museum, was named after these two pontiffs. As the decades passed, more popes added to the already impressive collection of diverse artworks owned and displayed by the Vatican. Today, there are 13 museums and collections and an additional 14 Vatican palaces that are included on tours of the Vatican Museum complex. The building complex is worth a visit in itself as all rooms and hallways are lavishly decorated with marble and frescoes. The Museums The many museums that make up the Vatican complex are quite diverse. Nonetheless, each is interesting to explore and which you enjoy most will largely depend on your artistic preferences. The Gregorian Egyptian Museum was founded in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI, who had a keen interest in Egypt. Featuring nine rooms, objects d’art in this museum range from third century BC hieroglyphics to third century AD pieces from Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine. The Gregorian Etruscan Museum, founded by the same Pope, is large and fun to explore. With 23 rooms, this diverse museum includes everything from Tuscan sarcophaguses to Roman jewelry, terra cotta, glass and ivory to wonderful 16th century frescoes by some of Italy’s best. The Vatican Pinacoteca, one of the newer museums – opened in 1932 – is, technically, a picture gallery. Paintings range in age from the 12th to 19th centuries and include entire rooms devoted to the works of such greats as DaVinci, Bernini, and Raphael. There’s also a unique display of icons from the 15th through 19th centuries.turkeyarena.com Founded by Pius XI in 1926, the Ethnological Missionary Museum features objects of a religious nature from four geographical areas – Asia, Oceania, Africa, and America. About 80,000 pieces make up the total collection for this particular museum. Other museums include the Collection of Modern Religious Art, founded by Pope Paul VI in 1973 and featuring 55 rooms; Classical Antiquities Museum (Greek and Roman);the Pio Clementine Museum with the famous Laocoön statue; the Pio Christian Museum (with the Christian and Hebrew Lapidary); Tapestries; Ceramics; Miniature Mosaics; Museo Sacro; Gregorian Profane Museum; and the Vatican Historical Museum, which provides a fascinating look at the long and sometimes turbulent history of the Vatican. Sistine Chapel and Stanze of Raphael The Vatican Palaces on the tour include the famous Sistine Chapel, where visitors can enjoy not only Michelangelo’s famous ceiling but also a host of other wonderful works of art, including the artist’s The Last Judgment on the altar wall. (Bring binoculars for a better view.) In addition, the four rooms known as the Stanze of Raphael, once the residence of Pope Julius II, feature the works of Raphael and others from his school. Other ornate Vatican Palaces are also featured on the tour, including the Upper Galleries of Tapestries and Maps and residences of several former pontiffs. Visiting the Vatican Museums Once you’ve purchased your tickets for admission to the Vatican Museums, you can choose to follow one of four color-coded itineraries that range from 1 ½ hours to more than 5 hours. All itineraries end in the Sistine Chapel. Even with a five-hour tour, it’s impossible to see everything there is to admire, but you’ll get a good overview and hit the most well-known highlights of these magnificent museums.