Alessandra Grimaldi was born in Rome, but until Monday she had only admired the Colosseum from the outside. Along with her six-year-old son, Leonardo, she was among the first group of 14 visitors to enter the ancient amphitheatre as it reopened its doors.
“In my opinion we are in the most beautiful city in the world,” she said. “And now we have an opportunity to visit places in a different way, there are so few of us here we can enjoy it more. Leonardo will soon start learning about Roman history so doing this tour is a must.”
The Colosseum, completed under Emperor Titus in AD80, was among many of Italy’s famous cultural sites, including the Vatican Museums, to come back to life on Monday after being closed for more than three months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
And many Romans are making the most of having the city’s landmarks all to themselves: gone are the snake-like queues, street pedlars and ticket touts.
“This is the only silver lining during these dark times,” said Francesco Cipolla, 25, who lives near Rome and was also touring the Colosseum for the first time. “It just feels incredible to be inside this gigantic Roman structure. It’s a time to appreciate all we have. The lack of crowds helps you live the experience more. We are going to the Vatican Museums after this.”
Valentina Illuminati and Gennaro Apicella, both actors, are also enjoying being tourists in their city.
“We’re planning to buy a ticket in the late afternoon so we can enjoy the sunset,” said Illuminati , who has been once before. “We’re not working at the moment so are making the most of what Rome has to offer.” Apicella, who will enter the site for the first time, said: “Now is the time to enjoy the city’s beauty.”
Although the crowd-free sites are good news for residents, the Italian government is scrambling to salvage a tourism sector that accounts for 13% of the country’s GDP and creates thousands of jobs. Restrictions on inter-regional travel will be lifted on Wednesday, the same day Italy opens up its borders to travellers from EU states, allowing people to enter the country without quarantine requirements.
Monuments and museums have had to adapt to the post-lockdown era, making sure tourists can visit sites safely while knowing that revenues will be drastically impacted.
Before the pandemic, the Colosseum would hold up to 3,000 people at a time. Now, only groups of 14 can enter, with staff needing to ensure a gap of 15 minutes between each group. Visitors must purchase their tickets online, wear face masks and have their temperature taken before entering. When inside, people must keep at least 1 metre away from each other. Medical staff are on hand in case anyone presents symptoms of the virus.
“We have put so much effort into reopening, so that we could be ready to welcome people and ensure safety, for visitors and staff,” Alfonsina Russo, the director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, told the Guardian. “Today is an important day … we’re reopening a symbol of Rome and Italy. But it is also a symbol of hope.”
Others major Italian sites to have recently opened their doors include the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Pompeii archaeological park. Florence’s Uffizi gallery opens on Tuesday.
Italy usually welcomes about 63 million foreign visitors a year, with their arrival essential for the economy even while historically raising concerns about the impact on ancient sites. It will be some time before the sector fully recovers.
But Russo said she hoped the crisis could become an opportunity. “We have a chance now to create a tourism culture that is more sustainable and aware.”