The Vatican Musketeers

1987-1996
Gallery of the Vatican Apostolic Library, Vatican City*

It was a day like any other. Some 15,000 persons tread on us. The same routine, day in, day out. But it’s never bor-ing. We know by the sound whether the footfalls are those of men, women, the young, the elderly.

Some of us are so adept they can even tell you their nationality: ‘She’s Japanese. That’s easy, part of a group’. ‘Now this one‘s from the U.S., a Native American by the soft tread”. Real pros, no argument there. Our best friends are the clavigers, from the Latin for keepers of the keys. When they open the doors in the morning and close them at night, they stop to chat a while.

Their sound is unmistakable: it’s a metal-flourishing clinkity-clank. They let us in on the latest curiosities, gossip and even palace leaks. We all know the Vatican as a magnificent but also a bit mysterious place. One curious tidbit we’ve learned is that it takes 2,797 keys to open and close its doors! Forgive us, St Peter, but you’re an amateur by comparison…Oh, by way of introduction, we’re the floors of the corridors you walk down to the Vatican Library. Confidentially, we call it the VAL. The path we lay takes you to the entrance of an extraordinary collection, the ‘Books of the Popes,’ arrayed over 1,700 square metres of floor space.

The atmosphere? The artistic and religious apogee of the 1500s. Those were the days! Now, the linoleum that covered us was laid down in the 1950s. The beating it’s taken over the years since is, quite frankly, rather unbecoming of such a place to say the least. Steps had to be taken. Quick, sure-footed, efficient. That’s how we became friends with Mapei’s products - Mapecem, Granirapid, Ultracolor, Mapeflex PU21. A fearsome foursome. Confidentially, of course, we call them the Musketeers. We once heard them arguing about who was to be D’Artagnan.

Then a Swiss Guard appeared and they fell silent. They didn’t want anyone to hear them. Nary another word. But we can say that the job Mapei’s products did with a bit of help from the master tile layers was nothing short of fantastic. It took a mere 40 days. ‘Too quick’ someone said. ‘What’s all the rush’ piped up another. The chorus grew. It was the furniture. The pieces have been there for 500 years. They’re not used to change, sudden or otherwise.

What a sight it was when they opened the doors to the public again. Satisfaction all round. Thousands looked down as they walked through the corridors, ignoring the elegant coffered ceiling. We, the new flooring, were the star attraction. The frescoes, you say? They complained a bit but then took it in stride.

* Mapei was the recipient of the prestigious Coverings and Installation Award in 1977 for this job. The Vatican has been the site of other efforts undertaken by the company over the decades before and since. These have included Redemptoris Mater Chapel in 1996, The Fountain of the Mint in 2000 and the Fountain of the Vatican Gardens in 2010. Rome has be-come a focal point of Mapei’s business interests because it is the capital of Italy’s government and home to its major construction companies. The headquarters of Mapei’s Rome offices includes a Specification Centre for designers, installers and industry firms.

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