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Vatican City and Jubilee

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Vatican Palaces


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BACK TO MENU Raphael's Stanze j_san_pietro.jpg (2580 byte) Sistine Chapel

One of the most sumptuous and articulated monumental complexes in the world is without doubt that of the Vatican Palaces, which began to be built in the 14th century so as to house as befitted their rank the popes who had finally"returned " from their stay in Avignon,and who had previously resided in the Lateran. The first pope to take up permanent abode in the Vatican was Gregory XI and his successors later enlarged and beautified the com-plex.In 1410 Alexander V had the communication "corridor "built between the palace and Castel Sant'Angelo.
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But the greatest impetus to the building and organization of the sumptuous complex was provided by Nicholas V. The heart of the complex is the square palace which en-closes the famous Cortile del Pappagallo, and on which Leon Battista Alberti and Bernardo Rossellino as well as others worked. The Chapel of Nicholas V is dedicated to Saints Stephen and Laurence and is decorated with fres-coes by Fra Angelico.


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The world-famous Sistine Chapel was created between 1473 and 1480, under Sixtus IV, when Giovanni de' Dolci reconstructed what was originally the Palatine Chapel. Innocent VIII even went so far as to have himself a Palaz-zetto built on the highest point of the Belvedere. The building appears in Andrea Mantegna's paintings, but was then lost with Bramante's reorganization and a still later construction of the Museo Pio Clementino under Pope Pius VI. When Alexander VI once more took up residence in the square Palace of Nicholas V, his enlarge-ment was terminated by the erection of the Borgia Tower (named after the pope's family).


The maecenas pope, Julius II, sponsored a reorganization which could fall under the heading of town planning wEen he entrusted Bramante with finding the solution of how to connect the Palace of Nicholas V with that of In-nocent VII: the result was, as is known, the Courtyard of the Belvedere with the niche by Pirro Ligorio (1560) at one end, in turn derived from the transformation of Bramante's exedra with its twin flight of stairs. Bramante was also responsible for the elevation of the Loggias of the Courtyard of Saint Damasus, finished and decorated with frescoes by Raphael. ThanDs to this expansion, the Pope's Palace could now face out on Piazza San Pietro.

Between 1509 and 1512 Michelangelo frescoed the vault of the Sistine Chapel for Julius II, and in 1508 Raphael began to decorate the Stanze, which were finished in 1524. After the disastrous sack of Rome, which to some extent bronght the grand papal project of the Instauratio Urbis to a halt, work on the Vatican Palace continued un-der Paul III, who entrusted Antonio da Sangallo the Younger wilh the building of the Cappella Paolina, the Sala Ducale, and the Sala Regia, entrusting the decora-tion of the Cappella Paolina and the termination of the frescoes in the Sistine to Michelangelo. The highlight ofthe Baroque in the Vatican Palace coincides w ith the papacy of Sixtus V and the architect Domenico Fontana, who designed the present papal residence and " cut " the Belvedere with the Cortile trasversale (now seat of the Sistine Hall of the Library).


In the 17th century, Urban VIII had the Scala Regia be-gun on designs by Bernini, as well as the Pauline Rooms in the Library and the Archives. In the following century the transformation into museums of part of the great complex was begun: the Christian Museum (Museo Sacro) and the Profane Muse~m (Museo Profano) (con-nected to the Library) were joined by the Pio-Clementine Muscum, planned and installed by Michelangelo Simonetti and Giuseppe Camporese (1771-1793); by the Chiaramonti Sculpture Gallery bound to the name of An-tonio Canova (1806-1810); the so-called Braccio Nuovo or New Wing designed by Raffaele Stern for Pius VII. Lastly, in the 20th century, Pope Pius XII initiated ar-chaeological excavations under the Basilica of St. Peter's, while John XXIII turned his attention to the construction of new rooms which could better house the museum col-lections of the Lateran Palace.


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