MILAN (AP) -- COVID-19 restrictions have brought a novelty to art lovers: The possibility of seeing Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" without waiting in line, and with same-day tickets possible.
Access to the masterpiece housed inside the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie resumed Tuesday after the second closure of the pandemic, starting in November and the fall virus resurgence. The famed mural was also closed to the public from Feb. 26-June 9, with the double closures resulting in an 80% drop in visitors last year from 2019's record 445,728 Leonardo admirers.
This year remains uncertain, due both to virus variants and the slower-than-anticipated rollout of vaccinations. Museum officials are anticipating a drop of 60% in visitors, with an accompanying decrease in revenues.
Access is restricted in the first week to just eight viewers every 15 minutes, going up to 12 starting next week. While in the past demand also among foreign visitors meant that reservations were necessary weeks or even months in advance, Emma Daffra, director of Lombardy's state museums, said reservations are now opening each week with same-day tickets possible at the museum.
"The dramatic COVID emergency had the effect of lowering the legendary wait time, and for the public this is a real opportunity," Daffra said. "For years we have said that we need to make museums a point of reference for the locals and now this has become an unavoidable goal."
For the moment, residents of Lombardy are the main beneficiaries. Italy's virus restrictions currently ban travel between regions, except for work, health or other necessities.
"I feel it's an experience of new beginnings,'' said Roberto Ponti, who finally got to see the "Last Supper" after months of delay.
"Italy is full of art, full of beauty, and to be able to get close to that beauty means reclaiming life as a whole," he said. "It means taking a step toward a life that may be different socially, but that can go on."