Vatican's Magnificent Library Restored After 3 Years, $11.5 Million Restoration

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With the exception of a modified entrance, special high-tech entrance turnstiles and two new elevators, little of the restructuring is visible to most visitors. The majestic frescoed reading rooms lined with leather-bound books on wooden shelves remain the same, while a new modern tower has appeared in the 16th century courtyard to accommodate another elevator which will safely bring manuscripts from the vault 12 feet underground into the manuscript reading room.

Known aptly as "bunker," the bomb-proof manuscript vault is at the heart of the Library's collection and purpose. The lighting, temperature and humidity are carefully monitored (cold and relatively damp) using the best technology available to preserve the delicate and finely illustrated jewels on parchment or even papyrus.

Along with restructuring comes improved security. Library cards issued to scholars and researchers – 4,000 to 5,000 a year come to study - will now have an electronic chip which will keep track of their movement within the library and alert if they enter a restricted area.

And while a crew of at least 30 construction workers a day hammered away at 24,000 square feet of the library's surface for three years, librarians inside were kept busy cataloguing the over 1 million volumes the technological way – by inserting a microchip in each book, with basic information about each volume, such as title, author and shelf location. Most importantly the chip will help locate the book at all times and prevent theft. In 1995 an American scholar was caught trying to peddle two 14th century manuscripts that had been stolen from the library.

Magnificent Vatican Library Reopens After $11.5 Million Renovation

On their return to the library scholars will also find a new internal wi-fi connection to the library's catalogue and the library's website www.vatican.va has been updated.

Perhaps one of the biggest and most striking change readers will notice is coming very soon. The magnificent Salone Sistino, the 16th century reading room built by Pope Sixtus V and decorated with frescoes from floor to ceiling, will revert to its original purpose.

Until January 2009 it was rented to the Vatican Museums and was part of their galleries. Now it will be once again furnished as a reading room, courtesy of famous Italian architect Paolo Portoghesi, and the noisy excitement of tourists will be replaced by quiet turning of pages.

The rent from the museums was a major source of funds for the $11.5 renovation of the Library. "We saved the money the museums gave just for the occasion," Farina said. Other money came from a variety of sponsors, and from the regular coffers of the Vatican City government.

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