I have lived in Italy for 18 years, 15 of those in Tuscany and the last 3 here in Rome. I remember (vaguely) doing the Vatican Museum tour with my sister Lisa the first time we came to Italy over twenty years ago. I have long wanted to return with my children, Annabella & Joseph but didn’t want them to be too young. I didn’t want to spend the money dragging two bored and miserable children through a monument that they were just too young to appreciate. Annabella is now 16 and studying Art History, so I felt it was a perfect time for her, although I was a bit wary for how Joseph would find the guided tour.
From May 6th until October 28th (except August), it is possible to have a guided tour in the evening every Friday night. The evening tours are open from 7pm – 11pm, and with 25,000 people going through the Vatican Museums every day, I was keen to go at a time when there would be less people. Apart from the oppressive heat in Rome at the moment, I didn’t want to be herded through the Sistine Chapel like cattle. I also wanted the experience to be relaxing and pleasant for all involved.
I booked online for the four of us, Annabella, Joseph and I, and also Alberto because I discovered that although he has lived here all is life (just around the corner from the Vatican), he had never been inside the Vatican Museums and had never seen the Sistine Chapel! The tour is conducted by an official Vatican Tour Guide. The tour visits “the most significant cultural and religious areas of the Vatican Museums.” Our itinerary included the Pio Clementino Museum (classical antiquity), the Gallery of the Candelabras, the Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery of the Geographical Maps (Renaissance Art), the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.
Although Annabella and Joseph were very excited about the tour, Joseph was a bit apprehensive. He had decided already it would be a boring two hours that he would have to endure. His first question to me was in what language had I booked the tour? He didn’t hide his relief either when I told him I’d booked it in Italian. (Joseph understands everything in English… but obviously life is easier for him in Italian). Once inside the entrance, and after we had passed the security checks, we joined the group we would do the tour with and met our guide, the lovely Daniela. She explained that she wouldn’t be coming inside the Sistine Chapel with us (at the end of the tour) because absolute silence must be respected once inside. She took the opportunity at the beginning of the tour to explain all the points of interest we must look out for once inside, using a large picture of the Sistine Chapel as a guide. At this point Joseph started huffing and puffing a bit, and rolling his eyes! We then started moving and our guide Daniela was a natural story teller. Daniela smiled from the beginning of the tour until the end. She was genuinely passionate about every work of art she talked about and her eyes shone in awe as she recounted the history of the artists and sculptors who were responsible for the staggering amount of pieces of art housed inside the museums. She took us back in time allowing us to easily imagine the days when Michelangelo, Raphael and Da Vinci were common faces in the hallways.
The sun was setting as we worked our way through the museums which provided a glorious backdrop of pink, orange and red through the large majestic windows.
A guide can make all the difference to your experience, and it was thanks to Daniela that we all found the tour fascinating. I was so relieved and happy when Joseph said that he couldn’t believe the two hours were over already because the time had flown, and he had loved every minute. (Insert my huge sigh of relief)!
The tour itself last a little over two hours, but I think we were inside for probably three hours in total. The guide left us just before we entered into the Sistine Chapel, and at that time of the evening nobody was pushing us through, so we were able to complete the tour at our own time, and linger inside the Sistine Chapel for as long as we wanted. Occasionally one of the guards yelled SILENZIO in a deep and ominous voice, reminding us all that we were in a most holy place. (Photography inside the Sistine Chapel is prohibited, so the first photograph for this post I found online).
We walked out of there shortly after 10pm, which is the perfect time for summer dinner in Rome… and headed off to one of our favourite restaurants around the corner. I was so happy I had booked this tour, and if you are in Rome during the summer months, I would strongly recommend you look into what tours are on offer in the evening. There is still much to see inside the Vatican City, so now I need to plan the next tour we will do!