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Silence in the Sistine Chapel?

We are going to book an "early entrance" tour into the Sistine Chapel so we can avoid the crowds, but I just emailed them about the "tour" aspect (narration/explanation of the frescoes) and it turns out it is not a guided tour at all, just early entrance. She stated, "Guides are not able to give any narration inside the Sistine Chapel as it should be silent." I guess I was picturing some kind of arrangement with headphones and whispered narration, but that is not the case.

I understand completely, given that it is a church, and a very special and sacred one at that. But are we expected to maintain total silence? Or can we whisper to each other and comment or draw attention to details as we enjoy the frescoes? We will be there with our adult daughter and her boyfriend.

Posted by
7895 posts

During regular hours there is a constant buzz of conversation with intermittent shouts from the guards of "Silence" and "No Photo" at which point it gets quiet, then builds again.

On the 2 tours I have been on (not the early entrance ones) the guide stopped in a courtyard that has large diagrams of the chapel ceiling and talked about it before we entered the museum.

Do spend some time sitting on the benches along the side so you can get good looks at the ceiling without feeling like you are falling over.

Posted by
792 posts

I was there as a teen back in the early 60's. It was so stunning there was no conversation needed. Your eyes did all the talking. I will see it again this Autumn. It was a profound experience for me to bask in that incredible art.

Posted by
4357 posts

Jim (and maybe Lola), you're in for a shock.

Lola, I can't tell from your post if you've ever been in the Sistine Chapel...but unfortunately it's pretty loud there :-( In my experience the sound level can grow into what I would describe as a roar...and then a very shockingly loud 'SILENCE'! (or three) from an employee. Over. And over. And over. And over.

If you want to very quietly whisper to someone, that shouldn't be a problem. If you want to conduct a running narrative...that might get someone's attention. If you're whispering loudly enough that doing so in a theater would get you 'shushed', then you're too loud.

I've read many posts on this forum saying that they had to get out of there because it was so loud and distracting.

Sorry. Perhaps things will be better for your visits...

Posted by
792 posts

guess I need noise canceling headphones ... I can't stand the chatter. Leave me alone.

Posted by
8293 posts

My experience is the same as Eileen's. Lots of shouting ... not just talking but shouting: "I'm over here ! I'm over here!" All this in spite of announcements in many languages that this is a holy place and asking for respect and silence. I do believe many tourists have been raised by coyotes, ill -mannered coyotes.

Posted by
4357 posts

I'm not talking "chatter"; I'm talking roar. This is a very small room, and it's packed with people. It sounds like being in a giant beehive with that incessant buzzing. This is no festive cocktail party. It.Gets.Loud. Then the employees yell and everyone jumps because they're startled. Good times ;-)

Not trying to shoo you away from going, just preparing you for this level of noise. I doubt you'll have anything like a meditative experience...but maybe you will!

In my experience, the behavior in there rises (or dips) waaaaay beyond that of the people taking photos where they clearly aren't supposed to (churches, museums, etc.) and the guards yelling at them.

Hopefully someone reading this hasn't had the same experience, but I know many have...sadly. But...go, we do. 'Cause it's the Sistine Chapel.

Posted by
244 posts

We did take an early morning tour, Walks of Italy, Pristine Sistine Tour. We were a group of around 30 people. It was quiet, had a chance to sit on the sides viewing the stories of the Bible. I highly recommend taking the early tour, 7:30 AM. Worth getting up early! Glad we didn't have to experience the crowds! Also, no narrative, our tour guide stopped before entering and gave us info then in we went!

Posted by
94 posts

not to hijack the thread but it seems kinda sad that Italy has become a tourist attraction in all the worst attributes of the word attraction. When I see photos of the squares overun with people and hear of the noises levels at such a sacred place, it breaks my heart. Wonder how many Italians feel the same way.
Maybe they'd prefer the tourist dollars.

Posted by
518 posts

I agree with the others. I've been in the Sistine Chapel twice and both times it was loud. I don't recall actual shouting but it was definitely not quiet. Basically whispers and murmurs swell to loud conversations, the guards would loudly call out "QUIET" or "SILENCIO" or something similar or just "SHHHHH!". The crowd would feign silence for a second and immediately build up again. It's the same with cameras. You keep hearing the guards say "NO PHOTO, NO PHOTO." It's more or less a futile effort.

Posted by
1692 posts

Termini station sounded like a tomb compared to the Sistine Chapel. "Roar" is a very apt description.

