The Sistine Chapel is a large chapel located in the Vatican City, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. It is most famous for its Renaissance art, particularly the ceiling painted by Michelangelo. The chapel and artwork attract more than five million visitors each year. But the Sistine Chapel is more than just Vatican City’s most popular tourist destination. In fact, it serves a crucial religious function.

Beginning in 1492, the chapel was the chosen place where the cardinals gathered to vote on a new pope. A special chimney in the roof of the chapel reveals the results, with white smoke indicating the election of a new pope and black smoke signaling that no candidate has yet received a two-thirds majority.

The name Sistine was derived from Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned the chapel to be built in the 1470s. It was simply designed as a rectangular brick building with six arched windows on each of the two main walls and a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The chapel’s exterior is modest and unassuming, giving little indication of the amazing artwork inside.

In 1503, a new pope, Julius II, decided to change the Sistine Chapel’s interior. He commissioned Renaissance artist Michelangelo to paint the entire ceiling. Michelangelo hesitated because he was a sculptor, not a painter, but the Pope insisted, and Michelangelo began his work on the famous frescoed ceiling in 1508. He worked for four years and it was so physically demanding that it permanently damaged his eyesight.

Twenty years later, Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint the giant fresco “The Last Judgment” behind the altar. Michelangelo, who was then in his 60s, painted this now-famous piece from 1536 to 1541.

A large-scale restoration of the Sistine Chapel began in 1980. Restorers spent 14 years reattaching fresco and cleaning it. The restoration was extremely controversial as some critics claimed that it removed a layer of paint that Michelangelo had intentionally used to give the figures depth.

The Sistine Chapel is currently closed due to the current pandemic. However, upon reopening, the admission ticket will be $22 and includes a visit to the Vatican Museum. The chapel and museum are open Monday through Saturday and on the last Sunday of each month from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.