A UNESCO World Heritage site in Rome, the Vatican Museums represent the first museum in history to be opened to the public. In 1506, after the discovery of the Laocoön sculpture group, Julius II decided to allow access to a part of the papal collections. This gave rise to the idea of an artistic heritage made available to anyone wishing to admire it. Today they are the most visited museum complex in Italy, with over 4.5 million visitors per year.
The collection of works is organized into different sections, each referring to the initiative of a different Pope: from the Pio Clementino Museum, which houses masterpieces such as the Laocoön and the Belvedere Apollo, to the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, where the funeral array of Ramses II is exhibited, to the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art commissioned by Pope Paul VI. In addition to Caravaggio’s Deposition, the Picture Gallery houses Raphael’s painting of the Transfiguration, while the Pio Clementino Museum contains the famous red porphyry sarcophagi that belonged to Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, and her daughter Constantia.
Today, a visit to the Vatican Museums is presented as an approach to the Sistine Chapel, crossing the octagonal courtyard, the Gallery of the Candelabra, the Gallery of Tapestries and the Gallery of Maps and Raphael’s Rooms. It was Pope Julius II who commissioned the artist from Urbino to decorate his new apartment, after Alexander VI had invited Pinturicchio to decorate his rooms in the Borgia Apartment. Raphael created his masterpiece here: the Room of the Segnatura, where he frescoed the School of Athens and the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, the Room of Heliodorus, which takes its name from the famous episode of the expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, in which the Pope is portrayed as a defender of Christian orthodoxy, and the Room of the Fire of Borgo, where Raphael displayed extraordinary ability in anatomical design.