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The new culture minister is discontinuing the initiative that grants free access to the country’s top museums and monuments once a month.

Italy’s government recently announced the end of a popular initiative granting free entry to the country’s prominent museums and monuments.

Since July 2014, more than 480 cultural sites in Italy, including Pompeii, the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi, and the Colosseum, have welcomed visitors for free on the first Sunday of every month as part of a program known as Domenica al Museo, or Sunday at the Museum. According to The Local Italy, approximately 3.5 million people benefitted from the public initiative in 2017 alone.

But at a press conference in Naples on July 31, Italy’s new culture minister Alberto Bonisoli announced plans to abolish the free Sunday program, calling the decision an attempt to avoid “undervaluing [Italy’s] sites” and stop logistical issues caused by thousands of tourists showing up on free days

The changes, which go into effect this fall, have received a mix of backlash and support.

According to The Art Newspaper, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia welcomed the decision to end the free-entry initiative. In an interview with Italian publication Il Fatto Quotidiano, the museum’s director Cecilie Hollberg said that the free Sunday program had “created security problems” and “overcrowding” for the institution, which is famous for being home to Michelangelo’s David.

In Milan, however, mayor Giuseppe Sala pledged that the city’s museums—including the Cenacolo Vinciano, the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper—will remain free to the public on the first Sunday of each month. 

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While Bonisoli said that the museum directors he consulted were “unanimous” in support of the move to discontinue the free Sunday program, he responded to criticism with a Facebook post stating that Italy’s museum directors will still have the freedom to designate their own free days moving forward.

Bonisoli asserted optimism in finding a “more sustainable” solution to allow the public discounted (or free) access to Italian cultural sites, but he did not provide information about what these changes could possibly entail—or when they would occur.

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