SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

TOURISM

Why is Italy’s plan to charge for entry to the Pantheon so controversial?

Foreign visitors may think a fee of just two euros to see Rome's famous Pantheon is more than fair, but the suggestion of charging for entry at all has sparked anger in Italy. Silvia Marchetti explains what the controversy is about.

Why is Italy's plan to charge for entry to the Pantheon so controversial?
Rome's Pantheon is currently free to visit. A proposed ticket price of just two euros has caused a politial row - and Romans in particular are against it.  (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The proposal of charging an entry fee at the Pantheon, launched by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano, turned out to be provocative and very controversial and has once again triggered political mayhem. 

Every two or three years a politician comes up with this idea, which is soon deemed preposterous and shelved. 

Even if the proposed fee would be just two euros, less than a slice of pizza or a cappuccino, and a ridiculously low sum any foreign visitor would be glad to pay, Romans in particular are against it. 

This is down to the general belief among Italians that their artistic and historic monuments and sites are a ‘common good’: part of their national heritage, particularly the most popular and iconic sites.

As such, entry should be free. Citizens have the right to fully enjoy taking in the views of a church or a sanctuary without having to pay even 50 cents. 

READ ALSO: ‘Americans can pay’: Italian minister says famous sites should hike entry fees

Italy has an enormous treasure trove of artistic jewels, but despite the high value of its unique sites and monuments Italian culture is ‘cheap’, for free access or a low ticket downgrades the artistic offer in my view. 

I believe Italian churches should also charge tourists a fee for entry, as it would help support maintenance costs – and this includes popular (yet free) sites such as the Pantheon, which is one of the most visited in Italy. 

The trouble with the Pantheon lies in its dual nature which makes any entry fee a particularly thorny issue. The Pantheon is a basilica-mausoleum built on a former Ancient Roman temple, where mass and religious celebrations are regularly held on specific calendar dates.

There are tombs of Renaissance artists and Italian, alongside pagan relics. As with all churches in Italy, it is kept open and free for believers who wish to come and pray. 

However, the Pantheon is mainly a tourist hotspot rather than a mystical pilgrimage site, and is always packed like a McDonald’s, with visitors sitting outside eating paninis and gelato and feeding crumbs to the pigeons. 

Adding an entry fee would limit the crowds and keep the entire Piazza della Rotonda in order. I would actually raise the ticket to at least five euros. 

Those in favour of charging fo entry to the pantheon say the revenue could be used to keep the surrounding area in order. Litter and overflowing rubbish bins are a regular issue in summer. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

To many Romans the Pantheon is the symbol of their identity, a bit like the cradle of their own ancestry, so now the city council is pushing to exempt people living in the Eternal City to pay the entrance fee if it is ever applied, which in my view would create a form of discrimination. 

If an attraction is free for everyone, then it follows that everyone should pay if there is an entry ticket. 

READ ALSO: Why Italy urgently needs to hike entry prices to monuments and make people pay to visit churches

I remember once meeting an American lady in front of the Pantheon who, before going inside, pulled out her wallet and asked me “how much is the ticket?” Her question took me by surprise because I’d never given much thought to the fact that it was a normal thing for Italians not to pay to admire the Pantheon. After all, I thought, it’s ours.

When I told her there was no need for money she was surprised and replied “you have such beautiful sites that are unique in the world and must have a cost”.

I think the whole political and social controversy stemming from turning the Pantheon into a payable attraction is due to a perverse sort of ‘artistic inflation’. 

Just because we have so many (probably too many) artistic and historical monuments in Italy, we tend to consider these our own property and to take it for granted that they belong to all Italians as precious jewels of our common heritage.

Therefore, access must be public and open, with no restrictions whatsoever. 

OPINION: Italy must update its image if it wants a new kind of tourism

In Italy there is a widespread ideal of ‘bene pubblico artistico-culturale’ (artistic and historic public good) which is sacrosanct. According to this ‘dogma’, said public good – be it a church, temple, or ruins – must be ‘fruibile a tutti’ (available and accessible to everyone).

If on one hand this is a very democratic approach, on the other it drains precious resources for the upkeep of a vast artistic heritage which cannot be managed with public money alone.

I think the controversy surrounding the potential two-euro entry ticket to the Pantheon is absurd, but predictable, and by now embedded in the Italian mindset.

