By FRANCESCO SPORTELLI
FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Visitors to one of Florence’s most iconic monuments — the Baptistry of San Giovanni, opposite the city’s Duomo — are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see its ceiling mosaics up close thanks to an innovative approach to a planned restoration effort.
Rather than limit the public’s access during the six-year cleaning of the vault, officials have built a scaffolding platform for the art restorers that will also allow small numbers of visitors to see the ceiling mosaics at eye level.
“We had to turn this occasion into an opportunity to make it even more accessible and usable by the public through special routes that would bring visitors into direct contact with the mosaics,” said Samuele Caciagli, architect in charge of the restoration site.
In an interview with The Associated Press, he called the new scaffolding tour of the Baptistry vault “a unique opportunity that is unlikely to be repeated in the coming decades.”
Visits to the scaffolding platform, which sprouts like a mushroom from the floor of the Baptistry and reaches a height of 32 meters (105 feet) from the ground, begin Feb. 24 and must be reserved in advance.
The octagonal-shaped baptistry is one of the most visible monuments of Florence, known perhaps more for its exterior, with its alternating geometric pattern of white Carrara and green Prato marble and its three great bronze doors depicting biblical scenes.
Inside, however, are spectacular mosaic scenes of The Last Judgment and John the Baptist, dating from the 13th century and using some 10 million pieces of stone and glass over 1,000 square meters of dome and wall.
The six-year restoration effort, the first in over a century, involves conducting diagnostic studies on the current state of the mosaics and intervening where necessary. Planned works include addressing water infiltration from the roof, removing decades of grime and re-affixing the stones to prevent them from detaching.
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