Yesterday was the last Sunday in the month of October and that can only mean one thing here in Rome: the Vatican Museum is open for free! *cue the stampede*
Did we go? Of course! We are nothing if not cheapos! But I do have a confession to make: we actually went last month and not yesterday. I’ve had this post festering in my drafts and since nothing more exciting happened during the weekend, I might as well tell you about our experience in the Vatican Museum and be caught up with everything we’ve done in Rome since our arrival.
For those of you that don’t know the way this works, the last Sunday of every month the Vatican Museum opens its doors for free from 9 am until 2 pm. The catch is that you must be inside the museum by noon. As you can imagine, it’s a madhouse. But, after living in Washington, D.C. for six months where almost every museum is free, Jaime had to find a way to get into as many museums for free as he possibly can.
While Jaime was very excited about the possibility of saving €32 (Admission price is €16/person), I will admit I had my doubts. Will the money saved be worth the unbearable crowds and the limited amount of time we’d have to visit one of the most important museums in the world? Many people say it’s not worth it because of the huge amounts of time one must stand in line, the possibility that you might not even be allowed in if noon comes around, and the crowds pushing you through every single room. I won’t lie to you, all of this is very true. And yet, if you have the opportunity to get in for free because you happen to be in the city on a free Sunday, I recommend you do it. (This is because we’ve also paid to go into the Vatican Museums–after this post was written–once in summer and once in winter, and both times, the crowds were just as massive as this time).
We got there at exactly 9 am and the line was long. I mean, miles long. And in my mind, I kind of had that little party that happens in wives’ brains when they realize they might be able to do the “I-told-you-so” dance. But once the line started moving, we were inside after about an hour.
For some of you, an hour might be more than what you’re willing to wait. But consider that even on a day you pay, you might have to wait that long anyway. For me, I’ve spent four hours on a line for a roller coaster at Six Flags before, so standing in line for an hour to see some of the world’s best art is not too much of a sacrifice.
Once the first hurdle of getting inside before noon was accomplished, we were scared that we wouldn’t have enough time to get to the Sistine Chapel, so we skipped a few things like the Egyptian section. But our worries were unfounded. Four hours really are more than enough time to soak everything in, get extremely overwhelmed by all the beauty around you, and wait around for a crazy photographer like Jaime who wants to get the perfect shot of every room. My advice is that for a museum like the Vatican Museum, it’s probably worth getting one of those books they sell at the gift shop with explanations of every artwork.
The only downer is that it is kind of true that you are being pushed around a lot but once again, but after having gone on regular admission days, we’ve since realized that this will always happen in the Vatican Museum. It’s kind of like the Louvre in that sense.
My only other recommendation is that you do some research before hand so that you have some idea of what you are about to see! If you’re going to pay €16 admission, don’t just skip everything to see the Sistine Chapel! There are so many priceless pieces of art along the way that are not given their proper due!
The Gallery of Maps, for example, is one of the most beautiful galleries in the museum. It is 120 meters long, so while the custom of decorating walls with maps can be traced back to ancient Rome, the grandiose scale of this particular gallery is very unique. The way the maps are arranged are also very unique, with the regions touching the Adriatic coast on the right and the ones touching the Tyrrhenian Sea on the left. The design and creating of this room are attributed to Pope Gregory XIII and the cartographer Ignazio Danti at the end of the 16th century. On the right is a picture of the Hall of the Chariot with the statue of the two-horse chariot.
Equally important are the Raphael rooms, which are four rooms that make up the Papal Palace section of the Vatican Museums. These rooms include amazing and famous frescos by Raphael and his school such as the Crowning of Charlemagne and the School of Athens.
Before you get to the Sistine Chapel, you also get to explore the Borgia apartments. Having watched the HBO series, The Borgias, we were very excited to see the Borgia apartments. The story goes that Borgia’s successor, Pope Julius II (della Rovere, for those of you that watch the series) did not want to reside in the same place his hated predecessor lived, so he began the building of the rooms that eventually became the Raphael rooms.
Finally, we got to see what everyone is most excited to see: the Sistine Chapel. Obviously, what can I say about it? It’s beautiful, magnificent, awe-inspiring and there are really no adequate words to describe the feeling of actually being there. As the Sistine Chapel is, in fact, a chapel, one must enter with shoulders and knees covered (same policy employed by St. Peter’s Basilica) and maintain quiet respect while inside. Technically, you are also not allowed to take pictures, but as everyone was blatantly doing it anyway, we also managed to snap a few shots.
After the Sistine Chapel, even we were completely oversaturated by the art, so we breezed through the last few rooms and started to head towards to exit, where you must be sure not to miss one more spectacular piece of art. This is the Spiral Staircase of Giuseppe Momo, completed in 1932.
So all in all, I have to begrudgingly say that Jaime was right: visiting the Vatican Museum on free Sunday was totally worth it.