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‘We must focus on another type of tourism’: How one Italian site is welcoming back visitors

Ahead of the Colosseum and Pompeii, the towering Greek temple complex at Paestum near Naples is the first Italian archaeological site to reopen to tourists after the coronavirus lockdown.

'We must focus on another type of tourism': How one Italian site is welcoming back visitors
Paestum is one of Italy's lesser-known ancient treasures. Photo: Guillaume Baptiste/AFP

This ancient Greek colony, dating back to the 6th century BC, reopened on May 18th with temperature checks at the entrance and other health measures implemented around the site as lockdown eases.

READ ALSO: Florence's Duomo introduces social distancing necklaces for visitors

A limited number of people are allowed on the site at the same time, they must disinfect hands and wear masks, and one-way routes have been marked out, said site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

The site has also developed a free app to guide visitors through the sprawling site and send an alert when too many people are gathered in the same place.

“But at the same time we also wanted to give cultural content which does not make visitors experience this situation as a limitation but as a chance to finally return to live with beauty, culture, freedom,” said Zuchtriegel.


The Temple of Hera at Paestum seen from above. Photo: Charles Onians/AFP

Zuchtriegel says the post-lockdown phase with fewer visitors to the three remarkably well-preserved temples in the Doric order should be seen as an opportunity.

“We must focus on another type of tourism, another relationship with visitors, more intense, more 'one to one', and who knows, I think this could be a model for developing 'slow tourism' in the future,” he said.

So far visitors to the site have been scarce, but the numbers are expected to pick up when tourists are once more allowed to fly in to Italy from early June.

READ ALSO: 

“After spending two months or even more at home, not going out, you really appreciate this freedom to go outside,” said visitor Svetlana.

“You realise you've been postponing things, thinking: 'Let's go tomorrow, or after tomorrow, or in a month, or not now it's too hot'. No, it's not later, it is now!” she said.

Many Italians remain at home after the over two-month lockdown, including schoolchildren, but teacher Maris has brought her pupils to Paestum via a livestream on her mobile phone.

“I came for the weekend and took the opportunity to take my pupils on a virtual trip, my pupils with whom I've been doing distance learning! They were all connected, and I took them to Paestum, and they loved it,” she said.

Pompeii will reopen to the public on May 26th, while Rome's Colosseum has not yet announced when visitors will be able to return.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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