A very special tour to discover the Sistine Chapel and her noteworthy sisters: the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages and the Sistine Chapel of 1200.

We are all familiar with the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Vatican in Rome. However, many people are not be aware of the existence of two other chapels that, for their beauty and their artistic value, have been renamed the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages and the other Sistine Chapel of the 1200’s. In this Tour we will follow an itinerary that leads to their discovery.

Our tour of the Chapels starts at the largest and most famous: the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel of the Vatican

It is common knowledge that the Sistine Chapel was one of the artistic wonders of the world, even before Johann Wolfgang Goethe visited the Chapel and made his famous declaration about it: “without having seen the Chapel you cannot understand what a man is capable of accomplishing”. The Sistine Chapel is the main structure in the Apostolic Palace and within Vatican City. Those who visit Rome, and make their way to the Vatican, cannot miss this Chapel, a real jewel of sacred art. It is a place that continues to attract the attention of visitors from all over the world.

The Sistine Chapel was built between 1475 and 1481 and commissioned by the Holy Father Sixtus IV, from which it took its name: Sistine Chapel. In addition to its works of exclusive art and extraordinary beauty, the Sistine Chapel is known everywhere on the globe to be the official location where the papal conclave is held.

Official ceremonies are regularly held in the Sistine Chapel and, throughout the centuries, many papal coronations have taken place here.

Inside visitors can admire a work of art that is fantastic in its uniqueness. These are the frescoes created by Michelangelo Buonarroti. They cover the back wall of the Sistine Chapel (the one that depicts the Last Judgment) and the vault.

In addition to these works there are many others by mainly Roman artists from the second half of the fifteenth century. Among these are Sandro BotticelliLuca SignorelliPiero di Cosimo and many others.

Although there are two other Sistine Chapel in the world (one is in Rome, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and which was built by Sixtus V and one in the Cathedral of Savona, built by Sixtus IV as a mausoleum for his parents), that of the Vatican is recognized as the most important.

The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican has the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as defined in the Old Testament. However, apart from the size, there do not seem to be any other similarities. In the Chapel you can see the papal coat of arms of the Della Rovere family: twelve golden acorns, a tiara and an oak. It is thought that this coat of arms was decorated by Pope Sixtus IV. In reality, however, the coat of arms was designed by the hands of Julius II, nephew of Pope Sixtus IV.

The floor deserves particular attention, as it is made of marble and decorated with polychromatic inlays. The designs are made of connected circles to which particular squares are added.

The Sistine Chapel is divided into two areas. The smaller area is reserved for the faithful; while the wider area is destined, instead, to important religious ceremonies. The base of the marble transenna includes ornamental reliefs with plant representations. Originally, the transenna divided the Sistine Chapel in half, but later it was necessary to create a larger space for the Pope. For this reason the marble divider was moved 5 meters, to its actual position.

The entire Sistine Chapel is finely decorated with numerous frescoes. The fresco  entitled “Punishment of the rebels” has been linked to Botticelli and each of the depicted episodes has some particular explanations.

The entire cycle of frescoes in the Chapel is a great representation of the History of Humanity, starting from the creation of Adam, passing through Sin and ending with the End of the World.

The Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages

Santa Barbara Chapel in Rome
Santa Barbara Chapel in Rome (XIIth Century)

Leaving the Sistine Chapel, it is possible to continue the journey through history by going to the Santi Quattro Coronati basilica complex. It rises near the Celio hill and its impressive appearance resembling a real fortress.

At the entrance there is a tower, behind which visitors relish the particular medieval atmosphere. Here stands the church of the four crowned martyrs, the Chapel of Santa Barbara and that of San Silvestro (here there are splendid Byzantine paintings) and the Sala delle Pentafore.

But the main reason why this religions complex is worth a visit is the Gothic Hall, a splendid place of culture located in the Torre Maggiore. Here beautiful medieval frescoes are preserved. The hall is frescoed in such a sublime manner that art historians have defined it as the Sistine Chapel of the Middle Ages.

Important events have been held in the Gothic Hall throughout the centuries. It’s exceptional style and the stunning pictorial cycle is among the most beautiful in the world. All the frescoes are made with a particular polychromy. Many decorations have been discovered only recently, as they were hidden for centuries by successive paintings.

The Sistine Chapel of the 1200’s 

Anangni Crypt
Anangni Crypt (1200)

Our tour to discover the most treasured chapels in Rome continues in the Roman countryside, in the province of Frosinone and in the city of Anagni. Here reality exceeds our expectations!

After an enjoyable lunch of traditional local dishes at a beautiful farm in the area, at 3:00 p.m. we arrive at the main square, in front of the Cathedral of Anagni also called Cathedral of Santa Maria of Anagni, a basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Annunziata.

The facade of the Cathedral is very simple, recalling the building styles of the years 1072-1104. The Cathedral was built thanks to the efforts of Bishop Pietro da Salerno. It is a wonderful work in Romanesque style that houses a beautiful mosaic floor inside.

Just underneath the majestic Cathedral it is possible to visit the Crypt of San Magno, renamed by historians as the Sistine Chapel of 1200. San Magno is the patron saint of Anagni.

The crypt was built together with the Cathedral, it is thought about in 1080. The essence of the crypt consists of a particular harmony of the interweaving of arches in Romanesque style with the original floor to which is added a cycle of captivating frescoes that extends for different hundreds of meters. Here, too, it is possible to find the pictorial representation of the religious history of Man, starting from his Creation and ending with the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment.

The visit to the Crypt of San Magno takes about half an hour, the time interval in which the lights remain on for visitors. The museum takes great care to preserve the pictorial cycle and, by limiting the frescoes’ exposition to light, has adopted this provision to keep the colors and the frescoes unaltered.