Feature: Italy's museums start welcoming visitors again after long COVID-19 closure

ROME, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- After difficult months of closure due to tight COVID-19 restrictions, Italian museums started to welcome visitors again this week.

The reopening started from Monday and will, for now, involve only museums and archaeological sites in the "yellow" regions.

The yellow zones currently include central Tuscany and Molise, northern Trento Autonomous Province, and southern Campania and Basilicata.

Museums with open-air sections and archaeological parks seem to be favored in this phase.

In Tuscany, the prominent Uffizi Gallery museum in Florence opened on Tuesday its Boboli garden, which offers a collection of some 300 statues of classical, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

"The garden welcomes visitors again after two and a half months, and this is the first leg of our reopening program," Uffizi director Eike Schmidt said.

"Palazzo Pitti will open on Wednesday, while Thursday will be the turn of the (Uffizi) galleries and halls," Schmidt added.

At the galleries, beside the famous Florentine Renaissance collection of paintings, visitors would be able to enjoy (up to Jan. 22) Joseph Wright of Derby's masterpiece "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump" that was on loan from the National Gallery, London.

Another ongoing exhibition at the Uffizi Gallery was the "Empresses, Matrons, Freedwomen: faces and secrets of Roman women" -- an archaeological journey into the life of Roman women in the first two centuries of the Empire.

Anti-COVID-19 measures will remain strict, Schmidt stressed in an interview with a state-run RAI radio channel on Tuesday. "Body temperature scanners and hand sanitizers will be at the entrance, while face masks and social distancing will always be mandatory inside," he said.

Among the first to reopen was the National Archaeological Museum (MANN) in southern Naples city, which on Monday welcomed some 150 visitors.

Its extensive collections of Greek and Roman antiquities include Roman pieces from the nearby ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried under volcanic ashes in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

In the north of Naples, the Royal Palace of Caserta also reopened on Monday, welcoming the first 343 visitors in months, according to local media.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace has rigid anti-contagion measures in place, including an entry limit of 50 visitors every 15 minutes maximum.

Meanwhile, in the Campania region -- one of the richest in terms of artistic attractions in Italy -- the Archaeological Site of Pompeii, the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum and the Archaeological Museum of Stabiae were also gradually reopening this week.

Starting from Monday, tourists at the huge Pompeii site were allowed to visit the Amphitheatre and the Large "Palaestra" among other areas, and to enjoy the exhibition "Venustas: Grace and Beauty at Pompeii".

In order to comply with the anti-COVID measures, visitors in Pompeii will have to follow the authorized path through a specific support app for mobile devices.

Similar provisions were put in place at Herculaneum, where visitors will be allowed to enter in limited groups every 30 minutes. Both Pompeii and Herculaneum will remain closed during weekends for now.

"During the closure, we developed methods to quickly shift from a virtual interaction (with the public) to a real one, according to the needs," said Francesco Sirano, director of the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum, in a statement.

"Now, the same methods will hopefully allow us to enhance the best elements from both these models for dealing with visitors."

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