The Vatican City State houses some of the world’s greatest museums, which hold the extensive collections of priceless art and centuries-old treasures built up by the Roman Catholic Church. Amongst these collections are some of the world’s most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art, yet few are aware of the revolutionary architecture that also exists within these walls.
Inside Pio-Clementine Museum, one of the Vatican Museums, lies a marvel of Renaissance architecture, commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1505 to connect the Belvedere Palace of Innocent VIII to the city of Rome. Inside a large square tower, a dramatic spiraling structure, built of carved stone, was created by famous architect, Donato Bramante. Consisting of two intertwining staircases that form a DNA-like double helix, this innovative structure represented a design that had yet to be discovered. This lead to its enormous popularity and an ongoing fascination from the public, since the day of its inception. Its unique design also became very influential, used as a model for the more recent replica ‘Bramante Staircase’ created in 1932 by Giuseppe Momo, built to serve as an entry for the Vatican Museums and now used as the exit.
Centuries ago, the flat, ramp-like ‘staircases’ of Bramante’s structure were designed to walk up one and walk down the other, so that mules and horses could continuously go up and down with ease while carrying large items into the papal palaces. Besides its impressive stonework and design, the tower offers spectacular views across Rome and the Vatican property. Today, few ever set foot on the staircase as it remains behind rod iron gates, closed off to the general public. Only those who have been granted special access, such as Insight Vacations, have permission to enter.
Currently, all Insight tours travelling to Rome include both VIP entrance into the Vatican Museums, which allow visitors to skip the line-ups and avoid the crowds, and exclusive access to the original 16th century Scala Del Bramante (Bramante Staircase).
Written by Cindy Howes