But two days before the closure of Pope Francis's special Year of Mercy, a disgruntled hospitality trade has slammed it as a flop.
“We were expecting much more than this. We did even worse than last year,” Antonio Calicchia, who owns a traditional restaurant a few hundred meters from Saint Peter's Square, told AFP.
“We heard some 20 million pilgrims would be coming to Rome. Where did they hide?” he quipped, bitterly.
The “Francis effect”, which saw world leaders race to have their photos taken with the popular Argentine pontiff after his election in 2013, failed to translate into a boost to recession-weary businesses during the Jubilee, and local traders blame security fears.
“The attacks in Paris fuelled fear, not only in France, but in all Western countries,” said Walter Parise, whose souvenir shop sells plates with the face of the pontiff on them as well as miniature models of the Colosseum.
“What's more, I remember that the media repeatedly said last year that the Vatican could also be targeted by terrorists,” he added.
Rome's hotel and restaurant federation confirmed the gloomy results, saying the number of visitors in 2016 – tourists and pilgrims alike – was more or less the same as last year, at around 14 million.
“It is as if there hadn't been a Jubilee. I don't think anybody realized there was one,” the federation's president Giuseppe Roscioli told Il Fatto Quotidiano daily on Monday.
In an article headlined “Empty churches and a city at a standstill, it's the phantom Jubilee,” the left-leaning daily pointed to religious events that failed to draw the expected crowds and much-needed urban projects in the capital put on hold for the duration.
Waving sourly “Goodbye to the low-cost Jubilee”, the Repubblica said the “many faithful who have crossed the Holy Doors of the four papal basilicas” – a symbolic step for Catholics in a Holy Year – brought “no benefit to Rome tourism”.
The Vatican defended itself, pointing out the aim of the Jubilee was not to feed the Eternal City's coffers and saying Francis had wanted a sober event but one that could be celebrated around the world through numerous new “Holy Doors”.
His message had been clear: a year ago, the Argentine had broken with tradition and symbolically opened the first such door in Bangui in the Central African Republic, before the centuries-old one in Saint Peter's.
The Vatican's Jubilee coordinator Rino Fisichella insisted that, by the Holy See's count, 20 million pilgrims did indeed flow through Rome, saying claims to the contrary came from “an overactive imagination”.
But the tally takes into account not only the number of pilgrims who passed through the “Holy Door” at Saint Peter's.
The Vatican also counted the number of people attending papal audiences and events linked to the Jubilee like the canonization of Mother Teresa, meaning many pilgrims were probably counted twice.
By Franck Iovene