The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City.  The chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity since the late 1400's. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.

During the reign of Sixtus IV who built the chapel, a team of Renaissance painters that included Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, created a series of frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, offset by papal portraits above and trompe l'oeil drapery below. These paintings were completed in 1482, and on 15 August 1483 Sixtus IV celebrated the first mass in the Sistine Chapel for the Feast of the Assumption, at which ceremony the chapel was consecrated and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  The chapel took it's name from Sixtus IV and in modern English the adjective became Sistine.

Between 1508 and 1512, Pope Julius II, had Michelangelo (against his wishes as he considered himself a sculptor and not a painter) paint the chapel's ceiling, a project which changed the course of Western art and is regarded as one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilization.  In a different climate after the Sack of Rome, he returned and between 1535 and 1541, painted The Last Judgment for Popes Clement VII and Paul III. The fame of Michelangelo's paintings has drawn multitudes of visitors to the chapel ever since they were revealed five hundred years ago.

The pope who hired Michelangelo was Julius II, famous as a warrior, a schemer, a patron of Renaissance art, and nephew of Sixtus IV.
At the time the papacy was a top job reserved for the most influential, ambitious and clever members of the aristocracy.

In the middle of the ceiling were illustrations of nine Bible stories. The segment showing God creating Adam is one of the most famous images ever painted.  Other famous parts are The Flood and The Temptation and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The huge Jonah above the front wall is especially admired for its foreshortening, which had to contradict the curve of the ceiling to look right.