This is the one uncontested must-see during your stay in Padua. This recently renovated cycle of vibrant frescoes by Giotto revolutionized 14th-century painting -- it's considered among the most important art leading up to the Renaissance. While some experts have questioned whether the famed frescoes in Assisi are entirely by Giotto, here there is no equivocation: These are the master's works. Cobalt blue is the dominant color; the illustrations are in that typical easy-to-understand medieval comic-strip format, but here they take on an unprecedented degree of realism and emotion.
This cycle is even larger, more complete, and better preserved than the famed St. Francis frescoes in Assisi. Giotto worked from 1303 to 1306 to completely cover the ceiling and walls with 38 scenes illustrating the lives of the Virgin and of Christ from floor to ceiling. With your back to the front door, the three bands that cover the walls are: top right, Life of Joachim; top left, Life of the Virgin; right center, The Childhood of Christ; left center, Christ's Public Life; right bottom, The Passion of Christ (the third panel of Judas kissing Christ is the best known of the entire cycle); left bottom, Christ's Death and Resurrection. Above the entrance is the fresco of the Last Judgment: Christ, as judge, sits in the center, surrounded by the angels and apostles. Below him, to the right, are the blessed, while to the left, Giotto created a terrible hell in which devils and humans are condemned to eternal punishment.
Entrance to the chapel is limited, involving groups of 25 visitors spending 15 minutes in a climate-controlled airlock, used to stabilize the temperature, before going inside for another 15 minutes -- no more, no less. To visit the chapel you must make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance. You must then arrive 45 minutes before the time on your ticket. Each visitor is required to watch a mandatory (but decent) documentary film about the frescoes before going into the chapel.