VATICAN CITY – As coronavirus restrictions eased slightly in most parts of Italy Feb. 1, the Vatican Museums reopened to the public after a three-month closure.
Mandatory online booking and several safety measures have been put in place, such as mandatory temperature checks, the use of face masks and strictly scheduled and staggered entry times to ensure social distancing.
Guided tours and group visits will be limited to a maximum of 20 people, who will need to maintain at least three feet of distance from each other and use audio guide devices provided at the museums.
Guided tours also will be available, with the same restrictions, for the Vatican Gardens and the Via Triumphalis necropolis. The excavations at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, however, remain suspended.
Something new on offer is an exclusive guided tour of some areas that are normally closed to the public, according to the museums' website.
The "Hidden Vatican Museums" tour, which must be prebooked online for a maximum of 10 people per group, includes: visiting the Niccoline Chapel with its frescoes by Fra Angelico; the Cabinet of Masks, which features floor mosaics from Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli; and the famous double helix staircase built by Donato Bramante in 1505. Its copy, built in 1932, is what visitors use to exit the museums.
The museum and gardens of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo will be open only on Saturdays, beginning Feb. 6.
For those unable to travel to Rome, the museums' collections can be seen on their Instagram account at instagram.com/vaticanmuseums/ and with their online "tours" at museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/tour-virtuali-elenco.html
A regional mandate for Lazio, which includes Rome, allowed an easing Feb. 1 of some restrictions and the reopening of public museums from Monday to Friday; privately owned art galleries were allowed to open on the weekend.
The Vatican Museums will be open Monday through Saturday, in order to accommodate families and students, and the entry fee has been reduced with no presale fees for the mandatory online bookings.
The museums said the last time they were forced to close their doors to the public for an extended period of time was for 14 months starting in the summer of 1943 when the Allies began bombing Rome under German occupation during World War II.