PBS NewsHour

Vatican sheds new light on Sistine Chapel’s masterpieces

Journalists stare at the Sistine Chapel with its new lighting during a press visit at the Vatican Thursday. Photo by
         Filippo Monteforte/MUSEI VATICANI/AFP

Journalists stare at the Sistine Chapel with its new lighting during a press visit at the Vatican Thursday. Photo by Filippo Monteforte/MUSEI VATICANI/AFP

The Sistine Chapel just got a makeover. Vatican officials unveiled new state-of-the-art energy-efficient lighting and air purification systems to protect Michelangelo’s more than 500-year old frescoes. The three-year-long installation cost roughly $3.8 million.

The masterpieces have seen their fair share of deterioration over the years from the throngs of tourists who visit. The Vatican is now capping the chapel’s visitors to 6 million each year, its current level. The preservation efforts are designed to help shield the chapel from the dust and carbon dioxide those crowds leave behind.

The high-tech illumination — installed by the German firm Osram — is comprised of some 7,000 LED lights that will better highlight Michelangelo’s work as well as the chapel’s lesser-known frescoes by Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

“It’s an emotional experience,” said Osram’s project leader, Mourad Boulouednine. “It’s difficult to talk in words but if you see it, many details in the frescoes, nice and wonderful colors, the plasticity and the three dimensional effect that Michelangelo has used in his figures is really outstanding.”

The head of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, told Reuters, “I got to see the Sistine Chapel like I had never seen it before. This light allows you to see every little detail of the paintings and at the same time it allows you to grasp and experience the Sistine Chapel as a whole, in its entirety.”

As an added benefit, the modernized lighting is also expected to cut the Vatican’s energy bills by more than 80 percent.

As for the new air-conditioning system, it will direct airflow slowly through the hallowed room to avoid damaging the frescoes. The air temperature and humidity levels can also be adjusted based on data from 70 sensors in the Sistine Chapel’s walls as well as cameras monitoring visitors.

“This chapel is a unique structure so we spent a great deal of time understanding how air flows here in order to map the technology,” said John Mandyck, the chief sustainability officer for United Technologies unit Carrier which developed the air purification system. “Air flows differently here than it does, say in an office building or even another church.”

The previous air-conditioning system was installed 20 years ago, back when the chapel received only 1.5 million visitors each year.

If a trip to Vatican City isn’t in your future, you can also take a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel from the comfort of your home by visiting the Vatican’s website.

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News Wrap: Burkina Faso declares state of emergency


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. economy has turned in another solid quarter. Growth from July through September ran at an annual rate of 3.5 percent. That follows an even stronger second quarter. And falling gas prices are expected to help keep the trend going through the rest of the year. We will look at how the economy is affecting the midterm elections later in the program.

GWEN IFILL: On Wall Street, that upbeat growth report and strong corporate earnings pushed stocks higher again. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 221 points to close 17195; the Nasdaq rose nearly 17 points to close at 4566; and the S&P added 12 to close at 1994.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A nurse from Maine who’s returned from West Africa’s Ebola zone defied a voluntary quarantine today. Kaci Hickox took a bicycle ride with her boyfriend in Fort Kent, Maine. She’d returned there Monday after spending three days in forced isolation in New Jersey. She’s said she’s free of symptoms.

Maine officials are pursuing a court order to keep Hickox at home until the incubation period for the virus ends.

GWEN IFILL: There are new warnings about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. The new head of the country’s response center said today the crisis is getting worse and that efforts to fight the disease are three months behind. That’s one day after officials reported the rate of infection in neighboring Liberia appears to be slowing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A different crisis gripped another West African nation today. The president of Burkina Faso, who’s ruled for 27 seven years, agreed to drop his bid for another term after protesters stormed Parliament. They set the building on fire, and from there thousands moved on to attack the homes of government ministers. The president declared a state of emergency and dropped out of sight.

GWEN IFILL: Fighting has flared again in Ukraine, despite a cease-fire. The country’s military says seven of its soldiers were killed in the last 24 hours in the eastern part of the country. That’s the most in two weeks. Government troops and pro-Russian rebels have clashed repeatedly since September 5, when the truce was signed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, the Education Department announced a new rule governing for-profit colleges whose students can’t find jobs that let them pay off their federal loans. They will have to show that a graduate’s estimated annual loan payment doesn’t exceed 8 percent of total earnings. The effort targets career schools that soak up tuition, but provide little useful training.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The mayor who led Boston through the Boston Marathon bombings, Thomas Menino, died today after battling cancer. Menino was hailed for uniting the city after the bomb attack killed three people and wounded more than 260 in April 2013.

