By Philip Pullella

(Pope Benedict XVI leads a special meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican November 21, 2009. Pope Benedict meets up to 500 artists from around the world, as part of efforts to turn the page on the Vatican's sometimes conflicted relationship with the contemporary art world. Picture taken with fish-eye lens. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

(Pope Benedict XVI leads a special meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican November 21, 2009. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

Dust, sweat and carbon dioxide brought into the Sistine Chapel by a swelling number of tourists risk damaging priceless Michelangelo frescoes, the Vatican said on Wednesday, hoping a new air conditioning and lighting system will protect them.

Some six million people a year visit the chapel, home to Michelangelo’s famous ceiling frescoes – one of the wonders of Western civilization that are over 500 years old.

The number of visitors to the chapel – where popes are elected in secret conclaves – can reach 20,000 a day in summer. Their numbers have grown by 300 percent from around 1.5 million a year in 1980, said Antonio Paolucci, the head of the Vatican museums.

“Today, the Sistine Chapel risks being a victim of its own success,” Paolucci, writing in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said.

“Six million visitors is an impressive number but objectively dangerous for the proper conservation of the frescoes,” he said. “It produces a mix of dust brought in from outside, body sweat and carbon dioxide, which all end up on the surface of the frescoes and can in time harm them.”

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Source: Reuters Faithword