What is a trip to the Vatican in Rome without seeing Michelangelo’s famed Sistine Chapel? But how many people visit it and miss the small things? Here are 10 lesser-known Vatican Sistine Chapel facts to think about on your next trip to Rome, illuminating the story behind one of the world’s most famous frescoes and giving you surprising facts to impress your fellow travelers with.
One of the most humbling experiences in Rome is standing beneath Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling. The pure enormity of the work and the impression it leaves upon you is hard to forget. The history of the paintings within the chapel are rife with bickering, jealousy, and betrayal which is why we wanted to put together 10 amazing facts about the Vatican Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel is one of the most visited and valued historic sites in Rome. Check out the Vatican Sistine Chapel facts and history below, and then come see the real thing on our Vatican Sistine Chapel at Night Private Tour! Not only you will skip the line but once inside your art historian guide will transform a vast warehouse into a magical delight crowned by Michelangelo's breathtaking frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
Vatican Sistine Chapel Fact #1:
Did you know that the Sistine Chapel was built by a Pope named Pope Sixtus the IV, hence the name Sistine Chapel?
Sistine Chapel Fact #2:
Did you know that Michelangelo was only 32 years old when he began painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and completed it in only 4 years?
Sistine Chapel Fact #3:
Did you know that the Sistine Chapel was built to house the Cardinals while they deliberated on who should become the next Pope?
Sistine Chapel Fact #4:
Did you know that the famous chimney that releases black smoke telling us the Pope has died and white smoke telling us we have a new Pope is set up in the Sistine Chapel? You can see the marks where it sits towards the back right of the chapel.
Sistine Chapel Fact #5:
Did you know that no artist in history suffered as much as Michelangelo suffered in the 4 years it took him to complete the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? He suffered with his knees, back and neck and he still managed to live to be 89 years old.
Sistine Chapel Fact #6:
Did you know that Michelangelo painted the Last Judgement (the front wall of the Sistine Chapel) 28 years after he finished the Sistine ceiling?
Sistine Chapel Fact #7:
Did you know that Michelangelo’s enemy, Raphael, was originally asked to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but refused. He suggested Michelangelo knowing he was a sculpture and not a painter.
Sistine Chapel Fact #8:
Did you know that the Sistine Chapel was completely cleaned between the years 1980 to 1994. It was paid for by the camera company Fuji Film. Fuji Film now own all copyright to the paintings, and that is why there is no photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel.
Sistine Chapel Fact #9:
Did you know that Pope Julius ll (the Pope that commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) sold Indulgences in order to pay Michelangelo for his work? Selling Indulgences meant that people could pay money to get time off Purgatory.
Sistine Chapel Fact #10:
Did you know that there are 3 Botticelli paintings in the Sistine Chapel, painted 24 years before Michelangelo began the Ceiling?
What Else You Need to Know About the Sistine Chapel?
The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museums.
If you want to see the Sistine Chapel, that means you’ll need to get a ticket for the Vatican Museums. During the high seasons, lines to get into the museums can be extremely long, so it’s highly recommended that you book tickets well in advance to reserve an entry time – or that you book a spot on a guided tour that includes a reserved entry.
The Sistine Chapel is at the very end of a Vatican Museums tour.
While your entire goal upon entering the Vatican Museums may be to see the Sistine Chapel, be aware that it’s the very last stop in the museum – indeed, once you go in, there’s only one exit door. Plan your time accordingly to check out some of the other world-famous art and artifacts in the museums.
The Sistine Chapel is still in use.
Most days, the Sistine Chapel is a tourist attraction – but make no mistake, this is still a chapel that’s very much in use and it can be closed with little or no notice. One use for the Sistine Chapel is the Papal “Conclave,” when the Cardinals meet after the death of a Pope to choose the next Pope.
Silence is required in the Vatican Sistine Chapel.
As it’s still a holy place, respect in the form of complete silence is required of visitors in the Sistine Chapel. There are guards stationed throughout the chapel to reinforce this rule, although it routinely gets broken as hushed murmurs increase steadily in volume until the guards issue another stern “SHHH!”
No photography is allowed in the Sistine Chapel.
Again, partly out of respect for the holiness of the setting, and partly because photography is believed to damage the artwork, photography and video aren’t allowed in the Vatican Sistine Chapel. It may seem like a game to try to get away with snapping a picture or two, but be respectful of the place – you’re just a visitor, after all. Buy a postcard instead. The photo will be a thousand times better than what you can get on your iPhone.
Appropriate dress is required to get into the Vatican Sistine Chapel.
Modest dress is required throughout the Vatican, including the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. This means no exposed shoulders, knees, midriffs, or cleavage. You’ll be prevented from entering any of these buildings if you’re not dressed properly, no matter what the weather is like, so plan ahead.
Are you ready to visit the Vatican Sistine Chapel?
Probably the number one must-see in Italy, the Vatican City, home of Saint Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel is a bucket-list item for Rome and it’s not hard to see why. If you'd like to learn more about Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel's fascinating history, Nancy Aiello Tours offers private guided walking tours designed to inspire and delight travelers of all ages.