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Vatican Considers Limiting Sistine Chapel Tourists
November 1, 2012

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It has been 500 years since the unveiling of Michelangelo's artwork on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Now, the Vatican wants to limit tourist access in order to protect the frescoes.

The artwork is high above the heads of tourists, of course, but scientists say that fingerprints or bootprints are not the problem. What is damaging the frescoes over time is the pollutants (like carbon dioxide) found in human breath and perspiration, not to mention body heat and even dust that rises from the millions of feet that trod the chapel floors each year. Conservative estimates put visitor totals at 20,000 a day at the height of the summer tourist season and 5 million a year in all.

In 1994, the Vatican outfitted the Sistine Chapel with an expansive system of dehumidifiers and micro-climate controls. Vatican officials say that the system can't cope with the ever-growing number of visitors.

The frescoes are massive and adorn the ceiling in all its shapes and corners. A system of glass protection, such as can be found in most museums, would be cost-prohibitive in the Sistine Chapel.

Instead, the Vatican says, the solution is to put a cap on the number of visitors, in a day and in a year.

The Vatican also has strict rules against loud noises, disruptive behavior, and photographs; many tourists ignore such rules, however, treating them more like requests, the Vatican said.

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