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As Sistine Chapel turns 500, tourists a concern

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VATICAN CITY — Michelangelo's masterpiece painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City celebrates its 500th anniversary today.

Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Vespers in the chapel this afternoon to mark the 500th anniversary of the world's most famous fresco, which was inaugurated by Pope Julius II.

Five centuries later, at least 20,000 people visit the site each day, raising concerns about contaminating the famed art.

Some critics argue that the humid breath, hair, sweat, dust and pollution the tourists leave behind damage the frescoes and asked to restrict access to a limited number of people per day.

They claim the air extraction system is too old to cope with mass tourism, and there aren't enough guards to stop people from misbehaving. An art critic even called tourists a drunken herd.

Museums director Antonio Paolucci cited concerns about the visitor numbers in an article in the Vatican newspaper on Wednesday. But he says that for the time being "the adoption of a maximum number (of visitors) will not be necessary."

About the Artwork
  • Scholars say Michelangelo Buonarroti kept turning down (the project) saying "I'm not a painter; I'm a sculptor."
  • Work began in 1508
  • Took four years to complete
  • Dedicated with a Mass on the Feast of All Saints Day, Nov. 1
Source: CNN Religion Blog

The Vatican says everyone should enjoy the masterpiece, and that a new air purifying system will be introduced by the end of the year.

The Sistine Chapel is part of the Vatican Museum tour. It's also still used for worship services, and for the secret conclave to elect the new pope.

Nine panels in the vaulted ceiling artwork show accounts from the biblical book of Genesis. The center of the ceiling features the "Creation of Adam," which shows God reaching down from heaven and touching the finger of Adam. The ceiling also features images of biblical prophets and ancestors of Jesus.

Contributing: Linda Williams and NBC's Claudio Lavanga


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