The Round Room, the Room of the Rotonda or according to the Vatican Museums website, the Round Hall is one of the most stunning rooms inside the Vatican Museums.
The room itself was designed by the architect Michelangelo Simonetti in the year 1779. It is the next room after the Room of the Muses and just before the Greek Cross room on the way to the Sistine Chapel.
The Ceiling and the Floor
The ceiling in the Round Room is designed after the Pantheon, Rome’s most important temple dedicated to all the ancient Roman gods, although it is much smaller in scale. The mosaic floor was literally taken up piece by piece from the ancient bathhouses from Ostia Antica which was the old port of Rome. The Floor dates from the third century B.C. and placed back down piece by piece in the 18th century. The mosaic floor tells the story from the battle of the Centaurs.
The centerpiece of this room is the Emperor Nero’s bathtub. This was taken from his great Golden Palace or the Domus Arius which Nero had constructed back in 64A.D. Nero had his Golden Palace built after the great fire of Rome which some believe he was responsible for. The bathtub is made from a very rare and precious stone called Red porphyry and has a 43-foot (13-meter) circumference.
The Most Important Statues in the Round Room
This enormous statue of Antinous is the first standing statue you see as you enter into the Round Room. Antinous was the lover of the Emperor Hadrian who is widely said to be the greatest of all the Emperors and was the Emperor credited for building the Pantheon as we know it today. Antinous drowned on the river Nile in Egypt when he was only 18 years old. Some say Hadrian was responsible. However, after Antinous’s death, Hadrian had a large number of statues placed of Antinous throughout the Roman Empire, including this one. Hadrian also made him a god.
You can not miss this statue of Hercules in the Round Room. It is the largest statue in this room and it is also the only statue cast in bronze. This statue of Hercules is a very rare sight as almost all statues made in bronze were melted down after the fall of the Roman Empire. This statue did survive only because it was struck by lightning. This was considered a bad omen by the Ancient Romans and so the statue was buried. It was not discovered until 1864 near Campo De’ Fiori in the center of Rome.
This figure is easily recognized as it is the only seated statue in the room. It is also one of my favorite statues in the Vatican Museums. The Emperor Galba was the direct Emperor after the tyrant, Nero. He was the only emperor for seven months in “The year of the four Emperors”. He was murdered by the Praetorian Guard, the personal army of the Emperor after failing to live up to his promise of showering them with riches if he was to become Emperor. He died at the age of 70.
The statue of Claudius is the standing figure directly after the seated Galba. Claudius was a well known Emperor and was the uncle of the infamous Caligula. Claudius was not first in line to become Emperor but because of the Emperor Caligula’s paranoia, he killed all his relatives. He did not kill his uncle Claudius as he believed him to be simple-minded. When Caligula was murdered by his guards they named Claudius as Emperor in hope that they could take advantage of his weakness. However, Claudius turned out to be quite a good Emperor and was responsible for Britain becoming part of the Roman Empire.
It is worth noting that these statues are of the Ancient Roman period which means you are viewing statues dating between 1,500 to 2000 years old.
In high season if you don’t want to get yelled at by tour groups or Vatican guards it is best to keep walking in this room (which is unfortunate). If possible pick a quiet time to visit the Vatican. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are best. Also, the museums tend to become quieter in the afternoon.
Photos and flash are ok to use in this room.