Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Disabled Access
By John Sage
Sistine Chapel Disabled Access at the Vatican – Visiting Vatican City in a wheelchair consists of two parts: 1) visiting the Vatican Museums, Raphael Rooms, and Sistine Chapel and 2) visiting the St. Peter’s Basilica. The two parts are not connected by step-free access so wheelchair visitors will need to take a 0.6 mile (1.0 km) external route along a sidewalk to get between the two. The route is downhill going from the Vatican Museums to St. Peter’s Basilica. Consequently handicapped accessible Sistine Chapel visits should occur before visiting St. Peter’s Basilica. Both areas are generally less crowded in the afternoons than in the mornings.
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The Vatican Museums have a ramp at the entrance and elevators to get between the floors. The normal visitor’s route involves a few flights of stairs, and disabled visitors are allowed to go backwards along parts of the tour route and through roped off areas to avoid the steps.
The official policy is that Vatican Sistine Chapel handicapped visitors are free only if they present documentation of their disability. (In many European countries people are issued documents from the federal government describing the percent of their disability.) In actuality visitors with visible disabilities (such as using a wheelchair) and their companion are usually given free admission. Rental wheelchairs are available in the lobby. Sistine Chapel handicapped accessible guided tours can be booked in advance.
We gave the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel a 5 Star Sage Accessibility Rating because there is step-free access throughout via ramps, elevators, and wheelchair lifts. Additionally the floors are smooth and the ramps have a similar slope as those required by US and UK accessibility standards.
There is a curb cut on the street followed by a ramp (shown in the image on the right)to get to the entrance of the Vatican Museums. The revolving door has a push/pull door located immediately to the right:
An elevator straight ahead of you takes you down to the accessible restroom. Ask the staff member working the coat check for a key to the disabled restroom.
A different elevator (located to the right of the entrance) takes you up to the Vatican Museums. At the ticket check, disabled visitors can stay to the right to bypass the turnstiles.
After you go up the elevator, you will go up a ramp that goes by Michelangelo’s double spiral staircase (shown in the photo on the left). When you get up the ramp, there will be a courtyard straight in front of you (shown in the image on the right). The Vatican Museums will be to your right and the Papal Apartments and Sistine Chapel will be to your left. Most people visit the Vatican Museums first.
The Vatican Museums contain a great art collection. Disabled access at the Vatican Museums is step-free and over a smooth floor (shown in the image below).
After visiting the art in the Vatican Museums, ask a staff member how you can get to the Sistine Chapel. You will be escorted behind a roped off area to proceed in the opposite direction of the normal tour route (photo of the long hall shown on the left). The floor is smooth and flat. Some staff members will only allow one companion to accompany you. Other staff members will allow your entire group to accompany you.
An elevator halfway down the corridor leads down to the Raphael Rooms. It is home to theSchool of Athens(one of my favorites!) shown on the left. The Raphael Rooms are very crowded and you will be going against the flow of traffic on the way in.
Rental wheelchairs are available for Vatican Museums. Some of them are stored near the top of the wheelchair lift.
Reaching the Sistine Chapel requires walking down this flight of stairs or using the Sistine Chapel wheelchair lift. A staff member is present to operate it for you.
After you get down the lift, a narrow hallway leads to the Sistine Chapel. You will be going against the flow of traffic. Staff members can hold back tourists so you can get through. Sistine Chapel wheelchair access is via the ramp shown on the right:
Another small wheelchair ramp in the Sistine Chapel is found in the middle of the room. Parts of the floor are mosaic and the entire area is smooth. Photographs and talking loudly are forbidden but if you’re discreet you can take a picture of Michangelo’s ceiling painted over a 4 year period (shown in the lower left).
After visiting the Sistine Chapel, guided tours are permitted to take a shortcut down a flight of stairs to St. Peter’s Basilica. Disabled visitors and Vatican accessible guided tour participants will need to back-track to exit at the Vatican Museums entrance and use the step-free route to St. Peter’s Basilica.
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