Shore excursions in Italy ,Daily Tours and guided Limousine services.
We had an awesome day with Claudio our driver. He collected us promptly and took care to find out what we expected to get from our trip and made sure that he exceeded these expectations. He called ahead to book a trusted private tour guide who was waiting for us on our arrival in Pompeii - he was fantastic! And then we drove on to Sorrento, stopping at various places on the Amalfie Coast to take photographs and then we had a late lunch in Il Positano, before returning to Rome. Travelling with two young daughters, it was a long day trip, but memorable - and we all thought it was our best day of our week-long holiday to Rome.
Tour Of Rome
Date published: 02/20/2016
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Vatican GardensPapal AudiencePre–Constantinian Necropolis (City of tha Dead) & San Pietro's Tombs S.Pietro in VaticanoInside the Basilica MIchelangelo's Dome Central Nave Right Aisle The Chapel of the Sacrament Left Aisle Visiting the Cupola Vaticans Museums & the Sistine Chapel Borgia Apartments Chiaramonti Museum Museum of Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI Egyptian Museum Gregorian Museum of Etruscan Art Collection of Modern Religious Art Ethnological Museum Antiquarium Romanum Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery) Vase Collection Gallery of the Candelabra Gallery of the Maps Apartment of St. Pius V Sobieski Room Room of the Immaculate Conception Carriage Museum Christian Museum Gregorian Museum of Profane Art Postal Museum of Stamps and Coins Raphael Rooms Sistine Chapel Vatican (Apostolic) Library

vatican gardens

Vatican Gardens:

Separating the Vatican from the secular world on the north and west are 58 acres of lush gardens filled with winding paths, brilliantly colored flowers, groves of massive oaks, and ancient fountains And pools. In the midst of this pastoral setting is a small summer house, Villa Pia, built for Pope Pius IV in 1560 by Pirro Ligorio. The gardens contain medieval fortifications from the 9th century to the present. Profuse waters sprout from a variety of fountains. North and west of the Vatican.

papal audience

Papal Audience:

Regular public audiences, usually at 11 am on Wednesday in Papal Audience Chamber (Pauline Hall in the winter), in Piazza S. Pietro during summer and fall. Tickets free from Prefecture of Pontifical Household (north side of piazza through the Bronze Gate under the colonnade to the right of St. Peter's Square - tel. 06/698.83017, open between 9am-1pm working days or write to: Prefettura della Casa Pontificia, 00120 Città del Vaticano and you will need to reserve the free invitation tickets in order to attend. I prefer writing well in advance of my visit. A Vatican Page will deliver you tickets the day before the audience to your hotel. When writing for tickets, you need to indicate the dates you will be visiting Rome, where you will be staying, the number of person in your party wishing tickets, and the language you speak. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and is highly recommended even if you are not of the Catolic faith. You will not be disappointed and will leave this audience in awe. Appearances also at noon on Sundays at the library window (bottom of the window is draped in red cloth) to bless the corwd in Piazza S. Pietro below.

Pre–Constantinian Necropolis (City of the Dead) and St. Peter's Tomb:

TIf you have time, this is one of the most interesting tours available in Rome. You have to have reservations, however. You can accomplish this two ways. I would write for reservations to Reverenda Fabbrica, S. Pietro in Vaticano, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Italia, as far in advance as possible as each tour is about 1-1/2 hours long and is limited to 15 people. In your request for reservations, tell them your name, number in your party that want to take the tour, and the date you would like to tour. It costs $8.00US per person now. They will then assign a reference number, confirm your date and time, and send by return mail a confirmation, asking that you respond and reconfirm within 10 days of the date of the letter to confirm along with payment. The second way is to write for the reservations and enclose payment with your reservation request to save time and insure a space. They accept a money order or personal bank check made out to "Ufficio Scavi" and send the reservations request to the Excavations Office, St. Peter's Basilica, 00120 Vatican City State (Europe). Tickets are given out five minutes before the tour time. They require you to visit or call Excavations Office ("Ufficio Scavi") upon arriving in Rome or a few days before the scheduled tour to make sure they have your name down for the date of your tour. If there is enough time, they will answer by mail with the tour information specific to your request. You can also see if they have last-minute tour space by visiting the Excavations Office but the tour is so popular, you are taking a big chance by not reserving space way in advance. The Excavations Office is located through the arch to the left of St. Peter's past the Swiss Guard station (ask the Swiss Guard and he will direct you) and it is the next smaller arch to the right. The office is open workdays only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you wish to telephone to confirm from a letter, their telephone number is 06/698.85318. No cameras are allowed. They do have books and wonderful postcards available for purchase. Also, there are guides for different languages as well. You will begin your tour far underneath the present-day St. Peter's, under the two foundations on the basilica, in the City of the Dead. You will work your way up from the pagan portion of the city to the Tomb of St. Peter, which is at the top of Vatican Hill. St. Peter's Tomb is directly underneath the Baldacchino inside St. Peter's . You will not disappointed. You will exit through the Sacred Vatican Grottos (Tombs of the Popes).

