While the majority of pictures in the files of L'Osservatore Romano depict Pope John Paul II, they go back to the reign of Pius XI, who was pope just before World War II. Four-fifths of the images are in color, the Italian news agency ANSA said.
The Rev. Giuseppe Colombara, head of the Vatican photography department, said the restoration is expected to take five years and could cost $4 million. He said much of the work will have to be done by hand.
The archive includes famous images such as Pope Pius XII, arms open, during a 1943 visit to a bombed neighborhood in Rome and John Paul II on a Mexican trip holding a local child on his shoulders. John Paul, who had the second-longest reign in the history of the papacy, allowed almost every aspect of his life to be documented, and 6 million of the images in the archive are of him.