The Vatican Museums are so immense that it’s been said that even if you spent a solid week inside you still wouldn’t see everything. Even the exquisite Raphael Rooms sometimes get short shrift because of their location – just before the entrance to the Sistine Chapel, which is where nearly everyone is headed – so imagine how overlooked the rooms of the Borgia apartments are, being one floor below.
The Borgia rooms, as they’re often called, were once the private rooms of 15th century Pope Alexander VI (himself a member of the powerful Borgia family). Today, the Pope resides elsewhere, and the series of rooms known as the Borgia apartments are a part of the Vatican Museums. As is the case with many Popes, Pope Alexander VI had a series of great artists working for him. In particular, the artist Pinturicchio painted frescoes on the walls and ceilings, beginning work in 1492 – the same year in which Cardinal Borgia was elected to the Papacy. The imagery in the frescoes is predominantly religious, but also includes portraits of the Pope and his family. Upon Pope Alexander VI’s death in 1503, the Borgia rooms were shuttered, only re-opened in the late 1800s to be restored and opened to the public.
The Pinturrichio frescoes in the Borgia apartments are the highlight of a visit, but the rooms themselves are also used to house the Vatican’s collection of Modern Religious Art. The Borgia rooms are included on your Vatican Museums ticket; just remember they’re downstairs underneath the Raphael Rooms, so be sure to visit before you head all the way into the Sistine Chapel.