Paolo Ondarza – Vatican City
Someone is continually monitoring the various components of the Vatican Museum's galleries that are constantly in flux – from the priceless masterpieces to the uninterrupted flow of visitors who come from all over the world. Nothing escapes the Vatican Museums control room’s 40 screens.
State of the control room
Images from various departments and storerooms alternate with data registered by the metal detector or the number of people going through the turn styles. It is a true and proper control room coordinated by Alessandro Fadda, Director of the Vatican Museums’ Control Room – a nerve centre from which it is possible to count the number of visitors in each room, manage the alarms and the video surveillance in the entire museum complex. Here, as well as guarding the keys to the exhibit cases of 12 departments and their respective warehouses, the Control Room is, in fact, the check point supervising all 7 kilometres of exhibit space. “At 7 in the morning, the Gendarmeria hands over the supervision of the telecameras located inside the Museum,” Alessandro Fadda explains. “In case of crowding, we try to deviate the flow of tourists. This has been a particularly important operation in these last years due to the pandemic. We can also intervene should someone become sick in one of the rooms. Once one of the guards reports it, we can have a doctor there within 5 minutes, thanks to the collaboration of le Misericordie.”
Technology at your service
Thanks to the collaboration between the Vatican Museum’s Technical Services department, the Directorate of Telecommunications and the Gendarmeria. “The Museums’ new Security and Services Project is a huge technological leap forward, involving an upgrade from analog to IP”, says Luca Della Giovampaola, Director of the Vatican Museums’ Technological Support Office. “We immediately took advantage of the complicated operation of installing kilometres of fibre optic cable under the Museum to upgrade the telephone system and services connected to the network that we offer to visitors while they are in the Vatican Museums.”
The Museums' eyes
The Control Room can be defined as the Museums' eyes. The current structure, built in 2009, will soon be completely renovated. “Regarding security,” Della Giovampaola continues, “computerization plays a predominate role, for the human factor can never be eliminated”. In close coordination with the Control Room, the Guard Corps, carries out a role that cannot be substituted by technology. Chief Inspector Fulvio Bernardini leads this team composed of three deputy chiefs, 18 department heads, and 240 guards. They have a 360 degree view of the museums' activity and are an essential point of reference for tourists.
Immediately recognizable by their blue uniforms, the guards perform various tasks: ticket and Covid-pass control, guarding the works of art, first aid interventions and security. Their activity covers the entire day, beginning at 7:00am when, before sunrise, the halls still dark, the first private visits begin.
Visitors are the focus
“What makes us proudest,” Bernardini explains, “is our rapport with the visitors (an average of 30 thousand per day on normal days, 13 thousand these last months during the pandemic). The tourists rely on us and their needs are the focus of our attention whether they are elderly, expectant women, children, or differently abled. Wearing this uniform is a source of pride for us.”
Guardians of ‘beauty’
Every day, each guard is assigned a hall on a rotating basis. Every morning they consult a register, still on paper but which will be digital soon. Their signature at the beginning of their shifts, when they change shifts and at the end of the working day guarantees that everything is under control. They also detail anyone who accesses areas normally closed to the public on their sign-in sheet and sign their initials. In the same way, they must note on another form the names of the cleaning staff who work in the exhibit halls.
A home for its visitors
The cleaning staff is an important facet in making the Vatican Museums’ operations function. “Welcoming tourists is the most beautiful part. This is our calling card,” explains Novella Giovannetti, Director of the Vatican Museums’ Contract Services. “About fifty people perform this task from 6:00am till the museum closes at times agreed on with the Guard Corp.” Each squad is assigned a certain type of place: exhibit halls, laboratories, offices, warehouses. The care and attention with those the staff perform their service is of utmost importance. Dusting is particularly significant and is carried out every six months by the Conservator’s Office under the direction of a highly specialized team. “They dust the higher parts of the rooms, the cornices or the walls.”
Passion and dedication
Novella Giovannetti also manages the agencies providing another very important aspect of the museum’s service to tourists: food services. The cafe, the pizzeria, the snack machines, the automatic distributors, the Bistrot in the Pinecone Courtyard – these are services we wish to pamper customers with to make them feel at home, giving them the possibility of choosing between international cuisine, breakfast, aperitifs, a coffee break, or happy hour.” The audio and radio guides offered to visitors are also managed by the Vatican Museums’ Contract Services: “Coordinating a such a large team,” Giovannetti concludes, “is demanding, but is also very satisfying. We try to carry out this work with love and passion.”
A fundamental section of the Corps of Guard connected to it is the group of clavigers. It is composed of ten people. They are the only ones who can access the bunker in which the Vatican Museums’ 2,798 keys are kept. All but one is numbered. Kept in its own safe, this key opens the Sistine Chapel. Its dates back to 1870 and, unlike all the other keys which have up to five copies, it is the only copy. The keys used to seal the doors leading from the Museums to the Sistine Chapel frescoed by Michelangelo, where the election of the Successor of Peter takes place, are also kept in this vault.
Sunrise and sunset
The metallic jingle of the large bunch of keys accompanies the footsteps of the Claviger. Every morning he opens the entire route open to visitors up to the Vatican Library, beginning with the Pio Clementine Museum. The oldest key, number 401, forged in 1770, opens this door. Both at sunrise and sunset, the claviger walks all alone by flashlight, along the five-hundred-year-old history of the Papal Collections.