Right at the top of our to do list on the Rome leg of our tour of Italy, up there with the Colosseum, was the Vatican. More specifically was a visit to the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece.
We’d read a lot about the length of the queues to get into the Vatican and how busy it was when you do finally get in and our research led us to find the Pristine Sistine Vatican Tour with Walks of Italy. This sounded perfect for us. Their special tour gets you into the Vatican an hour before it is open to the public meaning that we would be able to see the Sistine Chapel with fewer crowds.
This, of course, meant an early start, getting up at 5:30 to make sure we had time to walk to the Vatican from our apartment.
We met our tour guide, Cecilia, and other members of our group in a square just around the corner from the Vatican and, once wired up with headphones, we headed off. Cecilia is an art historian and her interest and passion for art came across during the 4 hour tour.
We had a 15 minute wait in the special Vatican partners’ queue before we could get in which gave Cecilia a chance to explain about the Sistine Chapel as she would not be able to talk once in there as you must visit in silence. With the aid of photographs and a printed handout, Cecilia described the history and meaning behind ceiling paintings and the Last Judgement.
When we got in through the security checks we made straight for the Sistine Chapel. This involved a long walk down the beautiful corridors of the Vatican museum. It didn’t strike me until later in the tour when we visited them properly but these corridors were very quiet and it was an amazing time to be able to see them, if only briefly. The maps particularly stood out to me, with different areas of Italy beautifully painted.
Inside the Sistine
Once inside the chapel it lived up to, and exceeded, our expectations. The Last Judgement on the wall behind the alter was incredible, the expressions on the doomed people were haunting. It was interesting that there was a lot more blue used on this than on the ceiling. Michelangelo painted the ceiling roof first and he had to pay for his own colours and as blue was very expensive he used it sparingly. When asked to create the wall (the Last Judgement), he asked the Pope to pay for the colours and was therefore able to use much more blue paint.
The ‘curtains’ painted around the walls were also impressive, Fraser couldn’t believe that they weren’t real, they were so realistic.
Cecilia had also explained how the choosing of the Pope, the Conclave, works in the chapel including where the ‘incinerator’ is placed to send out the smoke and about the room of tears where the new Pope’s robes and shoes are waiting, in many different sizes as they don’t know how big they will be.
Amongst all of the facts Cecilia gave us one of the most amazing was that the Sistine Chapel was Michelangelo’s first paintings, before this he had only been a sculptor.
We had a good ten minutes or so in the Chapel to take it all in and not being jostled by huge crowds was definitely the way to go – we walked back through the Chapel later in the tour and it was so much busier.
So, with sore necks from a lot of looking up at the ceiling we continued the tour, seeing the special dignitaries entrance and revisiting the long corridors of the Vatican museum, Cecilia explaining everything as we went.
We took in the room of the Immaculate Conception and the Raphael rooms both of which were beautiful. At this stage though we were starting to tire, especially the kids, and we realised that we should have bought some snacks for them to boost energy levels.
Next up was St. Peter’s Basilica, the Renaissance church of the Vatican which, whilst it is not the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome or the mother church of the Catholic Church, it is one of the holiest Catholic shrines.
The Walks of Italy tour provides skip the line access to St Peters and this was a relief as the main access queue was long and we would have spent significant time queuing in the sun and heat.
The church is huge, the largest in the world, and the decoration is ornate and stunning. Again Cecilia provided all of the facts and information as we wandered around, including pointing out the sarcophagus of Pope John Paul 2nd, who was the fastest ever canonisation.
After the tour officially finished we were able, if we would have liked to head up the church’s dome to take in the view however whilst we would have loved to have done it, we were tired and hungry so we gave it a miss. I would highly recommend bringing snacks, especially if you bring children with you.
At this point I will disclose that I am not religious however you don’t have to be to appreciate the history, tradition and beauty of the Vatican.
Taking a tour is definitely the way to go. Our tour with Walks of Italy not only got us in early, avoiding queuing and the crowds, but also having an expert guide means you find out much more than you would on a self-guided tour with a guide book.
Cecilia was enthusiastic and knowledgable and interacted well, particularly with the children. I had been concerned about their ability to cope with a four hour tour of paintings and churches but Cecilia made it engaging and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
I would highly recommend taking the Walks of Italy Pristine Sistine tour as a family – just remember to bring snacks!
Disclaimer – Thank you to Walks of Italy for providing us with this free Pristine Sistine Vatican Tour for the purposes of this review.
This review is, as always, 100% honest and our own opinion.