FORMER MAYOR THOMAS MENINO, Boston: There’s going to be a lot of help needed for them, but we will be there for them, because that’s what Boston is all about. We’re one city committed to making a better city for all the people not to forget as you go further down the road.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Menino retired this year after serving more than 20 years as mayor, the most in the city’s history. He was 71 years old.

GWEN IFILL: The acclaimed poet Galway Kinnell was remembered today for his long award-winning career. He died Tuesday of leukemia at 87. Kinnell first gained notice in the early 1960s and continued publishing for decades. Along the way, he won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for such works as “Body Rags” and “Mortal Acts, Mortal Words.”

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Jerusalem holy site becomes ground zero for fresh fighting – Part 1


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JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s one of the holiest sites for each of the world’s three major religions. Known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount, it’s also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most sacred in Islam. Now it has become ground zero for another round of fighting between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

After weeks of recurring clashes, new street battles between Palestinians and Israeli police broke out in Jerusalem. They were triggered when Israeli police cornered and killed a Palestinian man. He was suspected of seriously wounding a far-right Jewish activist, Yehuda Glick, who had demanded greater access to the place Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims know as Al-Aqsa.

Amidst the trouble, the Israelis closed the site for the first time since 2000. That brought condemnation from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Through an aide, he charged the closure was tantamount to a declaration of war.

NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, Spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas (through interpreter): We condemn and refuse the Israeli escalation in Jerusalem and over the holy shrines. We will take all legal measures to hold Israel accountable and to stop these repeated attacks, because the continuation of Israeli aggression and dangerous escalation will cause more violence. The Israeli government is responsible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hours later, Israel announced it will reopen the site to worshipers. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Abbas for starting the trouble with a recent call to ban Jews from the compound.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter): I still have not heard from the international community so much as one word of condemnation for this incitement. The international community needs to stop its hypocrisy and take action against the inciters.

I have ordered significant reinforcements, including reinforcement of resources, so that we can maintain both security in Jerusalem and the status quo in the holy places.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All of this comes as tensions are still running high over the summer war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas militants. Israel has also announced plans for more settlement-building in East Jerusalem, a move that’s inflamed Palestinians and been denounced by U.S. officials.

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Are we seeing signs of a third intifada? – Part 2


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JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on these tensions and what’s behind them, I’m joined by Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine, and David Makovsky from the Washington Institute. He was part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team in the most recent talks.

Welcome back to the program to both of you.

DAVID MAKOVSKY, The Washington Institute For Near East Policy: You bet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Makovsky, first, how significant are these tensions we’re watching?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Look, you know, this is a conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that doesn’t lack for emotion and passion.

And Jerusalem, on top of it, has even more doses than anything else. So we have seen episodes where things have flared and then things have kind of quieted down. So it’s hard to know for sure. But I think we need to make sure that cool heads prevail here, because we don’t want this conflict that’s a political conflict, Israeli-Palestinian, to be transformed into a Muslim-Jewish religious war, because political conflicts, you can solve. But religious wars, you can’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How concerned are you? How big a deal…

HUSSEIN IBISH, The American Task Force on Palestine: I think it’s very dangerous.

I think we’re closer to seeing a — the process of the development of another intifada than we have been since 2005, since 10 years ago, when the second intifada petered out. I don’t think it’s upon us, and I don’t think it’s likely to be produced in the next few days, but you can see all the elements coming together here, particularly as it’s clustered around East Jerusalem with the question about the settlements, the question about the future of the city and especially the holy places.

And here you have that exact nexus of issues and the place where that kind of explosion or implosion could actually come about, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you mentioned the settlements.

David Makovsky, these new settlements, new construction, whatever you call it, how much of a sticking point, how much of an irritant is that in all this?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, I agree with Hussein.

