Italy approves Holocaust museum for Rome after 20-year wait

Italy's government has approved funding for a long-awaited Holocaust museum in Rome, where nearly 2,000 Jewish people were rounded up during World War II and sent to concentration camps.

Italy approves Holocaust museum for Rome after 20-year wait
The former Jewish ghetto on the banks of the Tiber in central Rome. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP)

A national museum in the capital would “contribute to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive,” read a statement from the government after ministers agreed to fund the project late on Thursday.

The announcement came on the heels of an official visit to Rome last week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said 10 million euros had been allocated to begin construction of the museum, a long-delayed project first proposed in the 1990s.

Ruth Dureghello, head of Rome’s Jewish community, welcomed the news but called for “definite timeframes and choices that can be made quickly to guarantee the capital of Italy a museum like all the great European capitals”.

READ ALSO: Stumble stones: How Rome’s smallest monuments honour Holocaust victims

The architect in charge of the project, Luca Zevi, told AFP the museum should be completed in three years.

Symbolically, the museum will be built on land adjacent to the park of Villa Torlonia, the residence of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who was in power from 1922 to 1943.

Mussolini introduced racial laws in 1938 that began stripping civil rights from Jews in Italy and culminating in their deportation. 

On October 16, 1943, German troops supported by Italian Fascist officials raided Rome’s ancient Ghetto, rounding up and deporting about 1,000 Jewish people.

READ ALSO: Four places to remember the Holocaust in Italy

Subsequent roundups captured another 800 people, and nearly all were killed in the concentration camp of Auschwitz.

The Holocaust saw the genocide of six million European Jews between 1939 and 1945 by the Nazis and their supporters.

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Rome’s Pantheon to start charging visitors for entry

The Pantheon, one of Rome's oldest and most iconic monuments, will soon start charging visitors for entry – a move which drew mixed reactions from tourists on Thursday.

Rome's Pantheon to start charging visitors for entry

The ticket price has yet to be confirmed but “is not to not exceed five euros”, Italy’s culture ministry announced, while minors and Rome residents will be exempt.

The change was “based on common sense”, Italy’s Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said, and the price will be “modest” for Italy’s most visited cultural site.

The Pantheon is currently free to enter – though you need to reserve a slot at busy times, and long queues are not unusual.

There was no indication of a timeframe for bringing in the entry fee.

The 2,000-year-old building is currently a consecrated church and part of the proceeds from ticket sales will go towards the diocese of Rome.

Most of the money – 70 percent – will go to the culture ministry, which will bear the costs of cleaning and maintenance.

READ ALSO: Why is Italy’s plan to charge for entry to the Pantheon so controversial?

Among the tourists visiting the Pantheon on Thursday, reaction to the news was mixed.

“It makes sense. Conservation requires money, and it doesn’t shock me to make tourists contribute,” said Gustavo Rojas, a 37-year-old from Chile.

Alessandra Mezzasalma, a 46-year-old Italian tour guide, however, told AFP it was “shameful”.

“The Pantheon, and historical monuments in general, are collective assets and they should remain open to everyone. Culture must be as inclusive as possible,” she said.

“If I had to pay, we wouldn’t have gone in,” said French tourist Clara Dupond, 21.

The other major churches in Rome, including St Peter’s Basilica, are free to visit, but museums and monuments such as the Colosseum are ticketed.

READ ALSO: ‘Americans can pay’: Italian minister says famous sites should hike entry fees

One of the best-preserved relics of ancient Rome, the Pantheon is famed for its extraordinary dome, which measures 43 metres (140 feet) in diameter and includes a circular opening through which light and occasionally rain fall.

It was built as a temple in the first century BC before being completely rebuilt under Emperor Hadrian at the start of the second century AD.

After falling into neglect, the building was given a new life after being consecrated as a church in the seventh century under Pope Boniface IV.