Ancient Roman Pantheon to start charging entry fee in 2018

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ROME (Reuters) - Visitors to Rome’s Pantheon, one of the ancient world’s best preserved monuments, will have to pay an entry fee from next May unless they are going there to pray, Italy’s culture and tourism ministry said on Monday.

Now a church, the vast cylindrical former temple whose undamaged exterior wall supports a 43.3 metre-high (142 ft) dome with a circular skylight at its summit, drew 7.4 million visitors last year.

The new 2 euros ($2.36) per person charge is part of a drive to squeeze more profit from Italy’s cultural assets, and the ministry said tourist visits would also be suspended during religious services.

Part of the ticket revenue will be spent on maintaining the site, where Roman statesman Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa commissioned a temple in honor of Emperor Augustus in around 27 B.C.

The Pantheon’s current form and six-metre thick walls date from the early part of the reign of Emperor Hadrian, who came to power in A.D. 117. The building survived the Barbarian attacks on Rome and was transformed into a Christian church in 609.

Among those buried in there are the Renaissance artist Raphael and two Italian kings.

Caring for art and architecture dating back thousands of years has long posed a challenge for a country that is responsible for more UNESCO world heritage sites than any other and has long-standing problems of bureaucracy and low public funding.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by John Stonestreet