The Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums

The Sistine Chapel is the most well-known room in the world. It is neither the most important nor the most grandiose property in Vatican. However, it is renowned for its enormous ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

These scenes are from the New Testament of Bible and form a stunning tableau that Robert Hughes, an art critic, once called “…the strongest – if you don’t mind calling it the most likeable, or even comprehensible-series of images of the human body in European art history.”

These are wall frescoes created by a stellar group of quattrocento artists, including Sandro Botticelli (and Luca Signorelli), as well as The Last Judgement, an enormous altar-wall fresco that Michelangelo painted 20 years later. Together, you can find probably the most impressive collection of western art within four walls.

It is no exaggeration when we say that the Sistine Chapel should be on your list of must-do things in Rome. While crowds are now the norm at this Vatican attraction there are still many ways to see it without being obstructed by tourists. You can also take our Pristine Sistine(tm), which allows you to enter the chapel before anyone else, or our VIP Vatican Secret Master’s Tour: Get into the Sistine Chapel and enjoy two hours of exclusive access as Key Master.

Visiting Sistine Chapel: What should you see

Ceiling Frescoes

Michelangelo was not entering an unmarked space when he received the Sistine Chapel ceiling painting commission in 1508. The chapel was built by Giovannino de’ Dolci, a now-largely forgotten architect. It was constructed during Pope Sixtus IV’s reign.

Sixtus had the walls of the space frescoed with some of the most important artists of the day, including Sandro Borticelli who is more well-known for his paintings, The Birth of Venus, Primavera and Pinturicchio, whose work is also on display in other parts of Vatican.

However, the ceiling was completely blank, except for a layer of ultramarine with golden stars at regular intervals. It was a huge ceiling. 10,000 square feet needed to be frescoed. And unlike Raphael’s contemporaries, Michelangelo didn’t hire assistants to finish the paintings he had started and planned. He instead sat on scaffolding for three to four years before he began painting it.

It is not a painting. Oil paints are used to apply oil paints to dry plaster. The frescoes must first be painted on fresh plaster (read: damp). This means that once a section is started, it has to be finished that day. The entire wall was to be painted piece by piece as a jigsaw puzzle.

Michelangelo hated the work and would tell anyone who would listen. He also wrote a funny sonnet to a friend, in which he claimed that the work had given him a goiter.

He takes the viewer into the middle of the Creation of Life according to the Bible, from the Separation of Light and Darkness through the Drunkenness of Noah. The sheer scale and mastery of the work overwhelms the people who are staring at it. It fills the chapel with a quiet sense of awe as well as a tangible impression of the divine. It is not clear if it is artistic divinity, or religious divinity.

The Last Judgement

Another great addition to the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo is the monumental Last Judgement, which Michelangelo painted on the altar wall. It rises behind you when you enter the chapel. The Last Judgement, if the ceiling concerns the origins and destiny of life, paints a not-so-rosy picture.

It depicts the second coming Christ, as he pronounces divine judgment on a list of biblical characters. It was painted around 20 years after the ceiling’s completion, when Michelangelo turned 66. It is a disturbing and dark work. Although its portrayals of the human body are exceptional, it often feels oppressive rather than uplifting. Art historians continue to debate why this is so.

Many people point out the 1527 sacking Rome, which effectively ended High Renaissance. However, details such as the flayed skin found in St. Bartholomew’s hand, which appears to be Michelangelo’s depiction, may point to a personal reason. The Last Judgement, whatever its cause, is as disturbing as the ceiling. It is an incredible work that must be seen in person to fully appreciate its power.

The “Other” Frescoes

Many people visit the Sistine Chapel only to see the works of Michelangelo. We would be remiss if not to mention the frescoes on the three other walls. They would be a pride of place if they were found anywhere else in the world.

Here are masterworks by Pinturicchio, Sandro Boticelli and Sandro Boticelli. Do yourself a favor when you visit the Sistine Chapel. Take your eyes off of Michelangelo’s work and look at the other walls. You won’t regret it.

