Possibly for the entire month of March, but at least for the duration of the papal conclave and some time before and after, the Sistine Chapel will be off limits to visitors, because the cardinals will be meeting there to elect a new pope.
It occurred to me that this might be a great time to get acquainted with some of Rome's hidden gems. Rome has at least a dozen great museums; here are some of my "hidden" favorites:
The Capitoline Museums has a superb collection of ancient art, especially sculpture. There are famous works such as the Capitoline Venus; and the Capitoline wolf, who legend says nursed the infant Romulus and Remus. You can also see the foundations of the ancient Temple of Jupiter, great views over the Roman Forum, and the original gilded bronze equestrian statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, whose copy is on the piazza outside. The piazza itself, designed by Michelangelo, is worth a visit. At the moment, there is a special exhibit about the golden age of the Roman Empire, called "Age of Balance". There is also an exhibit about "Tiffany and Gallé, Masters of Art Noveau". Tickets for the museum and the special exhibit 12 euros.
If you wait a minute, a slide show will start which will have some nice images of the museum and its collection.
The Barberini Gallery of Ancient Art, near Trevi Fountain, really is a gallery of art from the middle ages through early modern times. This is a world class museum that would have long lines in any other city with fewer great museums. There are masterpieces by Raphael, Caravaggio, Bernini, Bronzino, Lippi, El Greco, Hans Holbein's famous portrait of Henry VIII of England, Piero da Cortona's magnificent ceiling fresco - I'm sure I've overlooked some other great masters. The museum is set in a lovely Italian garden, and is famous for its two monumental staircases, one by Bernini and one by Borromini. Just recently, after a long restoration, the 18th century room used by the Barberini family for ceremonies has been reopened to the public. It can be visited on Saturday mornings at 11 AM with a guide (Italian, but you'll get to see the room). Tickets are 7 euros; the visit to the 18th century sala is 5 euros extra. For 9 euros you can get a joint ticket to the Barberini Gallery and the Corsini Gallery, another great museum, which I mention below.
At the top of the page, it says Borghese Gallery, because tickets are sold through them, but all of the information on the page, pertains to the Barberini Gallery.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, near Termini station, is one of four sites of the National Museum of Rome. This is a world-class museum, almost unknown to tourists. It has a superb collection of ancient art, including statues, mosaics, and the frescoes from the House of Livia (wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus). There is also an exhibit of ancient Roman jewelry and coins. Tickets are 7 euros, and are good for three days, and allow you to see the other three sites of the National Roman Museum as well.
The Corsini Gallery is a small museum in Trastevere, across the street from the Villa Farnesina, with a superb collection of paintings, collected in the 18th century by the nephew of Pope Clement XII. In this small gallery, there are works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Caravaggio, Beato Angelico, Gentileschi and Murillo. A lovely 15th century triptych by Beato Angelico has just returned to the gallery after restoration. Tickets are only 5 euros, or you can get a joint ticket with this and the Barberini Gallery for 9 euros.
All of the above are state and city museums, and can be entered with the Roma Pass. I haven't mentioned another great museum, the Borghese Gallery, which is so well known that it could hardly be called a hidden gem.
There are also some private museums and palaces in Rome. One of the best known is the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, near the Pantheon. This palazzo is still owned and partly inhabited by descendants of the powerful Doria Pamphilj family. The gallery has some great works of art that were part of the family's collection over the centuries, and they're displayed on the walls as they were displayed in the Renaissance, covering nearly every inch of space. The rooms are furnished in the styles of various periods, and are very well preserved. The ticket price, 10.50 euros, includes an excellent audio guide narrated by a member of the family. There are often concerts held in the gallery; see the link on the right side. This is one of the few museums in Rome that's open on Mondays.
The Villa Farnesina is a Renaissance villa in Trastevere, across from the Corsini Gallery. It's set in a beautiful garden, and some of the rooms are decorated with frescoes by Raphael. Tickets are 5 euros, a great bargain. This museum is also open on Mondays, but it closes every day at 2 PM. It's normally closed Sundays, but on the second Sunday of each month, it's open from 9 AM to 5 PM, with guided tours and a concert of Renaissance music.
The French Embassy occupies the Palazzo Farnese, once the city home of the Farnese family. It's on Piazza Farnese, and was designed by MIchelangelo. Until recently, it was open only by appointment, but not it can be visited three days a week, with a reserved tour. Part of the building will be closed for restoration starting in mid-March, but beginning then, visitors will be taken to see some of the rooms on the upper level that have never been open to the public before.
The Villa Medici, in the Villa Borghese park, is the headquarters of the French Academy. They have guided visits in English at noon every day.
The Colonna Gallery is in the palazzo of the powerful Colonna family, which can trace its heritage all the way back to ancient Roman times. This magnificent palazzo, which also has a gallery of the family's art collection, can be visited on Saturdays only:
(This is the only place on my list that I haven't visited personally.)
Other hidden gems are the Villa Giulia, the museum of the Etruscan civilization, in the Villa Borghese park; and the museum of the Baths of Diocletian, part of the National Museum of Rome, and on the same ticket.
I hope this will give people who are visiting March during the papal conclave some ideas for alternative visits. None of these museums is ever crowded, and most are very reasonably priced and easy to get to. Maybe it will even encourage others to get off the overly beaten tourist path and see some of the lovely places in this city that most tourists miss.