Uffizi aims to slash tourist crowds, stop ticket scalpers
By FRANCES D'EMILIO
ROME (AP) - The Uffizi Galleries have turned to algorithm experts in hopes of slashing crowds bunching up in front of the likes of masterpieces by Leonardo and Botticelli and drastically reducing the lines that form outside Italy's most-visited art museum.
It's also intent on combatting another persistent problem, ticket scalpers.
Director Eike Schmidt told foreign correspondents in Rome on Wednesday that Uffizi officials have been meeting with the government office that protects citizen privacy on devising ways that purchasers' ID photos could be used to thwart scalpers looking to resell tickets at exorbitant prices.
On peak days, more than 10,000 visitors stroll through the Uffizi, a 16th-century complex which in first centuries as a museum would draw about five visitors a day, Schmidt said. "Now we have tourism of the masses," with visitors numbering, on average, 6,000-7,000 a day.
He said the museum is working with an Italian university to study how to better manage crowds. The Uffizi Galleries have already started a system which staggers entry times, with tickets indicating to the minute when visitors can enter. This being Italy, where promptness generally isn't prized, a little leeway is built in. Visitors can enter up to 15 minutes beyond their assigned time.
"We're not Switzerland," joked Schmidt.
He's also intent on slashing entrance wait times to as little as five minutes, noting that a recent holiday saw lines of more than four hours. Schmidt noted the outdoors crowding also raises terrorism concerns.
Unfortunately, he said, it's hard to control how long visitors linger to marvel at masterpieces, and fire codes allow no more than 900 visitors in the museum at one time.
He's heartened by a trend of smaller group tours, as opposed to busloads of 30 or even 50 people who clump around one painting at a time, to the exasperation of other visitors.
"We know that large groups tend to clog the rooms," Schmidt said.
To tamp down the noise level, groups of more than eight are required to use headphones so that the Uffizi doesn't become a cacophony of competing tour guides trying to outshout each other, often in different languages.
A German, Schmidt is perhaps the most prominent in a small cadre of maverick foreigners who were hired for the first time to head Italian state museums. Since he took the Uffizi helm in 2015, Schmidt has focused on redesigning its rooms to make visitor flow more pleasant and efficient, and devoted rooms to only one painter at a time, such as Leonardo.
He has also opened spaces in the sprawling galleries that have been closed for decades. The newest, to open in a few months, is the 16th century Geographic Maps room. That's where Italian director Dario Argento filmed his 1996 work "The Stendhal Syndrome," about the legendary and mysterious malady that Florence's overwhelming wealth of artistic masterpieces causes for some visitors.
Those feeling the weight of so much beauty can look forward to some sweet consolation.
Schmidt, whose bailiwick includes the Boboli Gardens, a Florence attraction that now draws more than 1 million visitors annually, says a gelateria - or ice cream store - should open next summer.
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