Sistine Chapel Celebrates 500 Year Anniversary

Sistine Chapel Celebrates 500 Year Anniversary
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(ANSA) – Vatican City, October 25 – As the most famous ceiling in the world celebrates its 500th anniversary there is growing concern about what impact the dust and pollution generated by hordes of tourists may have on the Sistine Chapel in the future.

The ceiling of the Vatican’s famous chapel was completed in November 1512 and today it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome drawing more than 20,000 visitors a day.

The chapel built by Pope Sixtus IV between 1473 and 1484, has been used by the popes for private prayer as well as papal conclaves, where the College of Cardinals meet after the death of the pope to choose his successor.

Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti was commissioned by Pope Julius II to repaint the ceiling of the chapel in 1508 and he later painted the Last Judgment above the altar between 1535 and 1541.

Renowned for the central fresco of God reaching his finger out to give life to Adam, the chapel ceiling is arguably Michelangelo’s finest masterpiece and includes nine panels documenting historic episodes from the Bible.

The chapel’s historic anniversary has revived debate about the impact of the dense traffic – 4.5 million visitors a year who come to admire the chapel’s frescoes, floor mosaics and paintings.

Pietro Citati, an Italian literary critic and writer, recently demanded that the Vatican restrict access to the chapel.

In a letter to the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, Citati criticised ‘the universal confusion’ inside the chapel where ‘any form of contemplation was impossible’ and called on the Vatican to reduce the number of visitors.

‘The church needs money for its various activities, but these monstrous conditions are not possible,’ he said.

Two years ago the head of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, himself complained about the ‘unimaginable amounts’ of dust found on the frescoes during restoration work carried out two years ago.

A delicate cleaning operation was conducted by a team of 30 experts who worked through the night when the chapel was free of tourists.

‘Every one of the 4.5 million tourists who visits the Sistine Chapel each year brings in dust on their clothes and shoes,’ he said.

‘They shed tiny particles of skin and of course they breathe. We can’t do anything about that but each human body increases the humidity inside the chapel. All this produces an accumulation of dust on the frescoes which cover the chapel’s walls’.

But when Citati complained about the dense traffic inside the chapel in September, Paolucci was defensive.

‘We have entered the era of large-scale tourism,and millions want to enjoy our historical culture,’ he said. ‘Limiting numbers is unthinkable’.

Some critics have argued that the Vatican could look at a crowd control system for visitors similar to the one in place at Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ in Milan.

Only 25 visitors are admitted every 15 minutes and a filtration system removes the dust and pollutants they bring with them.

The Sistine Chapel, which includes wall frescoes by Botticelli and Perugino, underwent a controversial restoration that ended in the late 1990s.

Many tour guides are focusing on the anniversary as an opportunity to inform and educate tourists about the history of art in Rome.

‘I received all my formal education here,’ American tour guide Sarah Gildea tells ANSA. ‘I know that 95% of us are not given a decent art education in the US and it’s important to have that – just like parks are essential for the well-being so too is good art is necessary for our growth and development’.

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