Warning: If you are claustrophobic, it is not recommended that you take this tour as you are underground the entire time. It is humid and stuffy but highly recommended if being in this kind of environment does not bother you. The tour is about 45 minutes long and well worth it.

S. Pietro in Vaticano:

Is the most imposing basilica of all Christianity, and it is the heart of the Catholic world. One certainly does not have to be Catholic to enjoy this breathtaking basilica. St. Peter's is built over the tomb of St. Peter, and was erected by Constantine shortly after 320 A.D. Fearing it would collapse, Nicholas V commissioned B. Rossellino to rebuild it in 1452. But, the construction was not begun until 1506 under Julius II to a Bramante design, who ontended to "raise the Pantheon above the Basilica of Maxentius". After him, the works were directed alternately by Giuliano da Sangallo, Raphael, B. Peruzzi and A. da Sangallo the Younger, until Michelangelo took over in 1546 and gave the unmistakable imprint of his genius to this awesome building. He built the building in the form of a Greek cross surmounted by the majestic famed cupola. On his death in 1564, the work, already well advanced, was continued by Pierro Ligorio, Vignola, Giacomo della Porta, and D. Fontana. At the wish of Paul V, C. Maderno later transformed the shape from that of a Greek cross to that of a Latin cross, which lengthened the front wing and added the façade. On November 18, 1626, Urban VIII consecrated the new basilica. The face, preceded by a wide flight of steps in three tiers, with the huge statues of St. Peter and St. Paul at the sides, is gigantic (125 yards long by 50 yards high) with eight colossal columns and four pilasters supporting the trabeation crowned by a balustrated attic, above which the statues of Christ, the Baptist, and the Apostoles (except St. Peter) of the Bernini school, and two clocks. Stand out. There are five entrances to the Atrium, its roof decorated with exquisite stuccoes. Above the middle doorway is a small ship mosaic, "Navicella", by Giotto; it has almost entirely been redone. The statue of Charlemagne by A. Cornacchini (18th century) makes a background to the left arcade, while in the right arcade is the statue of Constantine by Bernini in 1670. The five doors give access to the Basilica: the central one has bronze panels by Filarete (1433-45); the last on the right is the Holy Door which is only opened in jubilee years, the last door on the left 8Door of Death) is the work of G. Manzu in 1964; the door on the right of the main door (of the Sacraments) is by V. Crocetti (1965), and that on the left is by L. Minguzzi in 1975.

Inside the Basilica:

When you first view the interior, he vastness gives an impression of coldness, yet its beauty is almost indescribable. It's area statistics are: 18,131 square yards, 608 feet in length; the length of the transept is 450 feet; height of the cupola is 435 feet and its diameter is 139 feet; on the floor of the Central Nave. Marks show the approximate lengths of other large churches. To get the full view of the massiveness, you need to stand in the crossing.

Michelangelo's Dome:

s supported by four pilasters, each with niches that contain impressive statues of Saints Andrew, Longinus, Veronica, and Helena. Each of these pilasters also contain important relics; namely, the head of St. Andrew, the Holy Lance that was used to pierce the side of Christ (found near the True Cross by St. Helena), the veil of St. Veronica, and a piece of the True Cross brought to Rome by St. Helena.

