In the 530-plus years since he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, the Renaissance artist’s famous frescoes have been dealt a fair share of abuse. They’re dusty, they’re dirty, and they’re constantly being damaged by humidity, carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
Now, the head of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, is warning that, if new air conditioning and air purifying systems that are being installed at the facility don’t significantly cut the pollution levels in the chapel, he will have no choice but to limit the number of tourists who visit the site. As it stands, more than five million people visit the Vatican every year, with more than 20,000 people a day stopping in the Sistine Chapel to view Michelangelo’s masterpiece. That number is up more than three-fold in the last 30 years.
“Such a crowd ... emanates sweat, breath, carbon dioxide, all sorts of dust,” Paolucci told Italian newspaper La Republica in 2010. “This deadly combination is moved around by winds and ends up on the walls, meaning on the artwork.”