You’d think that buying tickets to see one of Italy’s – if not the world’s – most famous paintings would be relatively straight forward, but it turns out attempting to see The Last Supper in Milan was actually harder than we anticipated. I joked to Mr A that it was more difficult than getting tickets for Glastonbury, but at times it actually felt like that.
Leonardo da Vinci’s mural is one of Milan’s top tourist attractions and consequently tickets to view it sell out months in advance. Now I’m not usually one for booking tours and visits really far in advance as, to be honest, I’m just not that organised! But as soon as we’d booked our flights to Italy for our babymoon I started the process of trying to buy tickets to see The Last Supper.
What makes it so difficult to see the mural, which depicts Christ revealing to his disciples that he knows one of them has betrayed him, is that tickets are limited due to it’s delicate nature. The fact that it was painted in the 15th century, directly onto a wall in the refectory adjoining the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, suggests that da Vinci wasn’t really expecting people to still be visiting it hundreds of years later! This means that the new and exciting techniques he used to paint it actually made it prone to crumbling and despite years of restoration work, it is still incredibly fragile. As a result visitor numbers are strictly limited, with groups of just 30 people allowed to spend 15 minutes looking at the painting at any one time. So it doesn’t take much maths to figure out that of the millions of people who visit Italy every year, quite a few are going to be disappointed that they can’t get tickets.
Another reason I discovered that tickets are so limited is that many are used by tour groups in the city, so once the website ones have sold out the only other way to see The Last Supper is via a city tour, which can cost hundreds of euros. While I was researching how to buy tickets I came across lots of frustrated people online who were only going to be able to see it by going through an expensive tour agency, so it really is worth buying them in advance yourself if you can.
However, this in itself is easier said than done. As we discovered during our two-week stay in Italy, lots of things don’t often make sense and it’s usually easier not to question why! The first challenge you have to face when trying to buy tickets for The Last Supper is finding the right website to get them from. When I first Googled it, lots of official-looking websites came up in the search, but it was only when I went to purchase the tickets that I discovered they were being sold for much more than they should be. This is the official website and you should aim to book tickets two to three months in advance of your visit. The website can be translated into English and there is an option to buy them online, although this continually said tickets were sold out when I tried, so I ended up having to call the switchboard. This in itself wasn’t easy, as it was often engaged and the message (which seemed to vary each time) was in Italian, so I was never sure whether it was saying to stay on the line and wait in a queue or hang up and call back later!
It took a few days and many different calls before I finally got through to someone and was able to book the tickets, including an English tour (there are two a day at 9.30am and 3.30pm), which were 12 euros each. You can buy a maximum of five tickets and you will then be sent an email confirmation which you take to the ticket office on the day of the tour.
When we arrived at the convent there was already a group of tourists waiting. In order to try and preserve the fragile painting, each group must go into an air-locked room before the doors open to the refectory. The room itself is pretty huge, but you only need to head to one end of it to see the mural.
Seeing the painting in person does feel pretty special. It’s huge and covers the entire end of the room. The tour guide talked us through each of the disciples and their reactions to Jesus’ news. What is amazing is how life-like each of the characters look and it is said that da Vinci based each one on real-life models at the time.
It is also incredible that it has lasted the amount of time it has, considering the technique which da Vinci used, which was definitely not designed to stand the test of time. Also, in 1652, obviously not worrying too much about the future importance of the painting, workmen created a doorway in the wall which meant that a section of the mural, including Jesus’ feet, was lost.
Be prepared that the 15 minute time limited is very strictly enforced and after a quick explanation and a chance to take photos (without flash, obviously) we were quickly ushered out to allow the next group in. But despite the rush, it definitely felt special to see such an incredibly important artwork and, like all good things, it’s worth preserving to get the tickets if you can.
If you enjoyed this post you can read more about our Italian babymoon here. Also, if you need any more information about planning a trip while pregnant, then check out this post.