Central Nave:

The first three arcades correspond to the lengthening carried out by Maderno. Between the pilasters supporting the cornice above which the arched vault curves, are niches containing statues of founders of religious orders. At the last pilasters on the right is the bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned by Arnolfo di Cambio in the 13th century. One passes under the shining Cupola (one of the largest and most majestic architectural works of all time), it rises above a high tambour supported on colossal pillars. The vault, divide into 16 ribs is adorned by mosaics designed by G. Cesari. In the pillars are niches containing Baroque statues and loggias by Bernini, including the statue of St. Longinus. In the frieze of the trabeation (and of the tambour) is a Latin inscription which continues that in Greek of the apse (the letters are six feet high). The Papal altar, under the celebrated Canopy by Bernini (1633) was made of bronze taken from the Pantheon. Maderno's magnificient Chapel of the Confession is in front of the altar; 95 lamps burn night and day before the "Tomb of St. Peter" in front of which is the statue of Pius VI at prayer, by Canova.

Right Aisle:

Intricate mosaic pictures (you would swear were oils), taken from paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries adorn the altars of the aisles and transepts. Numerous tombs of Popes line the walls, some in glass. In the first chapel, at the altar, is the celebrated Pietà, a youthful work by Michelangelo in 1499. After vandals broke the nose off the Virgin Mary, the sculpture was put behind bulletproof glass for protection. The Chapel of the Relics contains a precious Medieval wooden Crucifix by Cavallini (13th century).

The Chapel of the Sacrament:

(the third) is closed by a wrought iron gate by a Borromini and has a great gilded bronze ciborium by Bernini on the altar. This chapel is strictly for those who wish to pray, so reverence and silence is enforced. On the right (r.transept) in the passage after the curve of the apse is the beautiful monument to Clement XIII, a masterpiece of Canova (1788-929). Apse or Tribune: At the end, surrounded by a great glory of gilded stucco and supported by statues of four Doctors of the Church, is the Chair of St. Peter (see picture below), the bronze statue is by Bernini (right); and the monument to Paul III on the left by Guglielmo della Porta. Proceeding to the left, the altar of St. Leo Magno, with a great marble alatrpiece (St. Leo Meeting Attila) by A. Algardi (1646). In front of the Madonna is painted. There is also Bernini's monument to Alexander VII.

Left Aisle:

Beyond the curve of the apse is the entrance to the Sacristy and the Treasure (also a must see; admission, but well worth it), and the Clementine Chapel (or of St. Gregory Magno), by Giacomo della Porta. To the left, a monument to Pius VII by B. Thorvaldsen. Chapel of the Choir (third), used for sacred rites, is decorated with stuccoes also by Giacomo della Porta. In the passage between the third and second chapels on the left is the fine monument to Innocence VIII, in bronze, by Pollaiolo (1498). The altar of the Chapel of the Presentation (second) contains the remains of St. Pius X; to the right, the monument to John XXIII by E. Greco; left, the monument to Benedict XV by P. Canonica. On the left in the nave is a monument to the Stuarts by canova. The first chapel contains the baptismal font, made from the cover of an ancient sarcophagus, with bronze ornamentation by C. Fontana.

Visiting the Cupola:

Climb 537 steps to the top of the dome of St. Peter's, well worth the trip through, the higher you go, the steeper the steps and the more curved the inside wall of the dome. There is an entrance fee and a lift to the terrace (roof) over the nave. From the terrace roof of the basilica, a magnificient view can be seen of the immense, graceful dome, which dominates the whole complex from the top of its 302 feet; the two side domes, added by Vignola, are purely decorative. There is s spectacular view of St. Peter's Square from behind the statues that line the top of the facade of the Vatican. Climbing still higher, one reaches the first railing (174 feet up), then to the second railing (240 feet up). From both, an impressive view of the interior of the church. Higher still, from the loggia (537 steps from the bottom), a superb view over the city.

