|Exterior view of the Sistine Chapel - the majesty awaits inside these walls at Vatican City.|
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome? Do you dare to be overcome with humility and awe as you stare unto the heavens to decipher the intricate panels that tell the story of man? When I first arrived at the threshold and my eyes wandered into the cavernous chapel and toward heaven, I was breathless. To stand there and gaze upon such magnificence and such glory is quite moving and I was completely awe-struck and astonished by the stirring of emotions within me I don’t think I ever really knew I had. When you experience the majesty of Michelangelo's epic masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine for yourself, you too will be overcome with profound feelings of such intensity.
Imagine, more than 500 years ago, Michelangelo painted one of the most renowned masterpieces in the history of the world and I can only wonder if he knew back then, just how long it remain here for all the world to see! It’s truly one of the most memorable and unforgettable moments of my journeys thus far.
|Photo: Courtesy of Patrick Landy and Wikipedia|
A visit to the Sistine Chapel usually starts with a self-guided or guided tour through the labyrinthine Vatican Museum’s winding hallways and seemingly infinite number of rooms showcasing one of the finest art collections in the world dating back more than 2,000 years! Yes, all the masters are here: Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio to name a few. It is only after you discover their masterpieces, and follow the tiny signs on the walls that read “La Cappella Sistina” or Sistine Chapel, that you finally arrive at what is surely to become one of the crowning moments of your visit to Rome – Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling!
Starting from above Michelangelo's Last Judgment fresco at the back of the chapel behind the main altar, the entire story of Genesis unfolds before your eyes in a series of nine panels. The first three tell the story of the "creation" of heaven and earth; the next three depict the "rise and fall of man" through Adam and Eve; and finally, the last three tell the story of the "sin of man" through Noah. Surrounding the story of Genesis, Michelangelo painted Prophets and Sibyls who foretold the coming of the Messiah. If you look to the four corner panels or “spandrels,” you'll see the salvation of the people of Israel. And finally, the remaining panels and spaces in between are adorned with architectural elements and the “Ignudi,” 20 nude male figures who appear in extremely contorted positions but nonetheless, quite stunning and beautiful to behold!
As for the remainder of the chapel walls, many other artists were commissioned to fresco the story of Moses on the north wall, Jesus on the south, but it was Michelangelo who returned yet again after twenty-four years, to complete his Last Judgment on the back wall of the chapel. This time though, his fresco featured a very different tonality that reflected a tumultuous time at the end of the Renaissance and before the Sack of Rome in 1527. But don’t just take my word for all that you will see, check out one of the most amazing virtual tours on the Internet, explore the Sistine chapel now at Vatican.va.
Know before you go:
Before you go, make sure you check the Vatican Museum operating hours because their schedule fluctuates quite dramatically. One suggestion for you to consider is a guided tour through the entire museum which is what I did on my first visit. Not only did it guarantee my entrance and queue bypass, my guide infused the knowledge and background of everything I saw along the way. Check out Roman Strolls Tours or Viator for guided tour information. Or, you can go it alone and book your own tickets at ItalyGuides.it.
Most importantly, don’t plan on taking photos or videos once inside the Sistine Chapel because upon your arrival, officials will ask you to refrain. Don’t worry, there are plenty of books and postcards that convey the majesty in the most amazing detail that most travel cameras won’t capture anyway.