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Things to do in Vatican Museums
The treasures of the Vatican museums may be open to the general public, but there are areas that fewer people see. The Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum is an archive of important documents covering twelve centuries of church history . . . and perhaps a few secrets.
Here you’ll find Pope Leo X’s 1521 decree excommunicating Martin Luther, and a petition from English clergymen in 1530 asking Pope Clement VII to annul King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. There’s also the official doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as defined by the Church in 1854, supporting the notion that Mary was conceived without original sin.
Though many people are fond of conspiracy theories (ancient evidence of extra-terrestrial life?), the archive has been open to scholars since 1881. Nevertheless, access is not easy. Journalists, students, and amateur historians should not apply, and even professional scholars must renew permissions every six months.
Browsing is not allowed and nor is photography. Researchers must ask for a specific document from supplied catalogues. But what secrets are not contained in the catalogues . . .?
- St Peter’s – daily 7.00am-7.00pm April to September, 7.00am-6.00pm October to March
- St Peter’s Dome – daily 8.00am-6.00pm April to September, 8.00am-5.00pm October to March
- The Treasury – daily 9.00am-6.15pm April to September, 9.00am-5.15pm October to March
- Grottoes – daily 7.00am-6.00pm April to September, 7.00am-5.00pm October to March
- Museums – Monday-Saturday 9.00am-6.00pm, last entrance: 4.00pm. Free entrance on the last Sunday of every month, admission 9.00am-12.30pm. Museums close at 2pm
Museum entrance closes 75 minutes before closing time
About the Vatican
The origins of the Vatican might be traced to 324AD when the Roman emperor Constantine started construction of a church with the tomb of St. Peter at its center. It would be a focus of the early Catholic Church, although the first popes lived at the Lateran Palace during the Middle Ages and actually moved to Avignon in France in the fourteenth century.
It wasn’t until the end of that century that the popes returned to Rome and again considered a monumental church. This was a time of great building projects, including the Sistine Chapel, the Belvedere Courtyard and a new St Peter’s. Nevertheless, the growing collection of ecclesiastical buildings was not known yet as the Vatican.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1929 that the Vatican was recognized as a sovereign state, later becoming recognized and protected under the Hague Convention as a cultural heritage site. In 1984, UNESCO recognized the Vatican as a World Heritage Site. Today, it has a population of around 800, its own TV channel, its own post office and telephone service. It is protected by the lavishly uniformed Swiss Guards and even has permission to have a navy, though no ships exist at the moment.
For the visitor, the attractions may be religious (audiences with the Pope draw thousands) or cultural. The museums and galleries are storehouses of great and famous art collections, the gardens are beautiful oases of calm, the architecture is stunning and – of course – there’s the colossal majesty of St Peter’s church to explore.
- By Metro
- Line A stations: Ottaviano - S.Pietro-Musei Vaticani, Cipro
- By bus
- 49: stop in front of the museum entrance
- 32, 81, 982: Piazza del Risorgimento
- 492, 990: Via Leone IV / Via degli Scipioni
- By tram
- 19: Piazza del Risorgimento
- By taxi
- Taxi stand: Viale Vaticano in front of the museum entrance
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Reviews Vatican Museums
“Ottima esperienza, guida molto preparata, tutto ben organizzato, assolutamente consigliato.”
“No issues, highly recommend”