Vatican Museums & the Sistine Chapel

The Vatican Museums comprise one of the world's greatest art collections - a gigantic repository of treasures from antiquity and the Renaissance, all housed in a labyrinthine series of lavishly adorned palaces, apartments, and galleries leading you to the real gem: the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museums occupy a part of the papal palaces built from the 1200s onward. From the former papal private apartments, the museums were created over a period of time to display the vast treasure of art acquired by the Vatican. You'll climb a magnificient spiral ramp to get to the ticket windows. After you're admitted, you can choose your route through the museum from four color - coded itineraries - A, B, C, D - according to the time you have (from 1,5 to 5 hours) and your interests. You determine your choice by consulting large panels on the wall and then following the letter/color of your choice. All four itineraries culminate in the Sistine Chapel. Obviously, 1, 2, or even 20 trips will not be enough to see wealth of the Vatican, much less to digest it. With that in mind I've previewed only a representative sampling of the masterpieces on display.

Borgia Apartments:

Frescoed with biblical scenes by Pinturicchio of Umbria and his assistants, these rooms were designed for Pope Alexander VI (the infamous Borgia pope): They may be badly lit, but still boast great splendor and style. At the end of the Raphael Rooms (below) is the Chapel Nicholas V, an intimate room frescoed by Dominican monk Fra Angelico, the most Saintly of all Italian painters.

Chiaramonti Museum:

This gallery of sculptures is named after its creator, Pope Pius VII (1800-23) whose family name was Chiaramonti. It has two wings designed by Bramante that connect the pontificial palace with the Belvedere Pavilion of Innocent VIII, which encloses the huge Belvedere Courtyard, also by Bramanet. The Courtyard has three parts: Cortile del Belvedere, Cortile della Biblioteca (Courtyard of the Library), and, to the north, Cortile delle Pigna (Courtyard of the Pine Cone, or Fir-Cone). There are 59 sections to this museum, all with Roman numerals, even numbers are on the right, odd on the left. Of special interest to me was in Section XXXI, from the 1st century A.D., a relief of The Three Muses, among a vast number of other artefacts. It also contains the Lapidary Gallery (which houses a multitude of pagan and Christian inscriptions, sarcophagi, and the like), and The New Wing, which houses many ancient sculptures. One piece that stands out above all the rest in my mind is a marble statue of Augustus of Prima Porta, which was found Livia's villa at Gallinas Albas on the via Flaminia in 1863. What stands out in the hemicycle is the gigantic Statue of the Nile, which was found in 1513 near St. Maria sopra Minerva on the site of the Temple of Isis.

Museums of Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI (Museo Pio-Clementino):

Started by Pope Clement XIV (1769-74) and completed by Pius VI (1775-99), this vast museum contains: the Apoxyomenos Cabinet, the Casali altar, and the Vestibule (this is the entryway to the Bramante Staircase which is a circular staircase inside a square tower, commissioned by Julius II). Note at the foot of the staircase is the famed Fountain of the Galley. This can also be viewed from an upstairs balcony which overlooks the piazza and provides a great view of the skyline of Rome. The Eight-sided Courtyard in the center houses the following cabinets (niches) with exquisite statuary: (from the left going clockwise) the Apollo Cabinet (130-140 A.D.), part of the Tigri Fountain which Michelangelo placed here. There are also some intricately carved sarcophagi here. Continuing on, the Laocoon Cabinet which contains the famous marble Laocoon by Agesander, Polydorus and Athenodorus, which was found in 1506 near the Seven Chambers of the Esquiline in the Domus Aurea (in ancient Rome, it was kept in the Palace of Titus; a copy of this magnificient statue is also in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence but nothing compares to the original); the Hermes Cabinet; Canova's Cabinet; the Room of the Animals (mind-boggling that there are so many items in this room; try to look for the crab made of green porphyry, which is a very rare stone); the Gallery of Statues (originally an open loggia) and also two very fine candelabra from Hadrian's Villa a t Tivoli of the 2nd century A.D. ; Gallery of Busts (again, too many to try and count); Cabinet of the Masks (named for the mosaics decorating the floor space which were originally in Hadrian's Villa); Room of the Muses; The Round Room which was built in 1780 by M. Simonetti that is covered by a come modelled after that of the Pantheon and a decorated floor with magnificient mosaics from Otricoli, and a gigantic porphyry basin in the center of the room, which was originally in the Curia of the Roman Forum; and the Hall of the Greek Cross, which contains the sarcophagus of St. Costantia, daughter of Constantine (350-360 A.D.), and the porphyry sarcophagus of St. Helena, mother of Constantine dating from the 4th century A.D.

