Though the project has been decades in the making, restorers are finally almost ready to unveil the fruits of their labor. Using laser technology, they were able to burn away the blackening caused by algae and lamp smoke that covered the walls without affecting the colors underneath.
“When we started work, you couldn’t see anything – it was totally black. Different wavelengths and chromatic selection enabled us to burn away the black disfiguration without touching the colors beneath,” said project leader Barbara Mazzei. “Until recently, we weren’t able to carry out this sort of restoration – if we had done it manually we would have risked destroying the frescoes.”
The catacombs contain over 26,000 tombs spanning 7.5 miles. “These tombs represent the roots of our deepest identity, the roots of Rome and of Christianity,” explained Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.
Many of the various symbols spread throughout the catacombs depict ancient traditions from pagan and early Christian Roman history. The other murals and frescoes portray saints, apostles, soldiers, and martyrs.
The opening isn’t expected to take place until later this year, with sections being opened in waves. The first part, however, expected to open this month, will feature a small museum containing statues and segments of sarcophagi.