It would be a good way to raise revenues to contribute to the maintenance of the site, but Italy lacks an entrepreneurial approach when it comes to exploiting and cashing in on its huge artistic inheritance.

Member comments

  1. It would reduce the number of people visiting and may control the crowds a bit.

    As a tourist and a respectful visitor to any holy site, I make a donation at each where there is a place to do so.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TRANSPORT

OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

In a country as attached to the car as Italy, what would it take to get more people to use greener transport? Silvia Marchetti looks at what’s behind the country’s high levels of car ownership.

OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

Many foreigners I speak to are shocked by the ‘car first’ mentality that rules in Italy, and by Italians’ degree of addiction to any wheeled vehicle. 

There’s practically one car around for each Italian. Between 2010-2020 the population dropped but there were three million more cars on the roads, despite soaring living costs and falling salaries. 

Italy’s rate of car ownership is the second-highest in Europe after tiny Luxembourg. All Italian regions have a lot of cars running but surprisingly, the number of passenger cars which is the highest at EU level can be found in the Alpine regions of Valle D’Aosta and the northern autonomous province of Trento, where particular regional statutes envisage special tax incentives helping locals to buy new cars.

Most Italians just don’t like walking. They aren’t active travelers who’d opt for a bike, and can’t go even 500 meters without a wheeled vehicle, be it a Jeep, motorbike, Vespa or motorino. 

But it’s not really their fault. People in Italy haven’t been educated on eco-friendly modes of transport, simply because infrastructure like bike lanes, pedestrian paths, high-speed trains, efficient trams, subways and buses are rather lacking. And there aren’t many walkable pavements in cities, let alone in old villages. So the car is Italians’ second home. 

READ ALSO: These are the most (and least) eco-friendly towns in Italy

There’s an historical reason for this, too. After the second world war, during the economic boom when Italy finally rose from the ashes of the defeat, owning a cinquecento or maggiolino was a status symbol. In the 1960s my father would squeeze eight friends into his cinquino and drive around all night, sharing the fuel cost. Then the car fad turned into a frenzy, and now it’s an obsession.

Iconic Italian car and motorbike models fuelled a post-war fad – which has become an obsession. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

Whenever I need to go somewhere far from my house I wish I could do the entire trip by public transport and ditch my car, so as to avoid having parking problems too. I remember once when I was at university there was this huge party near the Colosseum, I drove around for an hour looking for a parking spot and eventually I gave up, went back home really frustrated. 

Car sharing also is something totally foreign to Italians. You just need to look around in the morning at rush hour to see that there’s just one person per car, which is totally unsustainable climate-wise.

READ ALSO: Rome ‘among worst cities in Europe’ for road safety, traffic and pollution

Even in areas like Milan, where public transport is more efficient than in the southern regions, people still stick to their car or motorino which just proves how it’s a matter of mentality rather than of transport provision. 

On the other hand, if I want to visit Tuscany or Umbria from my house in Rome’s northern countryside, there aren’t even any direct connections.

My Italian millennial friends refuse to take a bus or tram to the gelateria a few blocks away from their home – the car is the rule, and they don’t care if they risk a fine for double parking, or parking in front of a building entrance. Forget walking, it just isn’t ‘done’.

Italy will soon invest some €600 million in projects aimed at improving bike and pedestrian lanes under initiatives funded by the PNRR, but the mindset of drivers must also modernize for all this money to be really effective. 

OPINION: Why cycling in Rome isn’t as crazy as it sounds

Italy needs an information campaign to raise awareness of environmental and health issues, and this must start inside schools and continue in college. Families also should educate kids to healthier transport modes, and stop buying those ‘micro cars’ when they’re 13 which don’t require a driver’s license. 

I often ask myself what it would take to get Italians – but also other nationalities – out of their cars, or off their noisy motorino with illegal upgrades that make a hell of a noise. Rising oil prices haven’t done the miracle in making car ownership unaffordable. 

Hiking car prices would kill the industry, so the only way is to give tax breaks or incentives to families who keep just one car and manage to share it, or raise taxes if each family member has one. 

Perhaps in a very remote future, interconnected green transport from the doorstep to the destination might be the solution, but at the moment that’s science fiction.

SHOW COMMENTS