The Gallery of Maps is one of the most interesting sections in the gigantic Vatican Museums, one of the most visited museums in the world. In a 120 meter long room, 40 large maps of different regions of Italy can be seen on the walls. The maps date back to the 16th century.
The maps are integrated directly into the walls as frescoes. On the left side are maps from the east of Italy, on the right side from the west of Italy. First you see, coming from the entrance of the Vatican Museum, the map frescoes from the south of Italy. You continue in a northerly direction. In the Gallery of Maps you can also find some maps of the most important cities of Italy.
Our tip: Buy tickets without queuing on the Internet
In the Vatican Museum, you can theoretically buy an entrance ticket at the box office, but you usually have to queue for hours. Often, the queue along the wall around the Vatican is several hundred metres long, often even one kilometre and more. Many museum visitors now have tickets with preferential admission. These are available in advance on the Internet.
A combination ticket for the Vatican with a museum and St. Peter’s Cathedral is also very popular. St. Peter’s Basilica is theoretically free, but there are very long queues. We even waited 2 hours in December.
In Italian, the gallery with the maps in the Vatican Museum is called “Galleria delle carte geografiche”, in English “Gallery of Maps”. The long room, which looks like a corridor, is on its way from the entrance of the Vatican Museums to the rear area with the Sistine Chapel. You can hardly miss the area with the geographical maps. You get here automatically by following the signs to Cappella Sistina.
The Karten-Saal has a length of 120 meters (about as long as a football pitch!), but is less than 10 meters wide. Its shape fits very well with the geographical shape of Italy (the long and narrow boot). The maps on the walls are beautifully painted. They are not only useful maps, but also works of art. Of course the maps are rather inaccurate from today’s point of view. They represent Italy geographically as you imagined the country to be in the 16th century.
There other great sights are the paintings on the ceiling in the “Galleria delle carte geografiche”. Here you find pictures with mostly religious motives, which are often in a geographical connection with the neighbouring maps on the wall..
The geographer Ignazio Danzi made the frescoes with the maps from about 1581 to 1583. He at least drew the sketches for the maps, other painters from his team made the frescoes. The client was the then Pope Gregory XIII, who came from Bologna.
There are 40 huge fresco maps on the walls in a very long room. The hall has the incredible length of 120 meters, but is only 8 meters wide. The frescoes depict different regions in Italy and other countries, as was known at the end of the 16th century..
It is interesting to note that the 40 frescoes depict Italy, although the unity of Italy only became reality much later. The unity of Italy was virtually anticipated.
Individual maps (examples)
Some of the maps show the big islands around Italy like Sicily, Sardinia, Malta or Corsica.
Some regions of Italy are divided into several maps (for example, Marches 3 maps). The map of Piedmont contains for example a city map of Turin, Liguria a map of Genoa and so on. Sometimes ports are also shown. We especially liked a picture with the port of Ancona.
At the end there are also two maps showing the whole of Italy (old Italy and modern Italy). The representation of Venice is also very interesting. On some maps you can also see other things from the respective regions, for example typical plants from Sicily.
Our recommendation: Very good guided tour through the Vatican Museum
Most visitors buy a ticket to the Vatican Museum without a guided tour. That’s fine. Somewhat more expensive, but much more interesting, are of course guided tours with a good guide. These are available in huge numbers in many languages, of course some also in English. An excellent and very popular and good tour in English can be booked on the great website Getyourguide. This tour also includes St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel