Photo essay: Italy reopens museums and churches

May 21, 2020, 7:00 AM UTC
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TOPSHOT - Nuns visit St. Peter's Basilica as it reopens on May 18, 2020 in The Vatican during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. - Saint Peter's Basilica throws its doors open to visitors on May 18, 2020, marking a relative return to normality at the Vatican and beyond in Italy, where most business activity is set to resume. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP) (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)
Vincenzo Pinto—AFP/Getty Images

On a side street around the corner from the Pantheon in Rome’s centro storico, locals again this week spotted a familiar sight: a crowd queuing to get into the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Even by Roman standards, this is not any old church. It holds the Caravaggio masterpiece The Calling of Matthew—a must-see for any visitor to the Eternal City.

For 10 long weeks, art lovers have been living in a kind of purgatory: a city full of masterpieces—from Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel to Bernini’s sculpture Apollo and Daphne to Marcel Duchamp’s urinal—all off-limits to the public. The Italian government finally eased stay-at-home measures this week, permitting museums to reopen. Churches, another rich source of art treasures (Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper is housed in a convent in Milan), opened their doors on the same day as museums, and Italians, a few at a time, could reacquaint themselves with the treasures of the past.

But things aren’t fully back to normal. Most museums only accept visitors who book in advance. And some must-see landmarks, including Florence’s Duomo, hand out sensors, insisting ticket-holders fasten them to their clothing. To enforce strict social distancing rules, the sensor buzzes whenever it comes within a few feet of another sensor.

Other safety measures are strictly enforced: Masks are obligatory, and at many museum entrances, visitors are required to apply hand sanitizer.

Outside the museums, it still looks like a different Italy: a country without tourists. Rome’s Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain, usually mobbed in early May with visitors speaking all kinds of languages, are nearly vacant. It makes for an intimate—if not spooky—scene.

Scroll below to explore scenes from Italy this week.

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Francesco Pantaleo was the first visitor to enter the Capitoline Museums at its reopening. Only 11 people made the mandatory reservation to visit it on the first day of reopening, May 19.
Marco Di Lauro—Getty Images
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A woman walks in front of the Pantheon in Rome on May 20.
Matteo Trevisan—NurPhoto/Getty Images
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A visitor views the newly reopened Capitoline Museums on May 19 in Rome.
Alessandra Benedetti—Corbis/Getty Images
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A visitor views a room at the Galleria Borghese museum in Rome on May 19.
Tiziana Fabi—AFP/Getty Images
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A museum employee wearing a face mask stands in the newly reopened Galleria Borghese on May 19 in Rome.
Alessandra Benedetti—Corbis via Getty Images
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A nun walks past St. Peter’s Basilica on May 20.
Andreas Solaro—AFP/Getty Images
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The Imperial Forums are seen from one of the balconies of the Capitoline Museums on the first day of opening after more than two months of lockdown in Rome.
Marco Di Lauro—Getty Images
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People sit by the Trevi Fountain, usually overflowing with tourists, in Rome on May 20.
Matteo Trevisan—NurPhoto via Getty Images
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A man photographs the Spanish Steps in Rome on May 20.
Matteo Trevisan—NurPhoto via Getty Images
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A woman attends Mass at the Cappella Feriale of the Duomo di Milano on May 20.
MIGUEL MEDINA—AFP via Getty Images
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Codogno resident and 74-year-old pensioner Giancarlo Barcellesi poses on his bicycle outside the San Biagio and Santa Maria Immacolata church on May 20 in Codogno, southeast of Milan.
MIGUEL MEDINA—AFP via Getty Images
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A staff member of the still closed Museum of Palazzo Madama in the historical porch on May 19 in Turin.
Giorgio Perottino—Getty Images
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Portofino, a town renowned for its beauty, is devoid of tourists who normally crowd the city and make a strong contribution to the economy.
Fabrizio Di Nucci—NurPhoto via Getty Images
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An employee checks the temperature of a person at the entrance to the Pio Monte della Misericordia museum in Naples.
Marco Cantile—LightRocket via Getty Images
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A mother reads a book sitting on the waterfront near Egg Castle, Castel dell’Ovo, in Naples on May 19.
Salvatore Laporta—KONTROLAB/LightRocket/Getty Images