Vatican City Galleries
The birth of the Museum was almost by chance: it all began in 1506, when an ancient sculpture was found in a vineyard on the Esquiline Hill near Nero's Domus Aurea. It was only later that it was recognized as one of the most famous statues ever: the Laocoonte, described even by the Latin author Pliny. The subject of the work is taken from an episode of Virgil's Aeneid in which the seer and priest Laocoonte, for having predicted Ulysses' use of the Trojan Horse, was punished by the gods who sent two enormous snakes to strangle him and his two children in their deadly coils.
Like all the pontiffs, Pope Julius II had always shown great interest in artwork, and he immediately summoned Michelangelo and Giuliano da Sangallo to authenticate the sculpture. The pope then decided to acquire it, making sure no one else could do so before he did.
So the dramatic Laocoonte was put on exhibit in the Vatican, enriching Pope Julius II's collection that was the seed of what would ultimately become the Vatican Museums. The Laocoonte was placed in Bramante's Belvedere Courtyard where Julius II grouped all his ancient statuary, transforming it into the "Courtyard of the Statues". Visitors came from all over the world just to admire the sculptures and artists stopped there to copy the masterworks.
The Museums as they appear today, were created in the second half of the 18th century and are made up of two parts: the actual Museum and the popes palaces, naturally only the portions open to the public. The visit is an incredible stroll through the history of art where you can meet the greatest artists ever, through their most important works. You can organize your visit according to the time you have at your disposal; the shortest takes at least two hours, the longest, around six. You'll discover masterpieces in a sort of crescendo as you pass from one room to another; in fact, the rooms themselves are works of art, frescoed by artists like Fra Angelico, Pinturicchio or Raphael.