Sistine Chapel tourists to be vacuumed

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THE five million tourists who visit the Sistine Chapel every year are to be vacuum cleaned and cooled down before entry in an effort to reduce the pollution damaging Michelangelo’s frescoes, the director of the Vatican museums has said. Visitors who traipse sweat, dust, skin flakes and hair into the 16th-century chapel will be “dusted, cleaned and chilled”, Antonio Paolucci told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. The heat and dirt generated by 20,000 tourists pouring through the chapel every day has been blamed for the layers of grime that accumulate on the paintings, which include Michelangelo’s depiction of God giving life to Adam. “We will cover the 100 metres before the entrance with a carpet that cleans shoes, install suction vents on the sides to suck dust from clothes and lower temperatures to reduce the heat and humidity of bodies,” said Paolucci. “Dust, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide are the great enemies of the paintings.” The chapel features 300 figures painted across 2,500 square metres by artists including Botticelli, Perugino and Pinturicchio as well as Michelangelo, whose ‘Last Judgment’ fills the end wall. For the ceilings, which are 20 metres high, the artist devised special scaffolding to enable him to paint. Paolucci has been searching for a way to cut down on bodily emissions of tourists since restorers scrubbed a thick layer of dirt off the frescoes two years ago. A 20-year-old air extraction system is no longer up to the job and air conditioning is essential, he has warned. The Italian writer Pietro Citati has demanded that the Vatican restrict visitor numbers, calling the chapel “an unimaginable disaster” where tourists resemble “drunken herds”. Paolucci has resisted, claiming that limiting numbers would be a throwback to the days of the Grand Tour when only a lucky few could afford to visit. The new virtual tour, he added, would not be a replacement for a visit to the real thing.