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Life & Style

Beyond the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums says ‘we are much more’

Published May 30, 2023
A general view of St. Peter square where Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the canonization ceremony in St. Peter square at the Vatican. Photo: Reuters
A general view of St. Peter square where Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the canonization ceremony in St. Peter square at the Vatican. Photo: Reuters

VATICAN CITY: Barbara Jatta, the first woman to head the Vatican Museums, wants visitors to avoid being suffocated by the crowds and take in the lesser-known - but spectacular - attractions she helps to oversee.

The Vatican Museums, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that closed or limited openings during the COVID-19 pandemic, have almost returned to their pre-pandemic level of about six million visitors a year.

Many, particularly day trippers on fast-paced package tours of Rome, head straight for the Sistine Chapel, bypassing the museums’ other wonders.

“Not everyone in the Sistine Chapel. Please! We are much more,” she told Reuters at the opening of an exhibition of ceramics within metres of Michelangelo’s frescoed masterpiece.

“We have so many things that speak of history, it is important to get to know them too,” added Jatta, 60.

They include a 17th-century pharmacy and apothecary that was run by Benedictine nuns in the Monastery of St. Cecilia in Rome’s Trastevere district.

Open to the public since May 25, the pharmacy that served the public until 1936 has been reassembled with contents dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Cabinet shelves are filled with dozens of finely decorated blue-and-white ceramic jars that once held medicinal plants and herbs used to treat anything from insect bites to urinary infections.

The exhibition also includes tools for cutting and pressing the plants and extracting their essential essences. The nuns fashioned a large stone mortar from the capital of an ancient Roman column.

“This is an incredible patrimony of history, art and medicine,” said Luca Pesante, one of the curators of the exhibit, which also includes mediaeval floor tiles and decorative plates, some made from designs by Raphael.

Jatta, appointed by Pope Francis in 2016, said she and her staff has set as a priority to give visitors “the most marvellous visit possible” and that they should not be suffocated by too many people.

She added that the museums, which close at 6 p.m. on most days, may extend opening hours. Already, they stay open later on Fridays and Saturdays.

Nearly all tickets are booked online and are often sold out weeks in advance.

The need for extended opening hours may increase during the 2025 Holy Year, when millions more people than usual are expected to travel to Rome to participate in religious pilgrimages, she said.

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