Posted by
4723 posts

Well, at least this proves that it's untrue that American Helicopter Parents, who have never said "No" to their children are not the main cause of self-indulgent behavior. There have been a number of incidents this summer involving cell phone use in Broadway theaters. It's puzzling why someone would pay so much money and go to so much trouble to NOT pay attention to what they "bought." I don't have a Facebook account, but maybe once you believe that it's all about your public-relations, communication is the only thing that matters. Everyone imagines that this is their 15 minutes on "Entertainment Tonight." Sad.

Posted by
506 posts

We were shocked at the continue asking to be quiet, which wasn't very quiet. In fact quite distracting!

Posted by
11845 posts

Just a reminder that Lola is asking specifically about the early entrance tours? If you haven't taken one of these, the experience may be different. Pfresh3 seems to be the only one who can vouch for the decibel level of these particular bookings, and I can certainly attest to the big difference in noise level between my first look in 1973 and the second in 2007; both of them during 'regular' hours.

Lola, I would say that exchanges in a soft whisper MAY be fine but the attendants on duty will let you know if that isn't OK. As the rule is strict enough not to allow guides to speak at all, the less, the better.

Posted by
570 posts

Like pfresh3, above, we did the Pristine Sistine early entry tour with Walks of Italy. The was a low murmur of sound, to which the guards would respond "shhhh," but no loud talking or shouting. Nor did I notice people taking photos (not to say they didn't, but as a former teacher, I tend to notice when people don't follow rules.) Our guide prepared us for what we would be seeing and even though we all had headphones, she turned her mike off while we were in there, as per rules. We were there for the daily prayer around 9:00, so that also lent itself to silence, other than responding to prayers. The tour includes the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's, and I was amazed that we saw much of the museums with no one else around.

Posted by
3561 posts

Hi Lola, I would recommend the chance to go into the chapel early to avoid the crowds and enjoy the beautiful ceiling. When I read your post, the first thought that came to mind was our experience during a RS tour: "Ssshh! No photos"! which unfortunately looks like a theme when I'm reading other people's replies.

Posted by
607 posts

We did the Friday night tour with a Vatican Museum tour guide in May. Before the start of the tour, the guide told us that she would not be permitted to accompany us into the Chapel because talking is not permitted in there. So she took about 10-15 minutes to talk about the Sistine Chapel. She passed around photos of the Chapel and told us the history and what to look for. I had been in the Chapel years before and had also read some books. i found that the guide's explanation was as good as any I have read.

On the Friday night tour, I did not find the crowd or noise too bad. People would be whispering and the din would slowly build. A guard would then shout "sileeennncio" and it would go quiet for about 5-10 seconds and then grow again.

Posted by
11613 posts

I did not visit the Sistine Chapel for 12 years because of the disrespectful noise of the crowds. Then I took a 7:30 a.m. Through EternityTour with a friend, and it was nearly totally quiet. Your guide will spend a good amount of time outside the Chapel explaining it, and will be easy to locate inside if you have a question, but you should not be doing your own running narrative with your friends. It's a very small room and sound carries.

Ralph, it's not the Italian people who get the money - many other tourist sights limit the number of people or the time they can spend in the place, or both. The Vatican Museums complex is run by the Catholic Church, the wanton disregard for respect in this holy place is on them as well as on those visitors who abuse the privilege of visiting this space. Limiting numbers and time would be an easy fix. The Galleria Borghese and the Scrovegni Chapel (Padova) don't have this issue.

Posted by
11844 posts

No worries, Keith. If the expectation is for silence, we will be happy to observe that, regardless what others do. I asked because in other churches we have visited, in Italy, Spain and England, the expectation was " quiet" not "silence.". The tour operator said "it should be silent" but I did not understand that to be the official rule. Now I do---although it appears from others' experience that the rule is not observed.

I have been in the Sistine Chapel before, although it was 48 years ago. It was a private visit with my university class, and no, it was not silent. One of our professors delivered a lecture, pointing out the various features of the frescoes and discussing the symbolism. He spoke in soft tones, but he did speak.

I am booking the early entry visit for us this time so we do not have to endure the crowds (and apparently the noise). We meet at 7:30 am and go in well before the general public. Apparently our group can be 20, and there will be (I think) two other groups of twenty, or sixty total. Or maybe I did not understand the description and there will be more. I hope not.