I mean, when you have a vacuum, when there’s no negotiations, we were led by Secretary Kerry’s initiative. People thought, OK, there is an effort to try to solve this, but when there’s no effort, when there’s a vacuum, all sort of things bubble up, and that’s — I add, I think that exacerbates the concerns. The issue…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the fact that the talks collapsed?


DAVID MAKOVSKY: Right. They collapsed last spring and so…



So, look, the — these neighborhoods in Jerusalem, I mean, I don’t want to bore people with all the technicalities, but there’s six phases of planning. So this is recycled news from 2010. And there’s going to be another four more of these announcements probably over the next few years over the same few apartment buildings.

The problem is this. Netanyahu will say that, in these particular neighborhoods are areas that even Palestinian maps, not all of them, by the way, but some of them will be Israel anyway. But when you don’t say the corollary of, well, I won’t build in the other areas that will be Palestine, people assume the worst. If you don’t draw the distinction, they won’t draw the distinction.

So I think there’s a need to do both sides of this. If you’re going to build in there saying that’s going to be Israel anyway in a two-state peace map, then you have got to say where you’re not going to build.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is it just a matter of how it’s talked about?

HUSSEIN IBISH: I don’t think so.

I certainly agree that these settlements have not been built, and they may not be, and there is a multistage planning process, so that you get — you pay the cost politically many times over each time it’s announced. But Givat Hamatos is not in any consensus area. And it does really…


JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the name of the…

HUSSEIN IBISH: It’s the name one of the new settlements that has been announced. And that’s the one that’s probably the biggest single irritant between the United States and Israel and between the international community and Israel.

But all of these send a message to the Palestinians and the other Arabs that Israel intends to keep hold of Jerusalem, that Israel doesn’t want to compromise on Jerusalem, because, if you really did want a two-state solution, why keep digging the hole deeper? Why keep expanding the number of settlers and the areas that are settled, especially in strategic areas that cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank? That’s a question I have never had a good answer to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a calming influence out there that could make a difference in getting things to cool down, David Makovsky?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: It’s a great question.

I think what’s key is, you know, Netanyahu said “status quo.” He’s really, I think, coming out against the people who want to go on the Temple Mount. And really it’s the security chiefs who say, hey, this is a powder keg, people. And each one has good arguments, will say, you know, that this is the holiest site is the two — Solomon’s Temple, Herod’s Temple.

And it’s on — and the ruins of a mosque — of the temples is where the mosque is. History has cut for calm, because when the area became — was taken by Israel in 1967, Moshe Dayan, who was the winning general, said, you know what Jordanian religious authorities called the Wakf, you administered this before the war, you administer it now. Israel’s not doing it.

And the rabbinate said don’t go up to there, not because it’s not holy, because it’s too holy. Wait for the messiah. But what happened is, this new insurgent group says, oh, we have — now can historically delineate through archaeology where it is. And that’s upsetting the status quo.

The message of the security services, keep the status quo. Make sure this powder keg doesn’t go off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see this?


HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, I think that there are important calming elements here that could be — certainly, the United States and the rest of the international community can help, but with incentives and disincentives to the parties to calm things down.

I think we can play certainly a significant role in encouraging the parties to do that. In addition, I think the public sentiment can be…


JUDY WOODRUFF: Even — even with the peace — even with the talks stopped?


HUSSEIN IBISH: Yes, even with the talks, because — yes, because there are still bilateral relations.

And, certainly, we did have this interesting take by Jeffrey Goldberg this week about how there’s a deterioration. He described white-hot White House anger against Israel and Netanyahu’s contempt, as he put it, for the administration.

But that doesn’t matter, because there are still bilateral relations, also bilateral relations with the Palestinians which could be utilized to calm things down. I think also the public can be — especially if it’s given reasons to hope and reasons to choose to calm down, can be helpful on both sides.

And, particularly, the Palestinian public has shown a reticence to get sucked into another intifada. In this summer, during the Gaza war, there was a major incident at Kalandia refugee camp — sorry — checkpoint near Kalandia refugee camp, on a very holy night during Ramadan.

And the public ultimately backed off and didn’t go for it. So, if the public in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Palestinian public, can be given reasons to hope for something better tomorrow, I don’t think they’re going to be interested in going down this road. This would be pure last-ditch desperation and anger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hussein Ibish, David Makovsky, we thank you.

HUSSEIN IBISH: Thank you so much.

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Thank you very much.

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