The Vatican Museums (or Musei Vaticani in Italian) house an enormous collection of art pieces. The collection was built over the centuries by the Roman Catholic Church and includes some of the most renowned and most important pieces of art in the world. In total there are more than 100 000 pieces! Since Vatican has been mostly safe from threats, most of those magnificent pieces of art are nicely preserved.
As I have already mentioned in my previous post where I wrote about Vatican attractions in general, it is strongly advised to book Vatican Museums tickets on-line ahead of time. If you however fail to do so, there is a last minute alternative... Try to schedule your visit at the time when Pope's audience takes place (usually every Wednesday), but there are just too many other factors to rely on this as a fact.
If you are after free admission, that is also possible. On the last Sunday of every month there is no entrance fee, but they stay open only until 2:00PM and you can expect a large crowd. They are closed on other Sundays. The Museums usually get the most crowded on Saturdays, Mondays, rainy days, days before or after a holiday and obviously on the last Sunday of the month.
So, if you can, you should try to schedule your visit on one of the remaining days. There is also a dress code to keep in mind: no short shorts or bare shoulders are allowed.
This is obviously a very popular attraction. Over 4 million visitors every year is a definite proof of that. When you walk by the usually hundreds of metres long queue at the entrance, you will quickly begin to appreciate the benefits of a ticket purchased on-line.
I think this place definitely deserves all the attention it is getting. I had a feeling I would have to spend months inside to begin to appreciate those vast collections of beautifully preserved pieces.
This obviously does not apply to everyone - there were quite a few groups of people just flying through those rooms, not paying any real attention to anything on their way, probably visiting Vatican just to thick another item on their list... Try not to be one of them and rather enjoy your experience instead - even though this means skipping some items on that long list of yours.
Everything from floors to ceilings deserves visitor's attentions. Even wooden window shutters look like pieces of art on display here!
Another thing I could not help noticing were all the missing/covered penises on those countless statues. After a brief investigation I found out they were chopped off and covered by fig leaves by the order of Pope Pius IX. Some of his successors also continued with this tradition. Supposedly there is no statue with a visible penis in Vatican today.
This made me wonder... Where did all those penises go? Do they keep them in a secret compartment somewhere behind the thick Vatican walls or were they destroyed? Is nude art still an issue today?
After some additional investigation I learned all those private parts have actually been kept in wooden boxes somewhere in museum's storage rooms. There is actually an ongoing debate about restoring various pieces of art to their original state. Nothing is certain but at the moment it seems like penises in Italy might be making a comeback sometime in the (relatively) near future.
Many people visit Vatican museums just to see the famous paintings by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. To reach it, one has to walk through a substantial number of other exhibitions first. I believe this is a good thing - it definitely bumps one's appreciation of the place up a notch or two.
The chapel definitely left a strong impression on me, but I think some other sections are just as spectacular.
Also after a while spent there, the crowd was starting to get on my nerves. Some people were really loud and almost everybody was trying to snap a (forbidden) photo. Apart from some screaming kids (who I could hardly blame) those guards were definitely the loudest. After a quarter of an hour those repetitive "Shhhhhh... No foto, no video! Silenzio! ..." sounded like a really annoying chant and it was time to move on.
Oh, and if you are wondering... No, I did not take a photo of the Sistine Chapel.
If you have an eye for detail and enjoy classical art, I suggest you schedule your arrival early and plan to stay the whole day. I felt like I could easily keep coming back for many days, if not weeks or months and still not really see it all.