Vatican Borgia Apartments
The Vatican's Appartamento Borgia (Borgia Apartments) were the private chambers of Borgia Pope Alexander VI, frescoed by early Renaissance master Pinturicchio
The Sala delle Sibille in the Borgia Apartmments.The Borgia Apartments downstairs from the Raphael Rooms were painted by Pinturicchio and occupied by the infamous Spanish Borgia pope Alexander VI (you know: that devilish guy played by Jeremy Irons in the Borgias TV series).
This apartment suite was closed off by Julius II—who refused to live in rooms sullied by his venal predecessor—and its frescoes covered with black crepe.
Things remained that way for 386 years, when the apartments were reopened in 1889 to serve as display rooms for the Vatican's collection of (frankly largely bland) modern religious art.
They also finally uncovered the walls and ceilings that retain their rich frescoes, painted by Pinturicchio with wacky early-Renaissance Umbrian fantasy.
Pinturicchio's frescoes in the Borgia apartments
Music in the Sala della Arti Liberali of the Vatican's Borgia Apartments.A co-pupil of Raphael’s under master Perugino, Pinturicchio had a penchant for embedding fake jewels and things like metal saddle studs in his frescoes rather than painting these details in for an intriguing effect—call it Renassiance 3D.
While Pinturrichio's art is not necessarily at its top form in these rooms, they're worth a run-through.
A major moment in world history captured in fresco—then lost for 519 years
Detail of American Indians (?) dancing in The Resurrection (1494) by Pinturiccio in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican. (Photo courtesy of the Vatican Museums).The frescoes have been (finally) getting restored over the past several years, and the cleaning revealed something amazing: the first European depiction of Native Americans.
In the scene of The Risen Christ(a.k.a. The Ressurection)—just above the casket and to the left of the head of the long-haired man in red robes gazing up at Jesus—is a tiny scene of naked men in feathered headresses dancing around a pole. One even appears to be styling a mohawk hairdo.
What makes this even more remarkable is that these frescoes were finished by 1494—just two years after Columbus made landfall in the Caribbean and a mere 18 months of so after he treturned from that voyage and handed over his journals to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.
Resurrection (1494) by Pinturiccio in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican.More intriguing: While this scene was being painted, the crowned heads of Europe were still desperately trying to keep discovery of the New World a secret while they divvied up the rights to any future discoveries.
So while Columbus' discovery was something of a state secret at the time, Alexander VI apparently just couldn't resist a little bragging via fresco. He must have shared Columbus' description of the natives with Pinturicchio so he could slip them in there.
And that balding, pius-looking fellow kneeling in rich gold robes on the left side of the scene? It's Rodrigo Borgia himself: Pope Alexander VI.
Alexander VI spent the 1480s and early 90s issuing papal bulls atempting to control how the new discoveries being made by Spain and Portugal be divided up.
Map showing the various lines, first the one established by Alexander VI's 1493 papal bull (in dotted purple) and the final one from the 1494 Treatry of Tordesillas (in solid purple). The green line denotes a similar dividing from the 1529 Treaty of Sargasso. (Map courtesy of Lencer)Eventually, all the powers involved sat at the table to negotiate the "Treaty of Tordesillas."
The goal of this treaty was to demarcate a north-south meridian that sliced the globe halfway between the Cape Verde islands (then held by Portugal) and the new "West Indies" that Columbus had discovered for Spain (modern-day Hispanola—a.k.a. Haiti & the Dominican Republic—and Cuba).
Spain could lay claim to any new lands discovered west of that line; Portugal to anything east of it.
Keep in mind that, at the time, only those few Caribbean islands had been discovered—and, if the monarchs truly bought Columbus' theory, everyone still thought these were offshore islands of Asia. No one had any idea that there were two giant continents just beyond.
However, a case has been made the Portuguese already knew at least a bit about the eastern coast of South America—but had kept it a secret. This would explain why they kept insisting on nudging the Tordesillas line farther and farther to the west.
This theory holds that their goal was to make sure the line would pass right through the eastern bulge of South America. Why? So that in 1500, en route to India, Captain Pedro Álvarez Cabral could casually swing by—through unknown seas, and way, way out of his way—and claim this land for Portugal.
Whatever the case, this Tordesillas line is why, to this day, they speak Portguese in Brazil but Spanish just about everywhere else in the Americas.
Moving on in the Vatican Museums
- Planning your day: The Borgia Apartments take about 15–20 minutes—but expect to spend all day at the Vatican. Two days if you can swing it. Even on a tight schedule, expect to pretty much spend one full day seeing the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's together. They're worth it. Warning: The ticket office closes 2 hours before the museum, with the last entry at 4pm.
