‘No tourist pressure’: Rome’s biggest attractions reopen without the crowds

The Colosseum, the Vatican Museums and other famous attractions reopened this week after being closed for 88 days due to coronavirus restrictions - the longest closure since World War II.

'No tourist pressure': Rome's biggest attractions reopen without the crowds
The first visitors enter the Sistine Chapel after its reopening on Monday. Photos: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The Vatican's famed collection of museums opened its doors again on Monday to mostly local residents.

“Today is a celebration,” said Director Barbara Jatta, who welcomed photographers and television crews inside.

Jatta had expressed much the same sentiment in June, however, when the museums reopened after Italy's initial strict lockdown, beginning in March.

Photo: Andreas Solora/AFP

Italy's museums and art galleries were closed again in November under strict rules aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.

They have now been allowed to reopen Monday to Friday in “yellow zone” areas under the country's colour-coded system.

Rome's Lazio region was among those to have their risk level downgraded in the latest Health Ministry review.

The rules have not been relaxed across the whole country, however, and five regions remain under higher restrictions.

READ ALSO:  'We're bucking the trend': Italy eases Covid rules despite experts' warnings

People visit Rome's landmark Colosseum after its reopening. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

At the Vatican, visitors must pre-book tickets and will be given timed entry slots. Those who did so on Monday said they were taking the chance to enjoy Italy's treasures without the crowds.

“I had to seize the opportunity,” said Sanon Bertin, who has lived in Rome for six years but never visited before.

Richard Corbon agreed it was a unique opportunity to view art in an environment “free of the pressure of tourists”.

“I almost have the impression there are more employees than visitors,” Corbon said.

The Sistine Chapel, with its vault and altar wall frescoed by Michelangelo, normally attracts huge crowds. But on Monday it was practically empty.

The vast chapel is also looking fresher than it might usually at this time of year, since the shutdown allowed staff to carry out its annual deep-clean a
month early.

Photo: AFP

Revenue from the museums, which employ 700 people, are crucial for filling the coffers of the Vatican State.

The museums averaged about 23,000 visitors per day in 2019, said Jatta, who said she hoped to have “a few thousand” daily in weeks ahead.

Rome's Colosseum and the Forum also reopened on Monday to just a handful of visitors.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Rome's museums will be open Monday-Friday only, with strict safety protocols including wearing masks and social distancing.

In most cases advance booking is required. Privately-owned art galleries can open at weekends.

At the moment, only those already in the Lazio region of southern Italy can visit the sites.

READ ALSO: What are the rules in Italy's coronavirus 'yellow zones'?

Italy currently has a complete ban in place on non-essential travel, including for tourism, between all regions regardless of their colour under the country's tiered system of restrictions.

The entire country also remains subject to a night-time curfew, while bars and restaurants must end table service at 6pm in yellow zones and cannot open at all in Italy's remaining orange zones.

Photo: AFP

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EXPLAINED: How will the tourist-control system work in Venice?

Venice is introducing a new system to discourage day-trippers in hopes of curbing problems with overtourism in the popular hotspot. Here is what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How will the tourist-control system work in Venice?

After years of discussing a possible “tourist tax”, the city of Venice has confirmed it will make day-trippers pay from €3 to €10 for access to the city centre starting on January 16th.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the goal of the new tourism fee is to discourage day tourism at certain times of the year and encourage overnight tourism. Day-trippers will have to pay a fee, but those who stay overnight continue only to have to pay the city tax of €2 to €5, according to a government press release.

The Commission and the City Council will now examine the regulatory text for the final green light scheduled for the summer.

“We are the first in the world to introduce this system, and we are aware that not everything will work well from the beginning, but we will be ready to improve in the course of work. We want to guarantee the tourist the best quality of the visit and make sure that the city is able to give visitors all the services they need”, said Tourism Secretary Simone Venturini.

READ ALSO: After flooding and coronavirus, is it time Venice stopped relying on tourism?

How much will I have to pay?

The contributo di acesso, or access contribution, will cost from €3 to €10, depending on factors such as tourism numbers for the day and season.

The city will determine a certain threshold of tourists, after which people will be required to pay higher sums. Travellers are encouraged to book in advance to avoid price increases.

Does the payment have to be made in advance?

The government said that nobody would be denied entry to Venice, meaning a pre-registration is not necessary. However, the mayor said that those who book their visit in advance would be “rewarded”. The reward will likely discount the fee.

How will the system work? Where do I pay?

According to the City of Venice, the payment is an alternative to the city tax. It will be required from every person that goes to the old city centre of Venice, as well as other major tourist destinations and islands in the region.

READ ALSO: 16 surprising facts about Venice to mark 16 centuries of the lagoon city

A single payment guarantees access to the old town and the smaller islands.

Tourists will be able to pay through an online and “multilingual” platform where they will receive a QR code to present in case of controls. Tickets should also be available to buy in connection with public transport – so if you are arriving by train, it will be possible to buy the train ticket and the entry pass together.

Who is excluded or exempt from the payment?

There are several exceptions to the payment, according to the website. Among them are residents from the Comune di Venezia, those who work or study there, and those who own homes in the city.

Additionally, exceptions include those born in the Comune di Venezia, children under six years of age, people with disabilities and their accompanying person, public workers, volunteers, people visiting family members, prisoners, or attending funerals, and many others.

Residents of the Veneto region “up to the thresholds that will be set by a specific Council resolution” are also exempt.

Those who stay overnight and, therefore, already pay the city tax through their hotel or short-term rental booking are also exempt from the fee.

The city of Murano, in the metropolitan region of Venice (Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)

What about people arriving on cruises?

Venice is a very popular stop for cruise ships and people visiting the city on a cruise tour will also have to pay the fee as they disembark in the old town. However, the City of Venice said they might determine a lump-sum measure in agreement with the relevant carriers.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

Which smaller islands are included?

Only one ticket and payment is required for those travelling to multiple islands, including Venice. The islands that are part of the group are:

  • Lido di Venezia
  • Pellestrina
  • Murano
  • Burano
  • Torcello
  • Sant’Erasmo
  • Mazzorbo
  • Mazzorbetto
  • Vignole
  • S. Andrea
  • La certosa
  • S. Servolo
  • S. Clemente
  • Poveglia

What if I simply don’t pay?

If you fail to produce proof of payment or that you are exempt from the fee, the sanction is from €50 to €300. The fine is the same in the case of people making false statements trying to obtain exemptions or reductions.

Additionally, visitors who don’t pay in advance will have to pay the full €10 fee.

For more info click here.