Gallery of Maps in Vatican Museums

About the Gallery of Maps in Vatican Museums

The Gallery of Maps is one of the most renowned and fascinating parts of the Vatican Museums. It is also known as the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in Italian. This gallery is located on the west side of the Belvedere Courtyard and takes its name from the frescoes on its walls. The gallery is a 120-meter-long hallway that features a stunning collection of painted topographical maps of Italy and the Vatican territory, as well as some parts of Europe. The frescoes of the gallery were commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the late 16th century, and they were completed by the artist Ignazio Danti and his team of painters. The project took about three years to finish, from 1580 to 1583. The paintings depict landscapes, cities, ports, and islands of the papal territory, as well as some mythical creatures and biblical scenes.

The gallery's ceiling is decorated with intricate stucco work and gold accents that provide an ornate and awe-inspiring contrast to the painted maps. Visitors to the Gallery of Maps can marvel at the incredible detail and vividness of the paintings, which are almost 5 meters tall. The gallery's location also offers a unique perspective of St. Peter's Basilica and the surrounding area.

One of the highlights of the gallery is the depiction of the town of Gradara, which was the hometown of Pope Sixtus V. The painting is so detailed that visitors can see the town's fortifications, streets, and buildings. Another fascinating piece is the fresco of the island of Lampedusa, which shows the island's lighthouse and castle. The Gallery of Maps is not only a historical and artistic treasure but also an impressive feat of engineering. The paintings were created using the same techniques as in the 16th century and have survived for centuries, despite the gallery's high humidity and temperature fluctuations.

Explore the Gallery of Maps in Vatican Museums

History of the Gallery

The Gallery of Maps is a spectacular hall inside the Vatican Museums that houses a series of large, stunningly detailed maps of Italy. The gallery was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the late 16th century as part of a larger plan to renovate and modernize the Vatican.

Architecture and Design

The architectural genius behind the gallery's creation is Ignazio Danti, an accomplished Italian architect renowned for his mastery of mathematics and cartography. Danti's vision birthed a space of elegance and purpose, defined by its rectangular layout adorned with a gracefully arched ceiling. To infuse the gallery with natural illumination and a sense of openness, Danti incorporated a series of generous windows that grace both flanks. This symphony of design elements harmonizes to create a sanctuary where historical treasures come to life and visitors are immersed in a captivating journey through time.

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The Maps

Nestled within the Vatican Museum is the awe-inspiring Gallery of Maps, adorned with an exquisite collection of 40 grand-scale maps. These masterpieces, brought to life between 1580 and 1585 through collaborative efforts of skilled artists and cartographers, command attention. Each map, spanning approximately 13 feet in height and 20 feet in width, boasts an impressive magnitude. These captivating depictions were skillfully applied to the gallery's walls utilizing the fresco technique, seamlessly melding art and architecture to create an immersive tableau of geographical and historical narratives.

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Subjects of the Maps

The maps within the Gallery of Maps vividly portray the diverse landscapes of Italy, capturing its myriad regions, prominent cities, islands, and territories. Woven into these expansive depictions are not only geographical details but also intricate illustrations depicting pivotal historical occurrences and iconic figures that have left an indelible mark on each distinct area. The maps thus serve as dynamic windows into Italy's multifaceted history, seamlessly interweaving both the physical and cultural dimensions of the nation's rich heritage.

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Cartographic Techniques

Beyond their artistic allure, the maps housed within the gallery hold profound significance as exemplary specimens of late 16th-century cartography. These cartographic marvels skillfully employ a spectrum of techniques, such as perspective, shading, and relief, to ingeniously craft a semblance of three-dimensional expanse. Thus, these maps transcend mere aesthetic appeal, serving as intricate windows into an era's innovative approach to mapping and spatial representation. 

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As time passed, the Gallery of Maps endured the effects of humidity, pollution, and various environmental elements that took a toll on the frescoes. By the 1980s, recognizing the urgency of the situation, a significant restoration endeavor was embarked upon. This ambitious project aimed to meticulously mend and safeguard the maps, which had faced considerable challenges, including the pervasive issues of flaking and fading. 

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Historical Significance

Beyond its aesthetic allure, the Gallery of Maps stands as a pivotal historical document, offering a captivating window into the multifaceted tapestry of Italy during the late 16th century. This remarkable space transcends its visual charm, serving as a tangible testament to the intricate interplay of politics, culture, and art that defined the era. It is a living testimony, encapsulating the essence of a dynamic period in Italy's history, inviting visitors to embark on a vivid journey through time and immerse themselves in the intricate threads of a bygone epoch.

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FAQs Of Gallery Of Maps

What is the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museums?

The Gallery of Maps is a section of the Vatican Museums that features a long corridor decorated with a series of stunning 16th-century maps of Italy's regions and cities. The maps are hand-painted on the walls and the ceiling, making the gallery a unique and visually impressive space.

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Who painted the maps in the Gallery of Maps?

The maps in the Gallery of Maps were painted by a group of Renaissance artists, including Ignazio Danti, Cesare Nebbia, and Girolamo Muziano. They used a technique called "grotesque," which involves intricate decorations of plants, animals, and other designs to frame the maps.

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What is the history behind the Gallery of Maps?

The Gallery of Maps was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in the late 16th century as part of a larger renovation of the Vatican Palace. The gallery was meant to showcase the geographical and cultural richness of Italy and its regions, while also serving as a space for papal processions.

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How long is the Gallery of Maps?

The Gallery of Maps is approximately 120 meters long, making it one of the longest corridors in the Vatican Museums. The maps cover the entire length of the walls, from floor to ceiling.

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What are some notable features of the Gallery of Maps?

Aside from the impressive maps, the Gallery of Maps features ornate decorations on the ceiling, including frescoes of the life of Pope Gregory XIII and allegorical figures of the virtues. The floor is made of marble and features a series of intricate patterns.

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How long does it take to see the Gallery of Maps?

The time needed to see the Gallery of Maps can vary depending on the visitor's interest and pace. However, most visitors spend around 20-30 minutes in the gallery, taking in the beautiful maps and decorations.

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Are there any guided tours available for the Gallery of Maps?

Yes, the Vatican Museums offers guided tours that include the Gallery of Maps, as well as other sections of the museum. Visitors can choose from a range of tours depending on their interests, and a knowledgeable guide can provide insight into the history and artistry of the Gallery of Maps.

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Is photography allowed in the Gallery of Maps?

Photography is permitted in the Gallery of Maps, but the use of flash is not allowed. Visitors are asked to be respectful of others and not to obstruct the view while taking pictures.

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How can visitors access the Gallery of Maps?

The Gallery of Maps is located within the Vatican Museums and can be accessed through the museum's entrance. Visitors can purchase tickets in advance or on-site, and are advised to arrive early to avoid long lines. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday, and closed on Sundays and some religious holidays.

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