Vatican Museums Close As Covid-19 Tests European Museums

The Vatican museums are closing as the second wave of the pandemic is testing the museums in Europe.

Nov 4, 2020By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
Empty corridor in the Vatican Museums, via Flickr; The Laocoön complex, 40-30 BC, Vatican Museums.

On Wednesday morning, the Holy See Press Office announced that the Vatican Museums will be closed for the public from November 5 to, at least, December 3. The decision came soon after the Italian government announced the closure of museums, as part of its anti-Covid-19 strategy. At the same time, museums in the rest of Europe are struggling as governments announce new restrictions.

More specifically, museums in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other European countries are closing as the continent faces the second wave of the pandemic.

Vatican Museums Close Again

Empty corridor in the Vatican Museums, via Flickr.

Italy was one of the countries hardest hit by the first wave of the pandemic and the Vatican was also affected. After a long lockdown that started on March 9, the Vatican Museums reopened on June 3.

Now the city-state has announced that it is closing the doors of its museums for at least a month. Furthermore, its announcement said that the Museum of the Pontifical Villas and the Vatican Excavations Office will also be closed.

This came as a result of the Italian government’s new measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. Italian museums will also be closing with consequences that will have a profound effect on the sector.

The Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo, 1536-1541, Vatican Museums.

The Vatican closure will affect some of the world’s most famous and visited sites. Worth noting is that the Vatican museums consist of 54 galleries or sale. These received 6 million visitors in 2019 making the Vatican Museums the third largest museum in the world.

Amongst the many highlights of the museum are, of course, the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s famous paintings, the Raphael Rooms with Raphael’s The School of Athens, the Apollo Belvedere, as well as the Laocoon, often considered the apogee of ancient Greek art.

For now, the best alternative to visiting the Vatican physically is a visit to its museums through one of its virtual tours. Besides, the Vatican Museums are currently running the online project “Snapshots for Creation”. The initiative aims to maintain a relationship with the public. It involves publishing a picture from the Vatican Gardens every Sunday.

Museum In Europe Are Closing

The Louvre, via Flickr.

The second wave of the pandemic is finding European institutions in a very difficult position. Having already suffered the uncertainty and financial losses of the first wave, most museums in Europe reopened for the summer. Tourism remained low but still many anticipated that the sector could come back in the second half of the year.

Even though museums took measures to ensure the safety of their visitors, European institutions remained open and mostly empty. The reluctance of the public to visit museums was already undoubtedly leading the sector to a deeper crisis. Now as the second wave hits, the situation is not getting better.

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English museums are closed, as are museums in Wales and Northern Ireland. A study in June had shown that the vast majority of staff in UK museums were afraid of losing their jobs.

In France, museums are also closed, and the Louvre has announced that it will not reopen until at least December 1. The Netherlands, home to the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and other world-famous attractions is in the same position. Belgium, which is facing one of the worst outbreaks, has taken measures including the closure of the country’s museums.

A special case is Germany. Recently, the German government announced new stricter measures including a ban on leisure activities. Things became interesting as the German government did not specifically name museums amongst the institutions closing.

As a result, museums were not sure how they had to act and the final decision was basically left to the regional government.

Some states have already included museums in their list of institutions to close. One of them is the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. As a response, more than 40 museum directors have signed an open letter urging regional governments to let museums stay open.

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By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA) where he is currently working on his PhD.