Visiting the Sistine Chapel is an essential must-do experience in Rome. Be a part of the over five million people coming to visit the Sistine Chapel every year. Located at the southern end of the Vatican museums and just north of the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina) is a chapel in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. This rectangular building is actually a part of the Vatican Museums.
Before visiting the Sistine Chapel it’s worth orienting yourself by reading up on its history, production and the stories and figures represented to appreciate, wonder and enjoy the splendour of the high vaulted ceiling which was originally blue and covered with golden stars.
Built between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV for whom the chapel is named (“Sistine” derives from “Sixtus”), the lofty Sistine Chapel is the location of papal conclave, the process of selecting the new Pope, and for many official ceremonial and significant services of the papal calendar. However, the fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly on the world-famous biblical frescoes which are regarded as among the most important paintings on earth.
Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo, a celebrated Italian sculptor, architect, painter and also a poet born in Caprese, Republic of Florence, painted all the frescoes of the ceiling for a period of four years between 1508 and 1512.
The truth is Michelangelo reluctantly accepted the commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because his main artistic profession is not to paint but to sculpt. Remember his great works as a sculptor – the Pieta and David.
The painted ceiling is divided into three sections. In the first three paintings Michelangelo tells the story of the Creation of the Heavens and Earth, followed by the Creation of Adam and Eve and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and finally, the story of Noah and the Great Flood. The most famous of these frescoes without any doubt is the creation of Adam with the near-touching hands of God and Adam being widely replicated in countless imitations the world over.
Covering the whole high altar wall of the Sistine Chapel is the fresco showing another famous painting by Michelangelo, The Last Judgment, a depiction of the second coming of Christ and the `final eternal judgment by God on all humanity`. It centers on Christ the Judge as he is surrounded by the planets, the sun and saints.
The side walls of the Sistine Chapel are covered with important Renaissance frescoes by the artists depicting biblical scenes and contemporary popes. The northern wall of the chapel is devoted to the life of Jesus; the southern wall has frescoes with scenes from the life of Moses. The lower walls are covered with real Raphael (Italian painter and architect) tapestries showing episodes from the lives of Apostles Peter and Paul.
While you are at the Vatican you might as well visit the Tomb of St. Peter and the Necropolis, the papal tombs under the St. Peter`s Basilica where more than ninety popes are interred. The most recent interment was Pope John Paul II in 2005.
Entrance to the Sistine Chapel is FREE on the last Sunday of each month. No photography allowed.