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Vatican Unveils New Lighting and AC System for Sistine Chapel

Project Marks 450th Anniversary of Michelangelo’s Death

Following an exponential rise in the number of visitors to the Sistine Chapel over the past 20 years, the Vatican has unveiled a state-of-the art illumination and air conditioning system designed to preserve Michelangelo’s famous frescos.

On Wednesday, the Vatican Museums introduced the 3 million euro project which will adjust the air flow, humidity and temperature levels inside the chapel.

The technology consists of 70 sensors mounted in the chapel walls and two closed-circuit TV cameras that will keep a record of the number of people inside the venue of conclaves.

The director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, said if the number of visitors rises even further, a limit of 20,000 visits a day 2,000 at the most at any one time will be introduced.

An estimated 6 million visitors pass through the Sistine Chapel each year, up from 1.5 million twenty years ago. The high number was causing pollution and damage to the chapel’s artwork.

The new system will keep the chapel’s temperature at 20-25 degrees Celsius (68-77 Fahrenheit) and retain dust particles and air flow within parameters set by the Vatican’s art experts. The previous air-conditioning system was unable to maintain the humidity and temperature levels needed to keep the frescoes safe.

The project has been installed to mark the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death. Paolucci said this was more fitting than holding a series of academic conferences as it offers “something durable, not ephemeral: securing from a climactic point of view [Michelangelo] Buonarotti’s masterpiece and giving it the right lighting.”

Until now, visitors have had to contend with a very dimly lit Sistine Chapel to preserve the paintings, but 7,000 light-emitting diodes (LEDs) placed in a gilded, rail-like structure high up on the walls of the chapel will provide brighter lighting, the Vatican Museums say.

The new illumination will also save on costs, as well as bring out the splendor of the frescoes on the sides of the chapel, which include works by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino.

In an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica, Paolucci said that although visitors will get less time to view the chapel, “starting in the early months of 2015, visitors to the Vatican Museums are going to be offered special, disposable ‘intelligent glasses’ similar to Google Glass that will enable them to explore the Sistine [Chapel] in 3D and go deeper into its history before the actual visit.”

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