Coronavirus hits Rome culture and sport

After the blow to Rome's tourism and hospitality sectors, now it is the turn of culture and sport to take a hit.

The international media spotlight was always going to be on Italy on 5 March, regardless of the country's Coronavirus crisis, which still affects mainly the northern regions.

Today, 5 March, is a glorious day for Italian culture, with the opening of the greatest Raphael exhibition the world has ever known.

Hosted by the city's Scuderie del Quirinale, the 'unprecedented' show has seen 77,000 pre-sale tickets purchased in advance of the opening day.

A sizeable proportion of these tickets have been reserved by Raphael fans from around the world. Many of these people have built their holiday plans in Rome, and elsewhere in Italy, based around the Raphael show which, unfortunately, opens on a most inauspicious day.

School closure

Its opening coincides with an order by the Italian government closing all schools and universities for the next 10 days; it also follows official guidelines urging people to maintain a one-metre distance between each other due to Coronavirus concerns.

The exhibition's opening day, and subsequent days, will go ahead as scheduled, however the museum says that it will be controlling the flow of crowds into each room. It has also strongly advised people to book in advance and not to show up at the door minus a ticket.

That Rome's tourism sector has been hit, and hit hard, everybody knows by now. It is a sad, devastating fact. It is worth reminding people however that Rome, and indeed Italy in general, remains open to tourists, open to all, and the Coronavirus has been limited largely to two northern regions of the country.

Outside the Colossseum on 4 March. Photo Wanted in Rome.

On the morning of 4 March, just after 09.00, Wanted in Rome paid a visit to the Colosseum, which attracts around 7 million visitors a year.

At the row of ticket booths, where people collect pre-booked tickets, there was not the usual lengthy queue of people stretching back towards Via dei Fori Imperiali. In fact there were no people at all.

It was possible to walk straight into the Colosseum itself with nobody in front and nobody behind. Inside the vast amphitheatre there was - at a rough guess - about 100 or 150 people. Some of these were part of small tour groups but most tourists were exploring on their own.

Roman Forum

Later, moving to the neighbouring Roman Forum, which can be entered using the same ticket for the Colosseum, there was virtually nobody. Aside from ground staff and security guards, you could count the visitors on two hands. A small tour group, comprising about a dozen tourists, was arriving when we left, just before 10.00.

The truth is that Rome tourism is now in freefall. Tour operators and tour guides recently staged a protest in Rome, in the face an uncertain future as they are inundated with cancellations due to Coronavirus fears, compounded by international travel warnings and reduced flights to Italy.

Business as usual

Sure it is "business as usual" for the city's tourism and hospitality sectors - crucial to Rome's economy - but sadly the business just isn't there. Many tourists who cancel or (reluctantly) change their plans say they do so not because of any concern over Coronavirus but due to fears of the possibility of mandatory self-isolation when they return home. Nobody is happy about this situation, least of all Rome.

Now it is the turn of the city's cultural and sporting sectors to take a hit. Another much-anticipated exhibition, dedicated to the late, great Roman actor Alberto Sordi on the centenary of his birth, was due to open this weekend but has now been postponed to June.

Likewise the annual Ostia half marathon, scheduled this Sunday, has been cancelled, in addition to the Rome Marathon, which had been scheduled on 29 March. The Six Nations rugby clash between Italy and England, due to be played in Rome next weekend, has been postponed indefinitely.

On a national level, the Serie A football games are to be played behind closed doors. The Venice Architecture Biennale and the Salone del Mobile in Milan - two major international events - have both been postponed.

A string of other events in the capital, from festivals to exhibitions, have been postponed by the city's galleries and cultural academies.

Now, on the 500th anniversary of his death, it is dear old Raphael who provides Rome with a glimmer of hope and joyful distraction in these uncertain times.

Cover photo Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock.com

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Coronavirus hits Rome culture and sport

Via Ventiquattro Maggio, 16, 00186 Roma RM, Italy