Work has commenced on a new system of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning in the Sistine Chapel to protect Michelangelo's masterpieces from deterioration.
Last year 5.5 million people visited the chapel, compared with approximately 1.5 million per year in the early 1980s. This new system replaces an air-conditioning system installed in the early 1990s, designed to cater for far fewer visitors.
Writing in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, observed that the massive increase in visitors following restorations 20 years ago meant the Sistine Chapel’s art legacy was seriously threatened.
"Such a huge load of people produces a mixture of dust brought in from the outside, bodily humidity and carbon dioxide which ends up on the surfaces of the frescoes and can over time start to have a harmful effect on their preservation," Paolucci wrote.
The Sistine Chapel - part of the Vatican Museums - boasts the world's most famous ceiling. Michelangelo's fresco,The Last Judgment, which covers the altar wall.