.- The Vatican Museums broke attendance records in 2011 with just over 5 million people entering its doors.
“It is, in a particular way, objectively amazing,” wrote Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, in L’Osservatore Romano newspaper on Jan. 10.
By way of comparison, Paolucci said that Florence’s Uffizi Gallery is Italy’s “most famous and most popular” museum but it is only able to accommodate 1.5 million people in a year.
The visitor numbers for the Vatican Museums put it in the same bracket with British Museum in London, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Prado in Madrid. Meanwhile, the Louvre in Paris remains the continent’s most visited museum with 8.5 million guests every year.
While he is delighted by the popularity of the Vatican Museums, Paolucci also stressed that “it is wrong to measure the importance of a public art collection based on the number of visitors,” particularly in Italy where art and history are found “equally in the squares and streets in towns and rural villages.”
At the same time, Paolucci said that the Vatican Museums now fall into small category of no more than 10 museums worldwide that can be regarded as “great museums” and thus are an “irresistible” attraction for tourists to Rome.
He attributed the record attendance to the Museums’ reputation and the “prestige” of being part of the Holy See. In 2010, the museums reported having almost 4.7 million people roam its halls and galleries.
Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. They are now home to some of the most renowned classical sculptures and Renaissance art in the world.
Among the most popular exhibits for visitors are the four “Raphael Rooms,” painted by the Italian Renaissance artist and his workshop, and the Sistine Chapel created by Michelangelo.
Paolucci said that the record number of visitors also creates an increased challenge with noise levels, as well as the need to continually improve visitor services such as cafeterias, restrooms, bookshops, tour guides and access for the disabled.
“In short, we are aware that to enter the ‘club of the five million’ means that the great museums of the world face problems until now recently unknown, and we will experiment with new solutions.”