Tips for Visiting the Sistine Chapel

Current measures are in place to ensure that visitors can enjoy the museum in the most secure and pleasant conditions. These conditions prevail over ordinary ones. Online booking is required for entry to the Vatican Museums.

Opening Times

Starting July 1, 2021

Monday through Thursday, 8.30am to 6.30pm. Last entry at 4.30pm

Friday and Saturday: 8.30 am to 10.30 pm, last entry at 8.30pm

The museum closes at 5:00 p.m.

Only a few tour groups like our Pristine sistine tour are permitted inside the Vatican before it opens to the public every day. Join our VIP VaticanKey Master’s Tour to unlock the Sistine Chapel and travel with him as he unlocks silent galleries and rooms.


The extraordinary openings on Sundays are suspended

Closed Sundays: December 25th and 26th (Christmas and St. Stephen’s Day); January 1, 6, February 11, 22, March 19, 28, June 29 (the Feasts Saint Peter and Paul); August 15, November 1; December 8.

For more information about holiday closings or special openings, visit the Vatican website

Rules to visit the Vatican Museums

You should be familiar with the rules and regulations of Vatican before you attempt to visit. Please read “Coronavirus”, procedures, and rules for visiting the Vatican Museums to ensure safe and enjoyable visits.

Sistine Chapel, a holy site, requires that both men and women wear clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. Visitors may be allowed to wear a little less, but it is best not. Hats are not permitted.

While most Vatican Museums have no noise restrictions, it is forbidden to speak louder than a whisper in Sistine Chapel. Because of the sheer volume of people who visit the chapel each day, it would be almost impossible to enjoy the chapel if everyone spoke at once. The same applies to selfie sticks.

The Sistine Chapel strictly prohibits photography. While they won’t take your camera away, the guards will ask you to delete any images or even confiscate analogue film.

Bags, backpacks, suitcases and containers larger than 40cm by 35cm by 15cm cannot be brought into the Vatican Museums. You can’t also bring medium-sized umbrellas, umbrellas with spiked tips or camera tripods into the Vatican Museums. These items can all be left in the cloakroom.

Visitors to the Vatican are prohibited from using firearms and they cannot be checked in Cloakroom. To protect the artwork, knives, scissors, and other cutting tools can be used but must be stored in the Cloakroom.

All touching or altering of artwork in the Vatican Museums is prohibited. They are constantly under surveillance. Also, no laser pointers.

It is not allowed to bring food or drinks into the Vatican Museums. However, you can leave your items in the cloakroom, and pick them up at the end. All food and drink left behind will be disposed off at the end each day.


Adults EUR17; Senior/Child EUR8. To receive a discounted ticket fare, you will need valid ID at the time of ticket purchase or collection (in any cast of tickets or tours).

Best Time To Visit

May through September are the peak season in Rome. Easter is a minor high season. The Vatican is a must-see attraction when visiting Rome. You can expect to see a large crowd almost every day.

This is why it is important to go to the Sistine Chapel as soon as possible before the general public opens. This is only possible with select tour groups. You can avoid the crowds if you go alone and visit when it opens. You can visit the Museums later if you don’t mind spending too much time there. However, visitors must leave the Museums no less than 30 minutes prior to closing.

How to get there

Metro or taxi is the best way to get to the Vatican Museums.

When traveling by taxi, inform the driver that you will be going to the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums), and not St. Peter’s which is 15 minutes away.

Metro A Line to Ottaviano stops if you are traveling by metro. After you exit the station, take a left on Via Candia. Turn left at Via Tunisi. You will find the entrance to Vatican Museums at the end of the street. Climb the steps and cross the street.

The Museums are not accessible to the church unless you’re on a guided tour which includes St. Peter’s Basilica. To visit it, you must exit the Museums and turn right. Follow the wall to St. Peter’s entrance. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the entrance.

Related Articles