The Sistine Chapel, the grand Vatican space featuring Michaelangelo's famous fresco "The Last Judgement", was shut from the public Tuesday in preparation for the papal conclave to choose the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
Other public spaces in the Vatican will remain open throughout the conclave.
Many of the Catholic Church's 115 "cardinal electors," or the cardinals under the age of 80 who are thus eligible to participate in the in the selection of the pope, have already arrived in Rome. The Vatican will set the start date of the conclave once the final few cardinals arrive.
As part of the preparation for the conclave, in which the cardinals will seal themselves away in the chapel, a special stove will be installed for the famous ballot-burning that will alert the outside world if a new pope has been chosen.
According to the Telegraph, the Vatican said it expects a new pope to be selected and installed by Easter, which falls on March 31 this year.
In addition to Michelangelo's instantly identifiable "Creation of Adam" and "The Last Judgement", the Sistine Chapel holds frescos by Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio and other important Italian Renaissance artists.
An estimated 4 million people tour the chapel, which was completed in 1541 and restored between 1984 and 1994, in any given year.