Rome – When in Rome, the old saying goes, “Do what the Romans do.” Well, if you arrive around April 21st, Romans will be celebrating their city’s 2,766th birthday. Her age, after all, is part of her timeless appeal.
This April the celebrations will once again draw visitors who want to see the Eternal City at a special time, but her birthday will take on even greater interest due to the arrival of the new pontiff, Pope Francis I.
In addition to catching gladiator shows and fireworks over the Tiber a trip to the Vatican on its west bank could become the highlight of your April trip. For starters you could join an audience with the new pope on Wednesday mornings at St Peter’s Square. These are free to attend although they must be booked in advance.
Just north of St. Peter’s Cathedral you will find the papal palaces that now house the Vatican Museums, which today they showcase, some of the most important art and artifacts in the world. Moreover, the collections are eclectic and in addition to Christian antiquities, reflect the other interests of many different Popes.
The museum was started as a space to display a group of sculptures collected by Pope Julius II (1503-1513). This idea was expanded by Pope Clement XIV and Pius VI, whose Pio-Clementine Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of classical statues filling 16 rooms.
Pius VI founded the Pinacoteca (picture gallery) in the late 18th century that today displays many of the paints that the Vatican hierarchy recovered from Napoleon in the early 19th century. You’ll find collections from the Byzantine School and Italian primitives as well the 18th century Dutch and French old masters. For example there’s a Pieta by Lucas Cranach the Elder, several Madonna’s by Fra Filippo Lippi, Raphael’s last creation the Transfiguration, Caravaggio’s Entombment and St. Jerome by Leonardo da Vinci.
Intrigued by astronomy, Pope Gregory XIII was behind the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche. The gallery features a Tower of the Winds and frescoed maps of each Italian region.
Pope Gregory XVI founded the Etruscan museum devoted to dwellers of the ancient cities of southern Etruria. It encompasses 22 rooms of artifacts and contains Greek and Roman art along with Etruscan masterpieces including the contents of the Regolini-Glassi Tomb [c650 BC] and the Greek inspired fourth century BC Mars.
The Ethnological Museum founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926 currently includes some 100,000 works and this past November opened a special exhibition entitled History, Mystery and Treasures, which provides a journey through the world cultures.
There really is something to interest everyone in the Vatican Museums, including the Gallery of Tapestries, collections of 18th and 19th century ceramics, miniature mosaics and even a Carriage and Automobile Museum.
One way to bypass some of the long lines is to purchase an OMNIA Vatican and Rome Card. It lets you see the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Prison, St John’s in the Lateran and Cloister and either St. Peter’s Basilica with fast track entry and audio guide included or the Vatican Gardens Tour.
If you can fit in one more museum tour the Castel Sant’ Angelo Museum is a choice near by. This landmark, which has been used as a fortified shelter for Popes, features interesting weapons collections and art. The Apollo room has frescoes by P. del Vaga’s school; Leo X’s chapel features Renaissance sculptures; Clemente VII’s rooms has works by Signorelli and others; and Giulio II’s loggia is by Bramante.
If you’re time in Rome is short and want to concentrate on the Vatican it makes sense to stay in the Borgo area which borders Saint Peter’s Square to the west and the Tiber to the east. This area near the Vatican welcomes tourist with a wide selection of hotels and restaurants. There are quite a few in the area with prices ranging from under $100 per night to over $400 and within a quarter mile to one-half mile from Vatican City. Among these are the B&B Francesca at $96/per night, A Casa de Serena a San Pietro for $136/night and the Relais Vatican View at $467/per night.
For more info on Vatican museums visit mv.Vatican.va, which also provides a virtual tour.