But I would like some kind of guide to understand what I am looking at. I just finished reading "Michaelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" and was fascinated by the history and politics behind the art. I will of course recognize the Biblical scenes on the ceiling, but there is so much more --the lunettes and side panels, with portrayals of the prophets and Christ's ancestors, even characters from pagan mythology. Many were created as likenesses of contemporary persons, including Pope Julius and others, both friend and foe of Michaleangelo. I will not remember everything I read about it, so perhaps I should take in some notes or maybe a small guidebook (not Rick's) if that is allowed.

Posted by
6163 posts

Reading this thread just makes me want to cry. I visited the Sistine Chapel in '99, it was mid-afternoon and it was terribly crowded but the only noise I remember is an undercurrent of shuffling feet and guidebook page turning and an occasional shhhh. I don't remember ever hearing a guard shout for silence or yell 'no photo, no photo'. Is it just the increased crowds or are today's tourists just getting more and more disrespectful?

Lola, I hope you have a good experience going early to beat the crowds. It is just such an awesome experience, I'm amazed that anyone finds the need to talk. I would definitely take notes of the things you want to see so you have something to refer to when you're inside.

Posted by
57 posts

Are there any audio guides available? That seems to be a very good solution.

Posted by
4152 posts

Regardless of the time of day, guides are not allowed to give commentary inside the chapel. The rules are that everyone is to be silent and letting the guides give commentary would directly contradict this rule. Most guides usually give their commentary out in the pine cone courtyard and use posters of the chapel to explain what they're describing. They not only describe the ceiling but also the "last judgement". After that you go into the chapel and listen to the roar of "silence".

donna

Posted by
143 posts

On the early entrance tour:

We did the Pristine Sistine tour from Walks of Italy on Friday, July 3rd - our guide was Luigi, a delightful native Roma who was passionate about his work and committed to giving us the best experience he could. We were a family of four joined with a group of 8 so a total of just 12 in our group. We entered the museum entrance just before 8am and walked through the museum pretty swiftly toward the Sistine Chapel, pausing briefly at key exhibits to take photos before the crowds came in. Luigi gave us a very nice, full color diagram of the Chapel paintings and gave us a lot of information about the history of the Chapel, the process of creating the art, etc., etc. We were in the Sistine Chapel with other "early entry" tour groups but it was not crowded and it was not very noisy. Luigi gave us instructions to meet him by the exit door at a specific time, where he VERY quietly answered a few questions from our group. We then went back through the Museum in more detail. We backtracked through the Chapel to get to the Basilica at about 10am or so - it was absolutely jam packed (sardines) and very loud, with, as described, mostly failed attempts from the guards for silence.

We spent quite a long time with our daughters after the tour discussing the details in the paintings (which we could relive with the great diagram from Walks of Italy) and also discussing the importance of being a respectful guest.

Posted by
11193 posts

I'm glad Nancy was able to have a good experience in the Sistine Chapel in the 1990's. But I visited in September 1994, and it was just as nasty as everyone is finding now. Lots of noise, lots of attendants trying to stop people from talking and taking pictures, and a general atmosphere so tense I couldn't wait to leave. I will only go back if I can get an early morning or an evening visit, which by reports (both in this thread and others) are much more pleasant, and well worth the extra money.

Posted by
11844 posts

Thank you, everyone.

I am looking forward to seeing it after the renovations. The irony is that I now I have "top shelf vertigo" (BPPV) which limits my ability to tilt my head back to look upwards. I cannot look at anything directly overhead. So I will find a seat on the side and study the opposite side, then switch. I may have to focus more on the side panels and lunettes than the ceiling itself, but the others can enjoy that fully.

I have found a small guidebook (6" x 9") which was just published 3 weeks ago.

http://www.amazon.com/Sistine-Chapel-Ceiling-Michelangelo-Quick/dp/1514758210/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437230456&sr=1-1&keywords=Sistine+chapel+guide

I have ordered one for myself and if it appears useful I will take it along. This is also available in a Kindle edition which my husband may prefer. Would he be allowed to take in his Kindle reader? It does not have a camera like an iPhone or iPad, but maybe any electronic device is banned (or considered disrespectful).

I do not know how long we are allowed to stay in the chapel. The "tour" does not enter the Basilica but does give us the opportunity to see the Vatican Museum at our leisure (without a guide). So I am hoping we can stay an hour or so, by which time it will start getting crowded and we will want to depart to see the Rafael rooms.

Posted by
926 posts

Absolutely do the early entry Pristine Sistine tour. The guide doesn't talk you in there, but we looked at a map of the ceiling while we waited in line to enter the museum so we knew what to look for.