Egyptian Museum:

This museum was created under Pope Gregory XVI in 1839 and contains nine rooms, including The Hemycicle Terrace. These rooms house mummies, sarcophagi, and various items of everyday life in ancient Egypt. Of note: In Room III, most of the statues come from Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli. In Room IV is an ancient Statue of the Priest Udja-Hor-res-ne dating from 525 B.C. In Room V, there are three exquisite pink granite statues plus the colossal Statue of Queen Tuia, mother of Ramses II of the 13th century B.C.

Gregorian Museum of Etruscan Art:

This museum was created by Gregory XVI (1831-46) and was opened in 1837. Among its riches is the famed Regolini-Glassi Tomb. It also contains the Hall of the Sarcophagi, the Room of the Bronzes, the Guglielmi Room (housing the Benedetto Guglielmi collection containing objects that were found in the necropolis of Vulci), the Room of the Jewels containing various pieces of jewerly dating between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C., also from the necropolis of Vulci, and The Terracotta Room which houses various urns and funerary statuettes of different periods.

Collection of Modern Religious Art:

This museum, opened in 1973, represents the American artists' first invasion of the Vatican 8the church had previously limited itself to European art from before the 18th century). But Pope Paul VI's hobby changed all that. Of the 55 rooms, at least 12 are devoted to American artists. All the works chosen were judged on their "spiritual and religious values". Among the American works is Leonard Baskin's 5-foot bronze sculpture of Isaac. Modern Italian artists like De Chirico and Manzù are also displayed, and there's a special room for the paintings of Frenchman Georges Rouault.

Ethnological Museum:

This is an assemblage of works of art and objects of cultural significance from all over the world. The principal route is a half-mile walk through 25 geographical sections, displaying thousands of objects covering 3,000 years of world history. The section devoted to China is especially interesting.

Antiquarium Romanum:

These are three very small rooms containing minor works and ancient Roman objects. My favorite room is The Falcioni Room, which contains the Falcioni collection that was obtained by Leo XIII in 1898. Excellent examples of artefacts made by the early Romans and Etruscans are housed here. There is also a very fine ivory doll with limbs that move, which was originally dressed in gold material and was found in Rome near the Church of St. Sebastian in a sarcophagus which is said to be that of a young girl who died between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D. that is beautiful.

Pinacoteca (Picture Gallery):

The Pinacoteca houses paintings and tapestries from the 11th to the 19th century. As you pass through room 1, note the oldest picture at the Vatican, a keyhole-shaped wood panel of the Last Judgment from the 11th century. In room 2 is one of the finest pieces - the Stefaneschi Triptych (six panels) by Giotto and his assistants. Bernardo Daddi's masterpiece of early Italian Renaissance art, Madonna del Magnificat, is also here. And you'll see works by Fra Angelico, the 15th century Dominican monk who distinguished himself as a miniaturist (his Virgin with Child is justly praised-check out the Madonna's microscopic eyes).

Vase Collection:

This has four rooms is the with a Hemycicle. The rooms are the Room of the Sun-Dial, The Astarita Room, The Room of the Italiot Vases, and Sala della Biga (which was built during the reign of Pius VI in 1775-99), and contains a first century B.C. Roman biga, and the two-horse chariot is an olpe by the Painter of the Vatican 73, displayed in Case B in the Room of the Sun-Dial, which dates back to Corinth around 630-615 B.C.

Gallery of the Candelabra:

This loggia has six sections and contains various statues and sarcophagi, including the Statue of Artemis and, from the Trajan era, two pairs of candelabra which are in Section III.

Gallery of the Maps:

Again, not one of my favorite hallways, but take not of the frescoed ceilings by Cesare Nebbia and others under the direction of Girolamo Musiano. Midway through the hallways is a small souvenir counter the direction counter that you can purchase different items, and there are benches to sit down on while you gaze up at the ceiling in amazement. You can also look out onto the Vatican Gardens from this enclosed loggia as well. The 40 separate panels of maps are painted directly onto the walls, each pertaining to a territory, region, or island of Italy. These were painted by Father Ignazio Danti of Perugia between 1580 and 1583. The Stories of the Saints with the scenes generally relating to the locations on the maps, as well as Bible Stories.

