On Int'l Museum Day, Italy's cultural sites begin cautious reopening

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As International Museum Day 2020 was being marked worldwide on Monday, Italy started to gradually reopen some of its cultural sites after over two months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ahead of lifting the restrictions imposed since March 10, strict safety protocols were issued by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism in an effort to ensure the best possible protection to visitors and staff.

All museums, art galleries and archaeological sites have been asked to enforce social distancing, sell tickets online only and measure the temperature of visitors and employees, among other rules.

Day of study online 

Themed "Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion," this year's International Museum Day celebrated "the diversity of perspectives that make up the communities and personnel of museums," the International Council of Museums (ICOM) behind the event stated.

Italy's Culture Ministry organized a Day of Study online to avoid bringing people together, with experts debating five topics, including "Stereotypes and prejudices in representation and interpretation," "Cultural poverty and socio-economic malaise" and "Gender and sexual diversity."

Across the country, some museums and archaeological sites are ready to reopen, others are almost ready, and yet others are still at work on protocols, hoping to be ready later in May or in early June.

Among those that welcomed visitors on Monday was the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (GNAM) in the Italian capital.

"Reopening with a new exhibition in our central hall, and on the date marking Int'l Museums Day ... this is the best way to restart," the GNAM direction stated.

Located in northern Rome, the gallery hosts the country's most complete collection of Italian and foreign artworks from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, altogether some 20,000 pieces.

Still in the capital, the Colosseum Archaeological Park remained closed, preparing for a possible reopening on May 28. In 2019, it was Italy's most visited cultural site with over 7.5 million tourists, according to the official top-30 ranking published by the Culture Ministry in January.

"Many economic sectors have stopped during the lockdown, so we are still waiting for some of the supplies needed to implement protocols, such as temperature-measuring scanners," the Archaeological Park's press office told Xinhua.

Once reopened, the Colosseum Park will allow a maximum of 600 people per day, although it hosts an average 3,000 visitors simultaneously in "normal" times.

In northern Turin, the Egyptian Museum -- Italy's sixth most visited museum and the world's second-largest ancient Egyptian collection after that of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo -- also keep its doors closed for now.

"Somber" restart

The Uffizi Galleries in Florence was almost "ready for reopening" but no official date has been set, according to director Eike Schmidt.

The Uffizi was the second most visited museum in Italy last year, with 4.39 million tourists. "We have been working for the restart from day one of lockdown, and we now have basically administrative issues only to solve," Schmidt told Xinhua.

The museum plans to reopen with a strict policy of quotas, allowing a maximum of 450 visitors at any one time instead of the usual 900.

For Emanuela Daffra, director of the Region of Lombardy Museums, which comprises 12 state museums -- the next phase may give a chance to build a different relationship with visitors.

"In the short term, we could regain a more confidential approach to our visitors, compared to the one we usually have with tourists spending their holidays around Italy and visiting us," she told Xinhua.

As the number of visitors is expected to decrease -- with much fewer coming from abroad and from outside Lombardy region -- they could be more "pampered," she said.

In the medium term, the director said, foreign tourists would instead play a crucial role. 

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