Currently, it's possible to visit many of Italy's most popular sites on the first Sunday of each month for free as part of the Domenica al museo (Sunday at the museum) project.
But at a press conference on Tuesday, Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli said the monthly offer would be scrapped in order to avoid “undervaluing our sites” and to help prevent logistical problems when huge numbers of tourists turn up at some of the country's most popular sites on summer Sundays.
Bonisoli said the project had been good as a “publicity launch”, but added: “If we continue with it, in my opinion we'll go in a direction that nobody will like.”
His predecessor, Dario Franceschini of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), called on Bonisoli to “rethink” the plan.
“I can't keep quiet, because the free Sundays aren't something related to me, but are a cultural and social event that has involved around 10 million people […] a large number of whom were visiting a museum for the first time in their life,” he said. “Don't make culture and Italians pay for a desire to break with the political past.”
Franceschini first launched the initiative in summer 2014 and around 3.5 million people took part in 2017 alone.
Responding to criticism from Italy's opposition parties, Bonisoli explained in a Facebook video that he had spoken to museum directors and that the majority were keen to end the Domenica al museo programme.
However, he stressed that there would still be opportunities to offer free entry, with the directors given greater choice in planning the offers. “[Free entry] could happen to a greater extent than in the past, but in an intelligent way,” Bonisoli said.
He added that more flexible planning would better account for seasonal fluctuations in visitor numbers and differences between museums and geographical areas.
Museums already have the power to introduce other free offers, either independently or in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture. For example, for the past few years Italy's state museums have offered free entry to all women on International Women's Day, while Turin's Egyptian Museum has offered discounts for Arabic speakers and two-for-one offers for couples on Valentine's Day.