With the most Unesco heritage sites, Italy struggles to revive cultural tourism


  • Europe
  • Monday, 01 Jun 2020

In the Villa Massimo in Rome, artists under isolation present videos, pictures and music over their walls for their neighbours to see. — VILLA MASSIMO/dpa

Italy relies on its cultural heritage and the tourists who come and visit and fall in love with it. Now, though, amid the coronavirus pandemic, theatres, museums and sights are struggling to survive.

“It’s a disaster for many people and institutions, ” says Cecilie Hollberg, director of Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David. No one knows when the Galleria, the Colosseum, the Uffizi, Pompeii and many more will be able to open again.

As countries around the world have imposed lockdowns, there are no visitors from abroad. “I don’t think tourists will come back here so fast, ” says Hollberg. “Nobody wants to risk getting stuck.”

It remains unclear when and how museums will be able to open their doors again. “If the current situation continues, some places will have 90% less revenue, ” says Hollberg. “By the end of April, my museum will have lost US$2.1mil (RM8.82mil).”

Italy was one of the countries worst affected by the novel coronavirus and the government imposed a strict lockdown at the beginning of March. Since then, all museums, theatres and cinemas have also been closed, a measure in place since March 9. More than 21,000 people in Italy have already died of Covid-19.

Museums and other cultural institutions are now trying to encourage people to enjoy their holdings online.

Massimo Osanna, who heads Pompeii’s site, has enabled those interested to take a virtual tour of the excavations.

The city of Rome offers cultural programmes for children near and far, as the Culture Ministry makes films and videos for YouTube and social media.

Leonardo da Vinci is online too – although a visit to a museum or play cannot be replicated by a computer or smartphone. Plus, the cultural institutions are still struggling with the lack of income.

The German art academy Villa Massimo in Rome, whose artists are now also in quarantine, developed a project for the local neighbourhood. Each night, its artists present videos, pictures and music to those close by who are invited to look out of their window and enjoy the show. “Neighbours write to us daily to thank us, and record what we do, ” says Villa Massimo’s spokeswoman Allegra Giorgolo.

In Florence’s Galleria, Hollberg is also seeing if social media can help. The museum receives 1.7 million visitors in a normal year, making it one of the country’s biggest attractions. For smaller, lesser-known museums, the prospects are particularly bleak, she says.

Some may never recover.

“Many are in a precarious situation anyway, and can barely pay their water and electricity bills even at the best of times as they don’t have as many visitors. It will be especially hard for them to get back on their feet.”

The government might decide to temporarily “shut down” some institutions too, she says, as maintaining the buildings and art works is so expensive.

For now, Michelangelo’s David is causing quite a stir amid the pandemic as the perfectly-muscled David is photographed beside a doctored image of the statue, fatter after life under lockdown. These days, such little things don’t bother Hollberg at all. – dpa

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