Vatican Cortile della Pigna ☆☆☆

The Cortile della Pigna, with Pomodoro's 1990 Sphere within Sphere, Vatican Cortile della Pigna, Rome, Italy (Photo by Gabriel Tocu)
The Cortile della Pigna, with Pomodoro's 1990 Sphere within Sphere

The Vatican's public courtyard makes for a lovely museum break, offering grass and sun and a giant modern sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro

From the Egyptian rooms, you can escape from all the art appreciation for a breath of fresh air in the Cortile della Pigna.

This pleasant "Courtyard of the Pinecone" is named for the 1st-century BC, 13-foot-high bronze fir cone that was discovered in the Baths of Agrippa. It was oriignally placed in the atrium of the old St. Peter's Basilica—Dante even mentions it in Canto XXXI of the Divine Comedy's Inferno when he describes Nimrod: "His face looked long and huge, like the pincone of St. Peter's in Rome." It now sits in an oversized niche atop a platform flanked by two ancient Egyptian stone lion statues (360-343 BC) inscribed with the name of Nectanebo I (XXX Dynasty), from Heliopolis.

The Cortile della Pigna is the only section of the original Renaissance-era Belvedere Courtyard open the the public. This courtyard was once a single, immensely long space stretching from the papal palaces all the way to Innocent VII's Palazetto at the far end. It was degined by Bramante (and later finihed of uner the successive directions of Baldassarre Peruzzi, Antonio da Sangallo, and Pirro Ligorio), but later popes subvidived it by building new wings crossing it—the Apostolic Library, built by Domenico Fontana under Sixtus V, and the Braccio Nuovo of Pius VII (a Necolassical design by Raffaele Stern).

In the middle of the open court is one of Arnaldo Pomodoro's weird riven bronze globe sculptures (1990). Though many tsk-tsk this monstrous piece of modern art, I have noticed that few things at the Vatican (beyond furtive snaps of the Sistine Chapel) get photographed more often.

Breakfast in the courtyard—and a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel

Vatican Sistine Chapel VIP access

Exclusive Breakfast at the Vatican with Early Access to Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel ★★★

Start your day at the Vatican with a lavish buffet breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard! After entering the Vatican Museums before the general public, sit down for an outdoor breakfast, featuring treats like pancakes and pastries, and then take a small-group tour around the museum itself. See highlights such as Raphael’s Rooms and the Sistine Chapel, before heading inside St Peter’s Basilica though a reserved entranceway (to beat any crowds). Numbers are limited to 20 people on this small-group Vatican tour, ensuring you’ll see the incredible artwork with personalized attention from your guide.

Duration: 4 hours; Cost: ~$130 per person

» book

There's also now a special Vatican tour you can take that begins (at 6:35am) with a buffet breakfast in the Cortile della Pigna (complete with pancake chef).

This is followed by a small (20 people max) group tour—before the museum dooors open to the public—around the Vatican highlights, including the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel.

Then you enter St. Peter's by a secret, skip-the-lines passage and finish up the tour inside the basilica.

Yes, you hav eto be here ridiculously early (6:35am), but this before-hours visit gets you that private access to the Sistine and other rooms at about one-thrid the cost (~ $130) of the more famous VIP after-hours tour (which is also cool, but runs around $430).

Photo gallery
  • The Cortile della Pigna, with Pomodoro
  • The Cortile della Pigna, the Braccio Nuovo and the dome of the St. Peter
  • The Pinecone Courtyard, Vatican Cortile della Pigna, Italy (Photo by xiquinhosilva)
  • The giant 1C BC bronze pinecone, flanked by two peacocks, Vatican Cortile della Pigna, Italy (Photo by Carlo Pelagalli)
  • Statue of a lion, inscribed with the name of Nectanebo I (XXX Dynasty), from Heliopolis, 360-343 BC, Vatican Cortile della Pigna, Italy (Photo by Thomas Ekman Jorgensen)
  • Sfera con Sfera, or Sphere within Sphere, (1990) by Arnaldo Pomodoro, Vatican Cortile della Pigna, Italy (Photo by AlfvanBeem)
  • Colossal Bust of Augustus from the AD 1C, Vatican Cortile della Pigna, Italy (Photo by lienyuan lee)
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Tips

How long does the Pinecone Courtyard take?

This is really just a pressure valve where you can take a break from all the art and antiquities, so spend as long as you'd like catching some sun and fresh air and an (almost) complete lack of Important Things To Look At. Figure at least 10 minutes.

However, ecpect to spend all day at the Vatican itself. Two days if you can swing it. 

How long do the Vatican Museums take?

Spend all day at the Vatican. Two days if you can swing it.

  • Even on a tight schedule, expect to spend at least 2–3 hours in the museums themselves, plus another hour St. Peter's around the corner. They're worth it.

Warning: The ticket office closes 2 hours before the museum, with the last entry at 4pm.

Book ahead

You can book Vatican 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 €17. Or you can do it online via one of our partners:

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.

That means: no shorts, no miniskirts, no sleeveless shirts or blouses, no tank-tops. Also, no hats.

(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.)

Also, you cannot bring into the museum any bag or backpack larger than 40cm x 35cm x 15cm (roughly 16" x 14" x 6")—there is a cloackroom where you can leave it.

» more on packing the right items for an Italy trip

Admission quirks: When the Vatican is free, closed, crowded, open late, etc.

Vatican Museum free days

The Vatican Museums are free on the last Sunday of each month, when they stay open until 2pm (last entry: 12:30pm). This, however, is no secret, so they are also intensely crowded.

On any other Sunday, however, the Vatican Museum are closed—and if that final Sunday of the month happens falls on a church holiday (see below), they also remain closed.

The Vatican is also free on Sept. 27 (World Tourism Day).

Vatican most crowded on Sun and Wed

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).

Open late on summer Fridays

The Vatican has been experimenting with reopening the museums on Friday evenings spring through fall allowing a limited number of visitors—upon advance booking only—to wander the mooonlit galleries without the crowds.

To book: Viator.com

Vatican closed on church holidays

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).

Last entry: 4pm

Note that the Vatican Museums close surprisingly early (last entry at 4pm, doors close 6pm).

So see the Museums first, then walk around the walls to visit St. Peter's.

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 starts at the northwestern tip of the piazza, near Castel Sant'Angelo).

You can also take bus 490 or 492 to Via Candia (two blocks north of the entrance), or one of many bus 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,Tram 19, 81, 492, 590, 982, and 990.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).