The Vatican Museums are under fire for allegedly not enforcing social-distancing rules since reopening to the public this month.
Getty photographers documented a near-empty museum early in February, with just a handful of visitors in each galley. Two weeks later, it appeared to be a very different story, with reports of overcrowding and disregard for health protocols, according to the Italian newspaper .
“It was hellish,” wrote one Trip Advisor reviewer. “[There was an] absolute lack of respect for safety rules.” Another described a “museum of criminal morons in the midst of a pandemic.”
“I was in the museum myself last Saturday guiding some visitors through the galleries and the situation was by no means so dramatic,” the museums’ director, Barbara Jatta, said to ANSA.
“There were some ridiculous complaints by some guides, who first complained about the closure and then, after 88 days of forced closure, complained about reopening.”
The Vatican Museums were closed from March 9 to May 31, and again from November 6 until January 31. Jatta had previously told the state news agency that the February 1 reopening was a “day of celebration and happiness.”
But photographs taken at the institution on February 13 show tightly packed galleries, despite the institution’s prescribed safety guidelines—which include pre-reserved timed tickets, mandatory temperature checks and face masks, and a mandate to “avoid gatherings” and “maintain an interpersonal distance of one meter.”
“There was no distancing, no organization—it was pure madness,” Vincenzo Spina, a tour guide, wrote in an open letter to museum management on Facebook. “It felt like a subway platform at rush hour.”
He said that at one point, he was stuck in the Hall of Constantine, the first of the museums’ four Raphael rooms, and was unable to move in either direction for 15 minutes.
“Obviously there might have been a mistake in determining how many people would have been in the main rooms at a given time,” Isabella Ruggiero, president of the association for accredited tour guides, told the Religious News Service.
She blamed tour guides for spending too much time with artworks, and insisted that “the situation was grossly exaggerated.”
This is not the first time visitors have raised concerns about overcrowding at the Vatican.
“There was no temperature taken, people did not bother to obey the rules of social distancing and it was not enforced,” one Trip Advisor reviewer wrote of a visit in September. “If you want to be safe DO NOT VISIT HERE.”