Why you should visit the Vatican Historical Museum

With a unique collection of portraits of the past popes, the Vatican Historical Museum is a great place to learn more about the history of the papacy and the city itself

The beautiful Vatican City houses an extensive collection of art, history, and culture. The city is famous for its large extension of museums, known as the Vatican Museums, which not only houses an extensive collection of art, archaeology and ethno-anthropology gathered by the Popes over the centuries, but also contains some of the Apostolic Palace’s most extraordinary and artistically significant rooms. These are otherwise known as the Vatican’s Historical Museum. Rooms dedicated to artefacts used and owned by the popes.

History of the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Historical Museum is just one section of the impressive Vatican Museums. Initially founded in 1973 by Pope Paul VI, the Historical Museum’s collection was at first hosted under the square garden. It wasn’t until 1987 that it was moved to the main floor of the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran, and opened again to the public in March 1991. The Vatican City’s Museums began in 1503, by the pope of that time – Pope Julius II. The museum’s assortment of pieces grew from affluent families, past popes, and future pope’s private collections became public. Vatican Museums grew in size, from the immense assortment of collections required more buildings to host the works and so this led to The Vatican Historical Museum.

The layout of the Vatican Museums

The museum was first hosted in the environments under the Square Garden, before it moved to the Lateran Palace, formally known as the Apostolic Palace of the Lateran. The building is beautifully designed, done in 1586 by Domenico Fontana, depicting beautiful ceiling decorations with detailed frescoes at the entrance. The palace which sits next to the Basilica of St. John Lateran to its left within the courtyard of the church with a common entry gate is a large apartment complex of the pope. Right at the entrance of the palace is an impressive staircase leading up to the high ceilings, where 10 refurbished halls host a series of frescoes from the Mannerist Age. The hall known as the Conciliation, was provided with allegories related to the papacy of Sixtus V. The other halls were named Constantine, Hall of Apostles, Emperors Room, Popes Room and so forth. The fresco decorations were on themes of the History of Rome, episodes of the Bible and the Gospel, making for an interesting narrative as you navigate your way around. Several colourful tapestries and Goblins also add to the aesthetic elegance of the halls, which we are lucky enough to see! It’s strange to think that such beauty and elegance wasn’t accessible to the public until 1991. Since then, the rooms have been exclusively used for exhibitions or displays moved from the Vatican Museums.

What to see in the Vatican museums?

The museum has been divided into two wings – the principal and the annex wing – making things easy for us. The principal wing is home to all the artistic and historical artefacts of the museum. The paintings of the papal states are shown here. Depicting the history of the past and the State of the Church who once ruled over a large amount of Italy, led by the Pope in the 8th century until 1870. Other memorabilia of the Papal States are shown here, including old documents, religious pieces, and ancient artefacts. Learn about the country’s history, which led to the Vatican City to become its own country. The second wing, the annex wing, is located on the ground floor of the building. And displays the larger historical items. These include the beautifully decorated carriages that led the pope around, as well as past saddles, wagons, and the very first car ever used by the Popes. It also had a model of the city’s first train engine, created in 1929. Illustrating the incredible engineering skills of the past citizens of the Vatican City.

Learn more about this incredible city as you wander the halls of the historic museum. No trip to Vatican Museums is complete without a visit to this iconic sight. It would be a great idea to check the opening times prior to your trip.

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