- The Vatican Museums are most crowded on Sundays (because they're free) and many Wednesdays (because in the morning St. Peter's itself is often closed for the papal audience in the piazza, so everyone who doesn't have tickets walks around the walls to kill time inside the museums, and by afternoon all the audience-goers join them).
- Book ahead: You can book entry tickets ahead of time to help avoid the lines, which can last for up to an hour or so in the summer. However, this adds a €4 fee to the already steep admission of €16 at www.vatican.va. Or you can do it online via one of our partners:
- Book a Vatican tour: There are two-hour tours of the museums and Sistine Chapel available (in English usually four time a day) for €32 per person—3-hour tours that also include St. Pater's cost €37. Note, though, that those prices include the €16 admisison ticket and €4 booking fee, so the tour portion actually only costs an extra €12–€15. For more info: tel. +39-06-6988-3145 or www.vatican.va. If you prefer a private guided tour of the Vatican and its museums, book one via our partner sites Viator.com or Context Travel:
- Skip the Line: Vatican Museums Walking Tour including Sistine Chapel, Raphael's Rooms and St Peter's
- Context: Arte Vaticana: Our Vatican Tour including Sistine Chapel and St. Peters (with reservations)
- Context: Vatican Collections
- Skip the Line: Vatican in One Day
- Skip the Line: Vatican Museums Tickets
- Private Tour: Vatican Museums Walking Tour
- Context: Vatican for Families
- Private Viewing of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums
- Vatican Friday Nights: Small-Group Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Tour
- Context: Evening Vatican Tour
- Context: Afterhours Vatican Museums Visit
- Private Tour: Vatican Museums and St Peter's Art History Walking Tour
- Skip the Line: Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Tour
- Skip the Line: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica Half-Day Walking Tour
- The Vatican Museums reopen Fridays evenings in summer
The Vatican has been experimenting with spring-to-fall evening hours on Fridays, allowing a limited number of visitors—upon advance booking only—to wander the mooonlit galleries without the crowds.
• May 3–July 16
• Sept 6–Oct 25
Hours: 7am to 11pm on Fridays (last entry: 9:30pm).
Cost: €16 (+€4 booking fee)
Galleries open on Friday nights:
• Sistine Chapel
• Raphael Rooms
• Pio-Clementine Museum
• Egyptian Museum
• Borgia Apartments (some rooms)
• Museum of Modern Reglious Art
More info: www.vatican.va.
To book: Viator.comThe Vatican Museums are closed Sundays—except on the last Sunday of the month...
- The Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of each month, when they are intensely crowded and stay open until 2pm (last entry: 12:30pm). They're also free on Sept. 27 (World Tourism Day). If the Sunday falls on a church holiday, however, they're closed (see next tip).
- The Vatican Museums are closed on all church holidays: Jan. 1, Jan. 6, Feb. 11, Mar. 19, Easter Sunday and Monday, May 1, June 29 (Feast of St. Peter and Paul—major Roman holiday), Aug. 14–15 (everything is closed in Rome on Aug. 15; head to Santa Maria Maggiore for mass with a "snowfall" of rose petals), Nov. 1, Dec. 25 (Merry Christmas!), and Dec. 26 (Santo Stefano—huge in Italy).
- Note that the Vatican Museums close surprisingly early (last entry at 4pm, doors close 6pm). So see them first, then walk around the walls to visit St. Peter's.
- Dress code?: Recently, the Vatican (or at least some guards) seems to have decided that you must dress "appropriately" to visit any part of Vatican City—including the museums—and not just St. Peter's, where a dress code has long applied. Err on the side of caution and make sure you arrive with no bare shoulders, knees or midriffs. (If it's hot and you want to wear a tank top around town that day, just bring a light shawl to cover your shoulders while inside;on » more packing the right items for an Italy trip.)
- How to get to the Vatican Museums: Cipro-Musei Vaticani is the closest Metro stop (on the A line, about 5 blocks northwest of the entrance; just follow the crowds). Otherwise, bus 49 stops right in front of the museum entrance (you can catch it from Piazza Cavour, or anywhere along Via Cescenzio, which passes the very northern tip of the piazza around Castel Sant'Angelo). You can also take one of many lines to Piazza del Risorgimento, tucked into a inside corner of the Vatican walls a short walk east of the musuems entrance: 23, 32, 81, 271, 492, 590, 982, 990.
- The Papal Suites: Raphael Rooms, Borgia Apartments, Chapel of Nicholas V
- All the Vatican Museums
- St. Peter's Basilica - Capital of Christendom
- Museums in Rome
- Churches in Rome
- An audience with the Pope
- All the works by Michelangelo in Rome
- More sights in the Vatican Borgo neighborhood
This article was written by Reid Bramblett and was last updated in May 2013. All information was accurate at the time.
about | contact | faq
» THE REIDSITALY.COM DIFFERENCE «
Copyright © 2008–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett