Reopened Vatican Museums Offer a Glimpse of the Sistine Chapel Without the Crowds

Tourists with protective masks in the Sistine Chapel

After closing down for only the second time in history, the Vatican Museums have reopened to the public.

The Vatican Museums are home to some of the world's best-known Renaissance masterpieces and the Catholic Church's collection of Roman sculptures. Among their treasures: Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, four rooms of Raphael frescoes, and a staircase from Renaissance architect Donato Bramante. That staircase is among several areas that are typically off-limits to tourists.

The museums sit within Vatican City, the world's smallest city and one that's surrounded by Rome. They drew nearly seven million visitors in 2019, many of whom were willing to brave long lines to catch a glimpse of the masterpieces contained in Vatican Museums' 54 galleries.

With travel restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the reopening provides locals with a rare opportunity to experience treasures like the Sistine Chapel nearly all to themselves. For the first time ever, visitors will get the chance to watch restoration staff at work on the museums' treasures.

The Vatican Museums are open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and online reservations are required. The usual €4 entrance fees are being waived. Face masks and temperature checks are mandatory, social distancing is required, and group tours are limited to 20 people.

The Vatican Museums were founded in the 16th century and were closed for 88 days because of the pandemic. The only other time the Vatican Museums — home to more than 70,000 pieces — were forced to shut down was in 1943, when Rome was being bombed. The museums were closed for 14 months.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets and walking on beaches. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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