In the face of the ever-increasing problem of what to do about the queues of people waiting to enter the Vatican Museums, the museums administration have devised a new mechanism for entry, accompanied by price increases, which in some cases reach almost 300 per cent.

From the beginning of January 2007, there will be access at 8.00 and 9.00, but only to groups booked by or through tour agencies registered at Italian chambers of commerce. These agencies will be required to deposit 6,000 with the museums authorities to be allowed the privilege of handling such bookings, which will have to be made at least 30 days before the desired date of access. Most foreign tour agencies, not being registered in the required way, will be excluded from the scheme, as will even Romes own authorized guides, who at the moment have the privilege of a separate queue, which allows them to take their clients into the museums early without joining the main queue.

Those visitors wishing to enter the museums without a tour agency as intermediary will have access from 10.00 onwards.

The price of the ticket will rise to 13 from the present 12, with an extra 2 being charged as booking fee, effectively taking the cost of the ticket for those coming via tour agencies to 15.

It is hard to see how this new mechanism will benefit the general public, particularly in winter months, when last access is at 12.20, but certainly registered tour agencies will be in a very strong position to exploit the insatiable demand for entry.

The cost of private visits, which take place after closing time, is also rising, in some instances very sharply. For groups of up to 30 people, the cost will be 2,500 for a two hour visit, plus a 15 ticket for each member of the party (as against the present 1,800 plus 12), while, for instance, for very large groups (several hundred) the price goes from the present 7,000 to 20,000 (plus the individual tickets).