Sistine Chapel Tourist Hordes Set to Triple

Vatican claims new climate control system will help save Michelangelo's frescoes.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museums, Rome.

Visitors to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museums can expect two things beginning this autumn: shorter lines to get inside, and considerably more crowded quarters upon entry, thanks to a refit of the climate control system, reports Vatican Radio.

The new, more powerful, and energy-efficient heating, air conditioning, and ventilation system, from US air conditioning company Carrier, will allow the chapel to accommodate nearly three times the number of visitors, with its maximum capacity set to jump from 700 to 2,000 people at a time.

Additionally, the custom-designed equipment will minimize air motion around the famed ceiling frescoes. Although the more carefully monitored temperature, humidity, and air conditions will undoubtedly benefit Michelangelo’s masterpieces from a conservation standpoint, not everyone is convinced that the ability to bring in so many extra visitors is a good thing.

“Look at how many people there are! Look at how narrow the hallways and the staircases are. This is not MoMA in New York, but a palace that was not built to be a museum,” two skeptical museum employees pointed out in an interview with El Pais, quoted by the Art Newspaper. “It isn’t great to see how the Sistine Chapel, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world, and where we are very proud to work, has become an uncomfortable place crowded with hundreds of tourists.”

Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci promises that the changes are primarily motivated by the need to preserve the delicate Renaissance-era art. (There have been no new conservation measures since the 1990s.) The improvements in the climate control system “will enable us to realize our goal of ensuring  the preservation  of  Michelangelo’s masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel while allowing visitors to continue  to behold the frescoes for years to come.,” he told Radio Vatican.

While there will be closer quarters for the crowds that flock to the Sistine Chapel beginning in October, they will at least have a better view. The museum will also introduce a new lighting system from German firm Osram that will provide a tenfold increase in illumination for the ceiling and wall paintings. The 7,000 LED lights are specially designed to not emit UV light that could damage the chapel’s artistic treasures.

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