Heavy tourist traffic through the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican, is endangering the world-renowned frescoes decorating its walls.
The smog, dust, humidity and warmth produced by the more than four million people who visit the chapel every year add to the problem.
The director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, has expressed serious concern for the famous frescoes inside the Sistine Chapel, where cardinals have been inspired for centuries during conclaves to select popes. He says that crowds, climate and smog are the challenges that must be tackled.
Paolucci said too much human presence is putting pressure on the Sistine Chapel and greater efforts must be made to ensure that maintenance inspections are carried out carefully and effectively. Signs of danger for the frescoes were detected this summer during a routine month-long dusting project.
Paolucci has warned that the chapel's filter system, which should guarantee clean air and constant temperature, has exceeded its capacity. The system is old and needs replacement.
More than four million people every year visit the chapel, which was built by Pope Sixtus IV between 1473 and 1484. They come to admire not only Michelangelo's Last Judgment and Genesis but also frescoes by other Renaissance masters.
One lady says she considers the Sistine Chapel a heritage of humanity and that all efforts should be made to ensure that it is conserved and that it has suitable aeration that will not damage it.
The head of the Vatican Museums did not suggest that the number of visitors should be limited, which would be the obvious solution. He said this would not be right to the people who come from all over the world to see the frescoes in the chapel.
In fact, for the months of September and October, the Vatican Museums will also open its doors to visitors for night visits on Fridays.
Paolucci also ruled out a deep restoration of the Sistine Chapel, as has been carried out in the past. In the 1980s and 1990s the Sistine Chapel underwent a controversial restoration with many critics saying the cleaning process was 'too severe' because the colors of the frescoes were unusually bright at the end of the work.
Paolucci insisted that in order to preserve it for future generations he has urged careful efforts at conservation.