Apartment of St. Pius V:

The tapestries here are by Pieter van Alest of the mid-16th century. The small rooms and the Chapel are frescoed by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

Sobieski Room:

John III Sobieski was King of Poland and this room takes its name from the gigantic painting that takes up the entire north wall. The painting is by Jan Matejko and shows the victory of the King over the Turks outside the walls of Vienna in 1683.

Room of the Immaculate Conception:

This room, frescoed by Francesco Podesto, is located in the Borgia Tower.

Carriage Museum:

Paul VI founded this museum which was constructed under the Square Garden. It contains the carriages of the cardinals and popes, along with the first automobiles used by the popes.

Christian Museum:

Pius IX founded this Museum in the Lateran Palace to house artefacts found during the excavations of the various catacombs. They were moved to the Vatican Museums in 1963. A multitude of sarcophagi are on display here, all of them well-preserved and are very well worth viewing. I think the most interesting one that I saw was the Sarcophagus of the Five Niches, which has scenes from the Old Testament and stores of SS. Peter and Paul.

Gregorian Museum of Profane Art:

The collections housed in this museum were originally in the Lateran Palace, the Museo Gregoriano Profano, the Museo Pio Cristiano, and the Museo Missionario. John XXIII ordered that they be moved here in 1970. The buildings runs parallel to the Pinacoteca. I think the most interesting item here is part of the surviving marble facing from a circular tomb that was found near Vicocaro. On the way up the stairs, you can see two mosaics from the 3rd century that were found at the Baths of Caracalla which represent Athletes. In the corridor between the two mosaics is the Jewish Lapidary, which shows the inscriptions in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. These were found in the Monteverde Catacomb during the first to third centuries A.D.

Postal Museum of Stamps and Coins:

Located in the lower floors of the Borgia Tower, and was opened to the public on September 1987. Hours. Tuesday, Fridays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. till noon. Admission is free, but in order to visit, you need to apply to Arco delle Campane. This museum has four separate rooms, a stamp collector's dream to browse through. The first room contains stamps of the Vatican State from 1929 to the present, along with the original sketches and designs used to make the stamps. The remaining rooms house exhibits regarding printing and cancellation of stamps, numismatics, and the last room is reserved for special exhibits and conferences in the field.

Raphael Rooms:

While still a young man, Raphael was given one of the greatest assignments of his short life: the decoration of a series of rooms in the apartments of Pope Julius II. The decoration was carried out by Raphael and his workshop from 1508 to 1524. In these works, Raphael archieves the Renaissance aim of blending classic beauty with realism. In the first chamber, the Stanza dell'Incendio, you'll see much of the work of Raphael's pupils, but little of the master - except in the fresco across from the window. The figure of the partially draped Aeneas rescuing his father (to the left of the fresco) is sometimes attributed to Raphael, as is the surprised woman with a jug balanced on her head to the right. Raphael reigns supreme in the next and most important salon, the Stanza della Segnatura, the first room decorated by the artist, where you'll find the majestic School of Athens, one of his best-known works, depicting such philosophers from the ages as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. Many of the figures are actually portraits of some of the greatest artist of the Renaissance, including Bramante (on the right as Euclid, bent over and balding as he draws on a chalkboard), da Vinci (as Plato, the bearded man in the center pointing heavenward), even Raphael himself (looking out at you from the lower right corner). While he was painting this masterpiece, Raphael stopped work to walk down the hall for the unveiling of Michelangelo's newly finished Sistine Chapel ceiling. He was so impressed he returned to his School of Athens and added to his design a sulking Michelangelo sitting on the steps. Another well-known masterpiece here is the Disputà del Sacramento. The Stanza d' Eliodoro, also by the master, manages to flatter Raphael's papal patrons (Julius II and Leo X) without compromising his art (though one rather fanciful fresco depicts the pope driving Attila from Rome). Finally, there's the Sala di Costantino, which was completed by his students after Raphael's death. The loggia, frescoed with more than 50 scenes from the Bible, was designed by Raphael, but the actual work was done by his loyal students.

