Papal Conclave Leads to Serious Disruptions for Visitors to Rome

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With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 28 and the subsequent Papal Conclave, come serious disruptions for visitors at the very peak of Vatican City tourist season. Tour operator Dark Rome ( has vowed to continue its services despite closures however, and is hopeful that there will be a new Pope elected by Easter.

Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam' in the Sistine Chapel - soon to be home to the Papal Conclave

Michelangelo's 'Creation of Adam' in the Sistine Chapel - soon to be home to the Papal Conclave

This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of history.

Italian tour operator Dark Rome Tours says it will continue to run guided tours of the Vatican Museums throughout the election of the new Pope. The process of electing a new Pope will result in a number of closures across the Vatican Museums. Most disruptive of these will be extended closures to the Sistine Chapel, home to world-famous frescos by Michelangelo.

On March 1 the Vatican will release full details of its plans for the election of the 266th Pope. It is expected that on this day it will summon Cardinals from across the world to form the Papal Conclave. With closures to the Sistine Chapel expected before, during and possibly after the Papal Conclave, there could be extensive closures during the month of March – coincidentally the pinnacle of tourist season at the Vatican City.

Receiving over 5 million visitors per year, the Vatican Museums are one of the most visited sites in the world. Their busiest period falls in the time around the end of March and the start of April, for Easter Week.

“Obviously everyone is hopeful that a new Pope will be elected before Easter celebrations begin in the last week of March,” says Larry Millard, Director of Operations at Dark Rome Tours. “We have been working with the Vatican authorities to ensure that disruptions to our customers are minimal. Although the Sistine Chapel will obviously be closed several days during March, our message is that the rest of the Vatican Museums and Dark Rome Tours are open for business.”

“I would say that there has never been a better time to visit the Vatican. It’s been almost 600 years since a Pope resigned so this is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of history. We have provided our guides with extra training and they will be tailoring their tours to help visitors get the most from this incredible experience,” says Millard.

As an Official Vatican Museums Partner, Dark Rome Tours has No Wait Access through a special entrance at the Vatican Museums, offering visitors the chance to bypass general access queues that are expected to swell in size as a result of the Papal Conclave. “If you can get to Rome in the next few weeks, you should and you shouldn’t be afraid to visit the Vatican Museums. Just be sure to leave extra time to get to your meeting point – we’re expecting delays in transport due to the huge increase in the number visitors,” says Millard.

Widely acclaimed throughout the global traveling community, Dark Rome is an Official Vatican Museums Partner and an innovative company offering small group, single-language tours throughout Italy – including Venice, Florence, Milan and day trips to Tuscany and Pompeii. For details visit


While the Papal Conclave will be conducted within the Sistine Chapel, it is no longer the case that the mostly Cardinals will be confined within the walls of Chapel until a decision is made. A change in these rules was first applied during the 2005 Papal Conclave, which elected Pope Benedict XVI. When the Cardinals convene in March, they will instead be housed in a new guesthouse within the Vatican City with 108 suites and 23 single rooms, each with its own private bathroom. They will travel to and from the Sistine Chapel by private bus.

The longest period it has taken to elect a Pope since 1903 is 5 days. Pope Benedict XVI was elected within two days, on the fourth vote of the Cardinals.

Although most people associate the election of a new Pope with the white smoke produced by burning votes in the Sistine Chapel, this election will also be marked by the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica. This has been the case since 1958 when the Vatican Radio mistook the black smoke (released to indicate that no Pope had been elected after a vote) for white, and announced the election of a new Pope a day early.

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Roisin O'Sullivan
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