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Vatican's key master gives an inside look at the Vatican Museums before dawn

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In the early morning hours, Gianni Crea is awake to open up the Vatican Museums for the thousands of tourists who visit daily. 

He is the Vatican Museums' key master. 

Beginning at 4:45 a.m., he coordinates the five people who open the museums in the morning and the five who close it around midnight. 

Yet, he not only oversees the work, but walks one mile in the morning turning on the lights and opening up each of the doors and gates.

Vatican Museums' Key Master
“Here we are. Next, we will continue and go toward the Chiaramonti Gallery.”

Each door and key is numbered, ensuring that among 2,979 keys, all are present. However, after 21 years in this job, Gianni knows the keys like the back of his hand. 

One of the most spectacular parts of his job is being the first one to turn on the lights of the Sistine Chapel. He has the entire room all to himself before the tours begin. 

Vatican Museums' Key Master
“I have the opportunity to open the Sistine Chapel for all the tourists that visit from around the world. So it's unique, extraordinary and beautiful, for me and also for my colleagues. We are also in the center of Christianity, so for a Catholic, it's more than you could ever want.”

Everyday he is able to admire the frescoes Michelangelo himself painted for nine years in the early 16th century. 

It is not only this room which impacts him, but all the hallways and paintings remind him of history and the center of the Catholic Church. 

For example, this tapestry of the 'Resurrection of Christ,' designed by Raphael has Jesus' eyes follow him each morning as he makes his rounds. It's an artistic illusion that always intrigues tourists.

Immediately after, he turns on the lights for yet another well-known hallway.

Vatican Museums' Key Master
“Here we are in the Gallery of Geographical Maps. It's one of the most beautiful galleries hands down that represents Italy through maps.”

These 40 maps showing each Italian region were requested by Pope Gregory XII in 1580. They were designed by Egnazio Danti to fill the 400-foot hallway.

Each aspect shows how art connects to the faith, going from hallways and the Gallery of Statues to Raphael's rooms. 

 “Here we are. Now, we're in Raphael's rooms.”

At the end of the early morning tour , he concludes with a rare view, only reserved for the key holders, looking out on the Vatican. He can see all of Rome, but he says there's nothing like the Museums. 

Vatican Museums' Key Master
“Everything is beautiful in the museums. Every door; every part has a story to tell, has its uniqueness. Yet, the Sistine Chapel always wins for its history and art. I believe in the Sistine Chapel, but in the Museums in general, art has the power to unite everyone in the world.”

This power is evident in how the number of tourists who come to the Vatican Museums has grown over the years. Crea asserts when he started more than 20 years ago, not even 2 million would come a year and now that number has nearly quadrupled. It's a testimony to not only history and art, but to the Catholic faith that universally unites the global Church.