Holidaymakers who are keen to marvel at Michelangelo’s famous ceiling frescoes at the Sistine Chapel may need to make their trip sooner rather than later, after the Vatican warned that it may eventually restrict visitor numbers to the iconic chapel. (Featured image is by xiquinhosilva)
The warning comes amid fears that the huge number of visitors to the chapel, which attracts 20,000 tourists a day during peak season, may be causing irreversible damage to the artwork.
In an open letter to a major Italian newspaper earlier this month, Italian literary critic Pietro Citati poured criticism on the behaviour of crowds visiting the chapel.
He said that tourists ‘resemble drunken herds’ who failed to consider the part they could unwittingly play in damaging the frescoes, while regularly flouting the Vatican’s requests for silence, composure and a ban on taking photographs.
Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, argued that although visitor numbers may not be limited ‘in the short and medium term’, the Vatican may have no choice after this.
“Pressure caused by humans such as dust introduced, the humidity of bodies, carbon dioxide produced by perspiration can cause unease for the visitors, and in the long run, possible damage to the paintings,” Paolucci said in an article in the Vatican newspaper to mark the 500th birthday of the ceiling frescoes.
“We might limit the access, putting a cap on the number (of visitors). We will do this if tourism grows beyond the limits of reasonable tolerance and if we are not able to respond adequately to the problem,” he added.
There is currently no cap on the total number of daily visitors to the chapel, and tourists can either book times or queue to enter the chapel.
1994 saw the end of a 14-year restoration project at the chapel, where technicians installed an elaborate system of dehumidifiers, air conditioning, filters and micro-climate controls.
However, the increase in visitor numbers over the past 18 years has put stress on the system.