The lines to enter the Pantheon, one of Rome’s most famous ancient sites, were typical in high season, snaking past the obelisk-topped fountain in the middle of the square to the cafes at the back.
But they were especially slow on Monday, the first day that the Italian Ministry of Culture introduced an entrance ticket, priced at 5 euros, to enter the 2000-year-old. monument.
Hotly debated for years, the ticket plan was announced in March by the culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, who said paying a small fee to help run the most popular cultural venue in Italy – with around nine million visitors a year – “was an objective. based on common sense.”
The equivalent of about $5.50 might be a small price to pay to see one of the world’s most iconic monuments – where the painter Raphael is buried – but the new fee has been accompanied by stumbles.
“Until now, the Pantheon could be visited by anyone, you just had to line up,” said Isabella Ruggiero, the president of AGTA, one of the main national associations representing official tourist guides.
Tourists were confused by the new rules: They can either buy a ticket online, a process that is anything but simple, or wait in line under the hot summer sun outside the Pantheon.
Some people booked €10 audio tours official Pantheon website only to realize too late that their order did not include the entry ticket, which can be purchased from someone else Website of the Ministry of Culture or at the monument itself. Many of the visitors are from outside Italy, but some foreign credit cards have been rejected on the online platform.
And then there is the biggest concern: The possible emergence of a ticket black market, as happened at the Colosseum, another extremely popular tourist site. Critics say tour operators are grabbing tickets in bulk, making it difficult for tourists to buy them at the regular price.
Disorganization is common in Rome “when it comes to taxis, parking, garbage disposal, public transport,” and disorganization creates opportunities for illegality, said Massimiliano Tonelli, the editorial director of Artribune, an arts magazine. He added that “taking advantage of chaos is a very Italian story.”
Tour guides and other tourism operators describe a crisis situation at the Colosseum, whose visitors numbered 7.6 million a year before the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020. Officially, entrance tickets are priced at €18, but in fact, they are a rare commodity that can. cost two or even three times as much when purchased through secondary sellers.
Now, the introduction of an entry ticket for the Pantheon has raised concerns that they too will be hard to find, “like the Colosseum”, Ms Ruggiero said.
Tickets to visit the Colosseum are mostly sold out at the official website until the beginning of August, when it is still possible to buy a few hundred of the more than 20,000 tickets available every day. Meanwhile, various agencies and tour operators offer considerably more expensive guided tours at all hours of the day.
Critics, among them tour guides, have accused these operators of ripping off hundreds, even thousands, of tickets when they are sold using robots or other forms of technology. Scalping tickets is illegal in Italy, so the Colosseum tickets are being resold as package tours that can be purchased online or directly at the site, where on a recent sunny morning at least a dozen reputed tour operators were on the tourist beat.
“Tickets, ma’am? I have a tour starting soon,” came one pitch. “The Colosseum is sold out – skip the line with a tour,” came another.
The situation has worsened this year, tourism operators say, as after three years of pandemic restrictions, travelers are flocking to Europe in record numbers.
“The situation at the Colosseum, a public monument, is indecent,” said Ms. Ruggiero, who said the forced tours amounted to “blackmail.”
Alfonsina Russo, the director of the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum, said that last year, she filed a complaint about the ticketing problem with the police, and that an investigation is being conducted to identify operators abusing the system. She said she hopes the investigation will lead to concrete measures to address the problem.
In May, she reopened an on-site ticket office that had been closed during the pandemic to allow last-minute visitors to buy tickets “to give everyone who wants to visit the Colosseum the opportunity to do so,” she said. But the lines can be long.
CoopCulture, the company that has managed the Coliseum tickets for more than two decades, said it had set up “sophisticated systems to counter these phenomena of mass purchases, blocking a very high number of accesses to the sales platform and also suspending contracts with the tour. operators.” If tickets were sold at “high prices” on the Coliseum grounds, it was not the company’s fault, it said.
Based on the scarcity of tickets, critics were doubtful that these sophisticated systems worked.
“Let’s see if they can improve the service in these final months,” Ms. Russo said, referring to CoopCulture losing a bid this year to renew its franchise. It appeals the decision. But the new contract gives the Coliseum greater oversight of ticket sales, Ms. Russo said, “a real turning point.”
The Pantheon could be the next test, using a new ticketing platform that the Ministry of Culture expects to extend to other state museums and monuments in the coming months. (Some visitors to the Pantheon wondered if it might have been wiser to test the platform on a less popular site.)
About a third of the ticket-generated funds will go to the Catholic Church, which will use it for charitable causes. The Ministry of Culture will use the rest for the maintenance of the Pantheon as well as for the renovation of areas at the back of the monument, including a lapidary housing stone artifacts.
Massimo Osanna, the director of Italy’s state museums, said the Culture Ministry’s new website was designed to address ticketing concerns, which he acknowledged was a problem. The ministry, he said, was working with other institutions, including law enforcement agencies, to try to counter the issue.
Gabriella Musto, the director of the Pantheon, said the ministry and the monument are working to ensure that tickets remain accessible to all.
Nowadays, however, tourists at the Pantheon are dealing with real problems rather than anticipated ones.
Will Taylor, an environmental scientist from Brisbane, Australia, said Thursday that the audio tour tickets were “a bit misleading,” although he acknowledged that once he was inside the monument, the experience was “amazing.”