Many of the most famous works of art by Renaissance master sculptor, painter, and architect Michelangelo Buonarotti are located in Rome and Vatican City. Famous masterpieces, such as the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel, can be found in the churches, squares, and museums of the Italian capital
Perhaps Michelangelo's most important and recognizable work, the dazzling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are the highlight at the end of a Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) tour. Michelangelo painstakingly worked on the detailed images of scenes from the Old Testament, painted between 1508-1512. The breadth and scope of the ceiling as a canvas are awe-inspiring to witness, but don't overlook Michelangelo's The Last Judgment, a huge mural on the altar wall depicted the winners and losers of eternal judgment. Be warned that lines into the chapel can be long, and once inside, people stand elbow-to-elbow.
The Vatican Museums are open weekdays Nov-Feb, 10 a.m.-1:45 p.m. (Christmas 8:45 a.m.-4:45 p.m.); Mar-Oct Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m.; and Sat 10 a.m.-2:45 p.m. You can buy tickets on the Vatican Museums website. Admission is €17 if purchased on-site; €21 if pre-purchased online. To avoid the long line at the entrance (especially in summer), we highly recommend you spend the additional cost of €4 per ticket.
Michelangelo's tender and refined rendering of The Pietà—chiseled when he was just 24 years old—is considered a masterpiece of high Renaissance art. The extraordinarily lifelike sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding her dying son in her arms was completed in 1499. Located in St. Peter's Basilica, the priceless statue sits in a side chapel to the right of the basilica entrance, behind a protective glass screen due to past attempts to vandalize it.
St. Peter's Basilica is open daily Apr-Sept, 7 a.m.- 7 p.m.; Oct-Mar, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission is free, but the wait to get in can be an hour or more.
Piazza del Campidoglio: Capitoline Hill
Besides being a sculptor, painter, and poet, Michelangelo was also a great architect. Though many visitors may not realize it, the elliptical square on the top of the Campidoglio or Capitoline Hill, as well as the two museums to either side of the square, are among his finest creations in Rome. Michelangelo also designed the cordonata (the wide, monumental stairway) and the intricate geometric pattern of the Piazza del Campidoglio, around 1536. The piazza — once a site dedicated to the god Saturn — was completed long after Michelangelo's death, but it remains a beautiful example of civic planning. It's best viewed from one of the buildings of the Capitoline Museums.
Piazza del Campidoglio is completely free to visit. Located on the Capitoline Hill at one end of the Forum just behind Piazza Venezia, it's an easy walk from either the Cavour and Colosseo Metro stations (B Line). Read more about how to visit the Capitoline Museums.
Moses: Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli
The church of San Pietro in Vincoli near the Colosseum is where you will find Michelangelo's monumental marble statue of Moses; one of his most enduring and powerful works. A centerpiece of the church (a close second are the relics of St. Peter’s chains), Michelangelo sculpted the likeness of the prophet for the tomb of Pope Julius II. The massive statue and the others surrounding it were to be part of a far more grandiose crypt, but Julius II was instead buried in St. Peter's Basilica. Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures of "Four Prisoners," originally intended to accompany this work, are housed in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence.
The church is open daily 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.-6 p.m. Entry is free, but a small offering is always appreciated.
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri: Piazza della Repubblica
Michelangelo, in his 80s at the time, was in charge of designing the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs around the ruins of an ancient Roman frigidarium (a large, cold pool). The site was part of the ancient Baths of Diocletian (the rest of the baths now form the National Museum of Rome). The interior of this cavernous church has been largely altered since he designed it. Regardless, it's still a fascinating building to visit, giving you a sense of the size of the ancient baths, as well as Michelangelo's genius in designing around them.
The church is less than a 10-minute walk from Rome's Termini railway station. Open daily, 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (Sunday to 7:30 p.m.). It's free to enter the church. Admission to the National Museum of Rome/Baths of Diocletian is €10.
Cristo Della Minerva: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (Pantheon)
This statue of Christ within the lesser-known Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva is not generally regarded as one of Michelangelo's finest works. But it's still a thrill to see one of his works so close up, and the church itself is quite beautiful. Completed in 1521, the sculpture depicts Christ, in a contrapposto pose (standing with most of its weight on one foot), holding up his cross. Located to the left of the main altar, the sculpture's nether-regions are draped—a Baroque-era addition meant to make the work of art "decent" for a church interior.
The church is located in Piazza della Minerva, one block behind the Pantheon. Entrance is free, and it's open daily 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.-7 p.m.
Porta Pia: Via Venti Settembre
Porta Pia is a gate in the Aurelian Wall designed by Michelangelo at the behest of Pope Pius IV. Construction began in 1561 but wasn't completed until after Michelangelo's death. A bronze plaque shows the artist's original plan, which was significantly altered in the final version.
An easy 15-minute walk from Termini Station, you can also get there by taking Metro Line B to the Castro Pretorio stop. City buses from Piazza dei Cinquecento also get you there.