Behind the Scenes: A Private Viewing of the Sistine Chapel

June 15, 2012 by

Art & Museums, Deals, Specials & Promotions, Europe, Things to Do, Viator Exclusives

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Vatican private tour of Sistine Chapel

The view over Rome from the top of the Bramante Staircase

If you have visited the Vatican in spring or summer, you’re probably familiar with the blocks-long entrance lines and jostling crowds. Each year more than 5 million people pass through the Vatican’s galleries and museums. Packed elbow-to-elbow in a teeming crowd is no way to experience the Vatican or its iconic centerpiece, the Sistine Chapel.

That’s why I am thrilled to present Viator’s newest Vatican experience, a VIP tour of the Sistine Chapel and some of the Vatican’s secret rooms and hidden spaces. With this exclusive tour you skip every line and get unprecedented access – the kind usually reserved for celebrities and visiting heads of state. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Behind the Scenes at the Vatican on Viator’s VIP Tour

Vatican private tour of Sistine Chapel

My mother and daughter, holding the set of keys that would unlock the Vatican’s secret rooms

I was in Rome recently (one of the best parts of my job is previewing some of our exclusive new tours!) and was lucky to experience this three-hour VIP tour of the Vatican. From the moment we arrived, we were made to feel special. Our guide – the same guide who has ushered royalty and Hollywood stars through these doors – lifted the velvet rope and led our small group past the crowds waiting in line.

We were also accompanied by an official Vatican guard, who carried the set of assorted keys that would grant us access to restricted areas. While we had an idea of which rooms we’d see on the tour, we couldn’t be guaranteed which ones we’d have access to, as the tour sometimes must change to accommodate the Pope’s schedule.

Throughout our tour – which stopped at some of the classic Vatican sights including Raphael’s Rooms, the Pinecone Courtyard, Gallery of Maps, Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of the Tapestries, and the Chiaramonti Museum – our guide shared colorful stories as well as some rumors and legends of questionable fact. When we entered a restricted room, for example, we saw a very odd-looking chair and learned about the 13th-century legend (not endorsed by the Catholic Church!) of the female pope. Rumor has it that this chair – known as the sedes stercoraria and featuring a hole in the middle of the seat – was used to ascertain the gender of a potential pope to prevent the coronation of a woman in disguise. Of course the reality may not have been so scandalous, as other theories suggest it was simply a convenient commode. Our guide, clearly versed in American pop-culture, mentioned how the chair was depicted the Showtime series The Borgias.

Vatican private tour of Sistine Chapel

My husband and our guide, with his iPad, stand in front of the special chair

Using his iPad to zoom in on features too far for the eye to see, our guide explained the significance of details we might have otherwise missed and shared stories of the Vatican’s history, government, art, and the sometimes scandalous lives of the people who have called it home over the centuries.  With our guard’s special keys, we were shown rooms usually off-limits to all but the most honored guests.

Vatican private tour of Sistine Chapel

Our guide points out details to my husband and daughter

We visited the Niccoline Chapel, which is decorated with detailed frescoes by Fra Angelico, a Renaissance painter and predecessor of Michelangelo, and embellished with gold Christopher Columbus collected on his travels.  We walked up the Bramante Staircase, a 14th-centruty spiral ramp that is adjacent to the Pope’s Palace and seldom seen by outside visitors, and we saw the collection of gold papal jewelry and sparkling Etruscan jewels in the Room of Gold (Sala degli Ori).

Our Private Viewing of the Sistine Chapel

For the tour’s grand finale, we were once again led past the velvet ropes, just as the crowds were being shooed out, for an extraordinary private viewing of the Sistine Chapel, empty of all other visitors besides our small group!

This is an experience very few other Vatican visitors will ever have, so we felt very privileged to have the whole room to ourselves. We were able to just wander and admire every detail of Michelangelo’s frescoes for a full 30 minutes after the doors officially closed. Along with this special access came special perks; during normal hours, speaking in the Chapel is forbidden, but after-hours, we could freely ask questions of our guide, who shared more about the Chapel’s remarkable details.

We left the Vatican that night savoring the feeling of being a VIP visitor to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. It was an experience my family and I will be bragging about for many years to come! If you’re traveling to Rome this summer I hope you, too, earn your own bragging rights on this amazing new tour from Viator.

- This post was written by Viator’s CEO, Barrie Seidenberg, who recently traveled to Rome with her family and experienced our new Viator VIP Access: Sistine Chapel Private Viewing and Small-Group Tour of the Vatican’s Secret Rooms.

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