Braccio Nuovo is the largest historical artifact and art collection in the country. Actually, it’s the only museum system in the country. Comprising a mere 109 acres, Vatican City is a country within the city of Rome, and has been the home of the leader of the Catholic faith, the Pope, since the 1st Century. While they may be located within the smallest country in the world, the Vatican Museums are home to a larger-than-life collection of treasures and art from centuries of patronage.
The Vatican Museums trace their roots back to the early 16th Century, when an Ancient Roman sculpture, Laocoon and His Sons, was discovered in a vineyard within Rome’s city limits. Pope Julius sent Michelangelo (yes, that Michelangelo) and Giuliano da Sangallo to explore the ancient artifact. Upon receiving advice from the renowned Renaissance men, Pope Julius purchased the statue and within a month put it out for public display, beginning a centuries-old tradition of hosting a public museum on the Vatican’s grounds.
Over time, parts of the Pope’s palace were opened to the public and successive popes created new wings in order to house the Church’s ever-growing collection. The Braccio Nuovo, or “New Wing,” was commissioned by Pope Pius VII in honor of the many artifacts that Napoleon had stolen and taken to Paris ceremoniously returning to Rome. Designed by architect Raffaele Stern, today the columned halls of the wing are considered a neoclassical masterpiece, housing multitudes of ancient busts and the statue Augustus of Prima Porta—still missing his spear after all these years.
Housing over 70,000 artifacts, the Vatican Museums are one of the most visited museum complexes in the world, containing world-famous masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s The School of Athens, and the colorful Gallery of Maps. Not to mention, its footprint takes up over a quarter of the entire country.