Virtual Field Trip: The Vatican

The Education Techie writes about tech tools that can help students and teachers. Have you ever wanted to take an educational field trip to a place that is too far away to reasonably visit? Thanks to the Internet, many educationally rich locations are just a few clicks away. Today, the Techie will show you how to take a virtual field trip to the Vatican.

What You Can See

The website of the Vatican is impressively detailed, providing several interactive digital tools on the Holy See's collection of historical art and architecture. There are also many religious resources on the site, but for this article, I will focus on features most relevant to non-denominational classrooms.

sistine chapel panorama screenshot

The most impressive of the Vatican's online resources is a panoramic virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel (pictured above), with its frescoes by Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and Bernini. This tour is a full-screen 360 degree view of the chapel and all its details, including each fresco, the tile floor, the chapel furniture and architectural details. The chapel is completely empty of visitors in the panorama.

A similar tour is available of the less iconic Pauline Chapel (pictured below). This chapel is located near the Sistine Chapel and would likely be part of a viewing experience for in-person visitors to the Vatican. The Pauline Chapel features sculptures by P. Bresciano and paintings by Michelangelo and two less famous painters, Sabbatini and Zuccari. The tour of the Pauline Chapel is accompanied by a written history of the structure, along with detailed photographs of select frescoes, statues and architectural details.

pauline chapel panorama screenshot

In addition to the tours of the chapels, there is an online collection of Vatican museum exhibits. These include the Egyptian and Etruscan museums, galleries featuring frescoes by Raphael and works by artists like Caravaggio, Bernini, Leonardo, Giotto and Raphael. Tours include panoramas of gallery rooms and, in some cases, the opportunity to view individual works along with a description.

How It Works

Virtual tours of the Sistine Chapel and Pauline Chapel use the same operating system, which allows you to use your mouse to change your view of the chapel. You can zoom in on specific points or zoom out as needed. It's also possible to toggle the way the mouse controls your movement with a button to the right of the buttons for zooming in and out. These three buttons are your only controls.

A constant soundtrack of choral music accompanies the virtual tours of the Sistine and Pauline chapels. There is no way to mute this soundtrack or adjust its volume. I found the music soothing and enjoyable, but I could see it getting annoying for those who need to leave the tour open for study. If you don't want to hear the soundtrack, you'll have to mute your computer sound system. This is the only major drawback to these tours. Otherwise, they are really excellent resources.

vatican museums tour screenshot

The online museum exhibit tours are less impressive, though they do provide a good introduction to the art of the Vatican. The panoramas (pictured above) don't offer nearly as much detail and control as those for the chapels, but this tool would be a good way to casually explore the Vatican's extensive collection of art.

This is the first virtual field trip that the Techie has taken. The Education Techie will keep searching for virtual field trip opportunities, so stay tuned for more!

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