Vatican closes Sistine Chapel ahead of papal conclave
Vatican City, March 6 : The Vatican has announced it was closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors until further notice, ahead of a conclave to elect Pope Benedict's successor.
In a message on its website, the Vatican Museums said it would still be possible to visit the complex but the renaissance Sistine Chapel, the Borgia Apartment and the modern religious art collection would be off-limits to tourists.
The Sistine Chapel is renowned for Michelangelo's famous frescoed ceilings and his apocalyptic Last Judgment.
In 2005, the last time the College of Cardinals elected a pope, preparations for the conclave included installing a false floor to hide anti-bugging devices and attaching the stove, where the ballots are burned, to the Sistine Chapel's chimney.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said it was "not necessary" for all cardinal electors to be present to set a date for the conclave although it would be "premature" to do so, he said.
Five of the 115 cardinals who will take part in the conclave are yet to arrive in Rome, Lombardi said.
Cardinals Tuesday held their third round of pre-conclave talks at the Vatican.
Cardinals have said they want to elect a new pope by the start of the Easter Holy Week March 24.
The 85-year-old Benedict, whose papacy was hit by many scandals, resigned in February on the grounds that he lacked the physical and mental strength to stay in the job.