Virtual Vatican Museums

Everything you always wanted to know about the Vatican Museums — and a few things you didn't know you wanted to know — can now be found online.

The new Vatican Museums Web site was unveiled June 24 in the Holy See Press Office by Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the chief administrator of Vatican City State, under whose jurisdiction the museums fall.

The scope and extent of the new Web site is breathtaking, from a virtual tour of the Raphael Rooms, Sistine Chapel and Gregorian Etruscan Museums to the stunning reproductions of some of the world's most famous works of art.

Cardinal Szoka, an American, noted that when Pope John Paul II inaugurated the new entrance to the Vatican Museums on Feb. 7, 2000, he called the museums “one of the most meaningful doors that the Holy See opens to the world,” through which is expressed “the renewed will of the Church to dialogue with mankind through art and culture, making available to everyone the patrimony entrusted to her by history.”

In fact, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has called the patrimony of the Vatican Museums “the patrimony of mankind.”

Now, visiting the museums could not be easier. Just go to Home.html and you are on your way to an unforgettable journey through the vast and historic halls of the Apostolic Palace where the museums are located.

With a few clicks you can learn the museums’ history, and with a few more you are inside one of the wonders of the world — strolling through the extensive art-bedecked halls and frescoed rooms and visiting the seemingly endless collections of paintings, sculptures, Egyptian artifacts and pre-Colombian art.

You can also select up to 30 works of art to view online, along with their history — works such as “The Transfiguration” by Raphael, a gold breastplate of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, a mummy in its case, an Attic black-figure amphora, Caravaggio's “Deposition from the Cross” and Michelangelo's “Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel.

The virtual tours of the Pinacoteca, with its works by Giotto, Fra Angelico, Raphael and others, are worth the entire trip.

For those impressed by statistics, the Vatican Museums site offers:

Emore than 3,200 conventional pages of text;

Efive languages (Italian, English, French, Spanish and German);

E2,950 Web pages;

E800 images;

E165 high-resolution images;

E120 zoom images;

E45 panoramic images; and E50,000 links.

More than 15,000 hours of work by a staff of 25 went into building the museums’ Web site, including research, writing and translating texts, and special photographic needs — not to mention the technical expertise needed in creating the Web pages themselves.

For those who are planning an actual visit to Rome, the site can be a useful tool in finding out how to reach the Vatican Museums and learning to navigate their labyrinthine halls.

And, since the Web site can be visited on hand-held wireless computers and late-model cell phones, officials hope to wire the actual museums so tourists can access an online guide while viewing the objects in person.

The new site can also be reached through the Holy See Web site ( That site itself has come a long way and is worth browsing for all it offers, from papal encyclicals to online performances by the Sistine Chapel Choir to a visit to the Vatican Library.

First appearing on the Internet at Christmas 1995, consisted of just a single page of Christmas wishes to the Holy Father.

For the next year it contained only the news from the Holy See Press Office and the Vatican Information Service. Its growth over the past eight years has been significant — giant leaps and bounds, in fact, compared with the usual slower-paced and conservative standards of the Roman Curia.

In the last 18 months the Holy See Web site has had more than 650 million hits, sometimes seeing 60 million visits in a month.

These hits come from, on the average, more than 1 million individual users from 150 countries around the world.

With a link to the Vatican Museums Web site, the numbers might be going even higher.

Joan Lewis works for Vatican Information Service.