Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities.
Crea walks past the Laocoon statue, a masterpiece of the sculptors of Rhodes dated around 40-30 B.C.
The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him before dawn in the downstairs “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight.
Crea illuminates the Laocoon statue on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections.
As a result, the Sistine Chapel key is of particular importance and is handled with its own protocol: After the room is shuttered for the day when the last visitor leaves, the key is put back in a new white envelope, sealed, stamped and replaced in the bunker wall safe, with its comings and goings duly noted in a thick registry book.
Crea recalls fondly the day that, three years into his now-23 years of service, he was finally allowed to open the door to the Sistine Chapel alone. The privilege in the two decades since has given him a chance to visit Michelangelo’s “Last Temptation” and scenes of the New Testament and Old all alone, in the empty quiet of dawn.
Crea uses a torch to illuminate the Sistine Chapel prior to switching on the lights as he opens it.
Even though the public was shut out of the Vatican Museums for 88 days, Crea and his team of 10 key-keepers kept up their routine of opening and closing doors, since the exhibition rooms had to be cleaned, dusted and maintained by a small army of museum workers.
Crea walks down an aisle on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections.
But 2020 was anything but normal. Only around 1.3 million visitors came, arranging visits around Italy's two COVID-19 lockdowns. Now, to maintain social-distancing protocols, up to 400 people can be admitted every 30 minutes, with timed tickets purchased in advance online.
Crea holds a bunch of keys as he walks down the "Maps Aisle" to open the museum's rooms and sections.
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