The Sistine Chapel is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in the Vatican City. It is famous for its architecture and its frescoes done by famous Renaissance artists such as Botticelli.
When the chapel was originally completed in 1481, the ceiling resembled a simple night sky with gold stars. In 1508 Pope Julius II wanted more, and asked Michelangelo to overhaul the entire ceiling.
Interestingly, Michelangelo was hesitant to take on the job because he thought of himself solely as a sculptor. Prior to his work on the chapel Michelangelo was famed for his sculptures and had made only one notable painting - a round portrait of the Holy Family.
The massive scaffolding required to reach the top of the 65-foot ceiling blocked the light from the chapel’s windows. As a result Michelangelo did all of the painting by candlelight.
Contrary to popular belief, Michelangelo didn't paint lying on his back. Actually it was worse - he stood up, arching backward for hours to paint over his head. It took Michelangelo four years to complete the project.
When he finished, he wrote, “I felt as old and as weary as Jeremiah. I was only 37, yet friends did not recognize the old man I had become.
Pope Paul III liked Michelangelo’s ceiling so much that in 1534 he had the artist return to paint a giant fresco, “The Last Judgment,” on the chapel’s west wall.
So much candle smoke accumulated on the ceiling over the years that a cleaning process that began in 1979 took 20 years to complete.
Tips for visiting the Sistine Chapel:
1. Set aside no less than an hour and a half to see the Chapel.
2. Wear proper attire for your visit: shorts, mini skirts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed.
3. Entrance on the last Sunday of each month is free
4. Opt to take a guided tour when you arrive at the Vatican Museums if you want a more personal tour of the Chapel and other museums.
5. Operating hours vary, so it's important that you make sure that the Chapel will be open when you plan to go.
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