The Round Room, Vatican Museums

The renowned Round Room (Sala Rotonda) is a masterpiece of neo-classical architecture, built during the papacy of Pius VI by Michelangelo Simonetti in the late 18th century. Simonetti designed some of the most elegant rooms in the Vatican Museums, using light and space to capture and then magnify the presence of rare antiquities. The Greek Cross Room, Room of the Muses, Octagonal Court and Round Room are his creations.

The dome is styled on that of the Pantheon, by the shaped design of it’s interior and central oculus, which together span 21.60 metres. The room is dominated by a monolithic porphyry basin, the circumference of which measures thirteen metres, width five metres. Believed to have been used in Nero’s Domus Aurea (Golden House), it was brought to the Vatican Museums in the late 18th century. It’s placement in the Round Room resonates throughout the entire Vatican complex. Hewn from porphyry, a dark, reddish-purple stone, the type in use here is known, perhaps appropriately, as imperial porphyry. It’s shade matches that of purple dye extracted from shellfish, which was applied to the tunics and togas of the Senatorial class to form the legendary purple band. Imperial porphyry in Italy was imported from a single mine in Egypt, Mons Porphyrites, and used in floor tiles, columns, and to embellish ceramics.

The floor of the Round Room is adorned with intricate mosaics from Otricoli Baths (Umbria) which date back to the 3rd century. Each mosaic depicts scenes of battle between Greeks and centaurs, mythological sea beasts, tritons and nereids, which together evoke a ‘water theme’. Each tile was lifted and transferred to the Vatican individually. The room per se is enclosed by ancient sculptures, all of which tower above awe-struck onlookers. The effect is quite remarkable. Among the precious busts and colossal statues of old, one can admire Jupiter’s Bust of Otricoli, a 2nd century Hercules in gilded bronze (unearthed in 1864 in the area of the Theatre of Pompey), Julia, Barberini’s Juno, Plotina (wife of Trajan), Demeter (Ceres), Claudio, Faustina, and several others. Perhaps most precious of all is the statue portraying Antinous, Hadrian’s young lover, depicted as Dionysus. Researching ‘Antinoo’, I found this website which is worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time. Maybe less.

The Round Room is explained in detail by our expert Vatican tour guides on all our Vatican tours be they private or small group.


Vatican Guides

Vatican tour guides. Quality control in a service industry dealing specifically with educating people about the finest paintings and sculptures in the world, would, one might reasonably assume, be a given. People who have for the most part travelled great distances to experience the history of Rome and the Vatican City, people who expect a tour guide who really knows their stuff; formally qualified, licensed, professional, polite, personable and punctual, a fully paid up tourism services provider in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

It is not an overly difficult task to pick out licensed Vatican tour guides when in the vicinity of St Peter’s Square. Most of them are Italian and have studied for many, many years to earn their right to lead tours behind the Vatican walls. As for the best of the rest, a first time visitor to Rome could well end up being guided through the marvels of the Sistine Chapel by a student, also visiting Rome, trained up on how to tour the Vatican the previous evening over a pizza by any number of fly by night tour agencies which spring up seemingly overnight on the cusp of every high season.

Advice? Ask your guide to display his or her official tour guide badge. If he or she cannot produce it, walk away and head for an official Vatican tours agency which employs official licensed tour guides. Tour guide examinations in Italy are notoriously tough, and those who get through are those with whom you must see Rome, the Vatican, and indeed anywhere else on the peninsula.

When In Rome Tours use official, licensed tour guides and it is recommended that visitors to Rome and the Vatican do the same. Of course, some students and graduates who flock to Rome for summer work do know their history, but without the required ID it matters not, as strict regulations are already in place for the coming high season which will make a legal distinction between those who can work, and those who cannot.