Sistine Chapel:

Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, not a painter. While in his 30s, he was commanded by Julius II to stop work on the pope's own tomb and to devote his considerable talents to painting ceiling frescoes - an art from of which the Florentine master was contemptuous. Michelangelo labored for 4 years (1508-12) over this epic project, which was so physically taxing it permanently damaged his eyesight. All during the task he had to contend with the pope's incessant urgings to hurry up; at one point Julius threatened to topple Michelangelo from the scaffolding - or so Vasari relates in his Lives of the Artist. It's ironic that a project undertaken against the artist's wishes would form his most enduring legend. Glorifying the human body as only a sculptor could, Michelangelo painted nine panels, taken from the pages of Genesis, and surrounded them with prophets and sibyls. The most notable panels detail the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the creation of man (where God's outstretched hand imbues Adam with spirit). The Florentine master was in his 60s when he began the masterly Last Judgment on the altar wall. Again working against his wishes, Michelangelo presents a more jaundiced view of people and their fate; God sits in Judgment and sinners are plunged into the mouth of hell. A master of ceremonies under Paul III, Mosignor Biagio de Cesena, protested to the pope about the "shameless nudes " painted by Michelangelo. Michelangelo showed he wasn't above petty revenge by painting the prude with the ears of a jackass in hell. When Biagio complained to the pope, Paul III maintained he had no jurisdiction in hell. However, Daniele de Volterra was summoned to drape clothing over some of the bare figures - thus earning for himself a dubious distinction as a haberdasher. On the side walls are frescoes by other Renaissance masters, like Botticelli, Perugino, Signorelli, Pinturicchio, Roselli, and Ghirlandaio. We'd guess that if these paintings had been displayed by themselves in other chapels, they would be the object of special pilgrimages. But they have to compete unfairly with the artistry of Michelangelo, so they're virtually ignored by most visitors. The restoration of the Sistine Chapel in the 1990s touched off a worldwide debate among art historians. The chapel was on the verge of collapse, from both its age and the weather, and restoration has taken years, as restorers used advanced computer analyses in their painstaking and controversial work. They reattached the fresco and repaired the ceiling, ridding the frescoes of their dark and shadowy look. Critics claim that in addition to removing centuries of dirt and grime - and several of the added "modesty" drapes - the restorers removed a vital second layer of paint as well. Purists argue that many of the restorers figures seem flat compared to the original, which had more shadow and detail. Others have hailed the project for saving Michelangelo's masterpiece the vibrancy of his color palette.

Vatican (Apostolic) Library:

This Library was created by Nicholas V (1447-55). Domenico Fontana built the elongated gallery and salon, which was commissioned by Sixtus V (1585-90). Of note are: The Room of Messages (sent to Pius IX); Chapel of St. Pius V; Room of Messages (sent to Leo XIII and Pius X); Room of Aldobrandini Wedding; Room of the Papyri; Scared Museums, designed by Pope Benedict XIV in 1756; the Gallery of Urban VIII, the Sistine Rooms and, finally, the Sistine Halls which were decorated by the likes of Paul Bril, Orazio Gentileschi, and others. Of interest are porcelain vases and the candelabra used for the coronation of Napoleon I which were donated to Pius VII. The last rooms of the Vatican Library include the Paoline Rooms, the Alexandrine Rooms, the Clementine Gallery, the Museum of Pagan Antiquities and the Museum of Sacred Antiquities. During my first visit in 1998, near the porcelain vases donated by Napoleon I, there was the Book of Heaven listing names of people scheduled to enter Heaven. I have not seen it since in any of my subsequent trips. NOTE : Admission is L18,000 for adults ($11US), and L12,000 for children ($7US) (as of June 2000), and is free the last Sunday of the each month. Hours: High season (mid-March to late October, Mon-Fri and last Sunday of the month, 8:45 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.; Sat. 8:45 a.m. - 1:45 p.m. During the off- season, Mon.- Sat. 8:45 a.m. - 1:45 p.m.9 Except for Easter Week, the museums are closed all religious and national holidays and the first three Sundays of each month. The Museums are wheelchair-accessible with special routes available.