The Pinecone Courtyard at the Vatican

The Pinecone Courtyard, or the Cortile della Pigna, is the first main courtyard you pass through on your way to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums.

After you scan your Vatican Museum ticket at the museum entrance, you will see in front of you a large escalator. Once you have reached the top of the escalator, the Pinecone Courtyard is on your left while following the signs to the Sistine Chapel.

What to See in the Pinecone Courtyard

The courtyard is named after the huge bronze statue shaped like a pinecone. The metal sculpture was originally part of a fountain dating back to the 2nd century A.D. and was crafted during the Ancient Roman times. The base for the pinecone was taken from the baths of Septimus Severius also dating from the 2nd century A.D. The two peacocks either side were taken from the Emperor Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli. If you notice a theme here, you will find other examples of Ancient Rome throughout the Vatican museums. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Vatican was quite fond of collecting art and other valuables.

pinecone statue in courtyard

What is most noticeable when you enter into the Pinecone courtyard is the Sphere within a Sphere. This sculpture is placed right in the center of the courtyard and it is a spectacular piece of modern art. The Sphere within a Sphere was created by Arnaldo Pomodoro who was born in Moricano, Romagna in 1926. The art is over 40 feet (13 meters) in diameter and depicts a smaller sphere inside a larger sphere symbolizing how the religious world relates to the world as we know it today. Numerous versions of this sphere are placed around the world including Trinity College in Dublin and at the United Nations offices in New York. The piece is known in Italian as Sfera Consfera.

famous globe sculpture at the Vatican

There is also a notable and very large bust of Rome’s first Emperor, Ceasar Augustus, on display in the Pinecone Courtyard. This bust dates from the time of Augustus, who was Emperor during the time of Christ. This piece can be seen at the far wall as you enter in the middle of the courtyard.

Although he has a very youthful look, Ceasar Augustus lived to be 75 years old. An amazing age in that time period. Of the thousands of statues done of Augustus during his reign he never looked older than thirty. This was, of course, a propaganda move to show the Roman Empire of the Emperor at his finest. Caesar Augustus reigned from the 16th of January, 27 B.C until his death on the 19th of January 14 A.D.

Before it was open to the public, the Pinecone Courtyard was used by Popes to hold parties and gatherings. The Spanish Pope, Pope Alexander VI, even held bullfights here. Pope Leo X’s used the area as the living quarters for his pet elephant named Hanno.

The pinecone courtyard also has a large outdoor cafe with a place for refreshments in the center of the courtyard alongside the Sphere With In A Sphere. This is where you will eat if you choose to have an aperitivo during your Vatican Night visit. Otherwise, you are free to order from the menu and take a quick break in the lovely outdoor space.

It can be tempting to walk right through the courtyard because you will often find a large gathering of different tour groups with their guide in front of three boards with illustrations of the Sistine Chapel. These are purposely set up in the Pinecone Courtyard for tour guides to explain the Chapel before visitors go inside due to the no talking rule inside the Sistine Chapel. However, be sure to take time to see all the artwork in the courtyard itself before you continue to the rest of the museums.

Feature photo by Kevin Chan (CC BY-SA 3.0)