This immense collection started life with one Greek marble sculpture of Laocoon, which was discovered in a vineyard near Santa Maria Maggiore in 1506. Pope Julius II immediately bought it and put it on public display a month later. These days most visitors make a beeline for the Sistine Chapel and the prolific work of Michelangelo Buonarotti. He painted the ceiling between 1508 and 1512 and then painted the Last Judgement, spanning the entire wall behind the altar, between 1535 and 1541. Look for Saint Bartholomew holding his flayed skin, which is commonly believed to be Michelangelo’s self-portrait. A good tip is to scoot out of the exit on the right-hand side of the chapel labelled ‘authorized tour groups only’, which takes you directly along to St Peter’s – unless you fancy another stretch of ecclesiastical odds and ends and relentless religious merchandising. Don’t neglect the other nooks and crannies around the complex, including the Cappella di Niccolò V frescoed by Fra Angelico. Note that all parts of the museum are subject to erratic viewing times and impromptu closures. The other unmissable masterpieces are the Raphael rooms – the apartments of Pope Julius II frescoed between 1508 and 1520 (Giulio Romano completed the work after Raphael’s untimely death.) Unglamorous as practicalities are, sensible shoes are essential for a visit, as is bottled water. People often faint in sultry weather.