I'll echo what a previous poster said that getting in early was awesome, almost no one in there, therefore not a lot of SILENCE yelling from the guards (who were talking). And when we went back through a couple hours later it was like a sea of humanity just being pushed along through halls and halls and halls and then inside the chapel, mayhem. Couldn't even move.

Well well worth it to do the Pristine Sistine!!!!

Posted by
48 posts

I will be in the Sistine chapel in a couple of weeks. Our tour is supposed to be an after hours private tour (with just the 40 of us in the group), so hopefully we won't witness much of the ugliness described here.

But my mom (Italian born) suggests bringing a mirror (like a woman's make up mirror) and use it to see the ceiling (look down at the mirror pointed up at the ceiling). I suppose a smart phone in selfie mode would Work in a similar way. That said, would one get chastised for snapping a photo using a smartphone in such a manner?

Anyhow. I wonder if one could wear earbuds and listen to Rick Stevens audio on the Sistine chapel.

Posted by
11613 posts

Whodatnation, no photo means no selfie, either. Pretty basic. Buy the postcard, you won't be able to get anything nearly as good with a phone or some other clandestine attempt. The ceiling is way high up.

As for the mirror, good idea, but again, the ceiling is far away. At the early tour, the OP may be able to switch from side to side and end to end.

The early time visit is not restricted to specific numbers, so if enough groups show up, there could be several hundred people inside.

Posted by
607 posts

I am sure using earbuds and an audioguide would be fine. That would be one way to plug your ears if you think that the din will bother you.

I think people just need to go with the flow. Most new visiters will enjoy themselves more if they just realize and accept that crowds are inevitible. It is a bit ironic that people complain about the crowds. By going to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, you become one of the 4 million people per year who make up the large crowd problem.

I wish photos were allowed in the SC; I just enjoy taking a lot of photos of everything. I can understand that flash photgraphy could be damaging. But non-flash photography is permitted everywhere else. The photo ban appears to have started for financial reasons to sell exclusive rights to the Japanese media company and the ban apparently ontinues in order to encourage tourists to buy the official photos from the VM. Using a mirror or binoculars should be okay. But usina a smart phone (or zoom lens on your camera) to get a better view seems like a sneaky way to take a photo.

Revenue is a major reason why there are such huge crowds at these "sacred" sites. When we visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, i enjoyed the candor of the official tour guide who acknowledged that it was the tourists who were funding all the construction. She thanked the tourists and encouraged us to come again and bring friends all while we were pressed shoulder to shoulder in the crowds.

We did take advantage of the Friday night tour at the VM. And it does appear that an early morning tour will help you beat the crowd. Maybe in the future, the VM can offer midnight tours or 24 hour service in high season. LOL.

Posted by
11844 posts

We are planning on the early entry "express" tour with Dark Rome/City Wonders, not the Pristine Sistine with Walks of Italy. The latter is longer and more expensive than we wish, and in any case is not offered on Wednesdays, which is the only day we can go.

Posted by
34 posts

We did a english speaking guided tour through Museo di vaticani but in the Sistine, we were quiet. There was a lot of shushing going on.

Posted by
3858 posts

Tim...I had to laugh at your post. We did the U2 concert on the weekend at Madison square gardens and a girl in front of us was looking at her phone...she seemed to be shoe shopping. Guess she wasn't into U2. Lol

Posted by
14131 posts

Binoculars can be a big help in seeing the detail. While the room is not wide or very long, the ceiling is high. That means the art work is pretty far from you.

Posted by
47 posts

The Sistine Chapel will not be a quiet place, period. I have been there three times. The first time overwhelmed me with the crowd and the noise and the incessant shouting by the guards.

The next two times I was there I waited for a place to sit on the bench somewhat in the center of the room and zoned everything out and admired all the paintings. After sitting there for a few minutes the noise did not bother me. I sat there for over an hour each time and "experienced" the room. If my wife would not have been there to cut my stay short I probably would have stayed for a couple hours.

Don't let the rules and the rudeness bother you, accept the place for what it is and then you can enjoy it. I can't wait to go again.

Posted by
518 posts

"accept the place for what it is and then you can enjoy it"

Good advice for how we should be seeing many things and places in our travels.

Posted by
7737 posts

"Roar" is indeed correct. I don't know if anyone at the time appreciates the irony of the guards literally shouting "SILENCE!!!", for all the good it does. Blame the acoustics on the fact that all the walls and ceiling are plastered and the floors are marble. Noise-canceling headphones would be great but bulky to pack. Take along some foam earplugs instead.