Italy Faces Task of Securing Tourist Sites

Italy faces a particular problem when trying to provide anti-terrorist security. Apart from the Coliseum, the Vatican and the Tower of Pisa, the country has thousands of other museums and tourist sites. Museum directors in places like Venice and Florence are demanding metal detectors, banning bags and backpacks and trying to install closed circuit TV, but they are frustrated by lack of money and the sheer numbers of tourists they are trying to protect. Venice alone gets 15 million visitors every year.

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To Italy now, where the Culture Ministry is taking steps to protect museums and artistic sites from terrorism. It's a complicated task and an important one for the country. Italy's artistic heritage draws 80 million visitors a year. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

Italy is dotted with artistic wonders from Venice and Florence to Rome, Naples and Sicily. And Italian officials are carefully scrutinizing the latest threats on Islamist Web sites to try to identify likely terrorist targets.

(Soundbite of bell ringing; hoof beats)

POGGIOLI: One of the most protected sites is in Rome, where the Vatican is the cradle of Catholicism. In St. Peter's Square visitors wait in line for up to two hours to pass through metal detectors and be swept before entering the Basilica. Michael and Jillian Robinson have come from Birmingham, England.

Mr. MICHAEL ROBINSON (Tourist): Yes, we always feel confident. It's like coming home if you're a Catholic. Quite safe, quite enjoyable.

POGGIOLI: In fact, as a nearby newspaper vendor puts it, the Vatican has deployed more private security guards than there are cobblestones. But Italian monuments are not so well guarded.

Just a few miles from St. Peter's Square, the symbol of ancient Rome, the Coliseum, receives up to 18,000 visitors a day. Angelo Bottino oversees Rome's archaeological heritage.

Mr. ANGELO BOTTINO (Overseer): (Through Translator): We are very worried about security. Although we know that it is not reasonably possible to defend the entire artistic patrimony of Italy, we will have a visible and extensive increase in security measures.

POGGIOLI: Archaeological sites like the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, Pompeii and the Greek temples of Sicily can't be made totally secure. The entire Italian peninsula is one large open-air museum. Maurizio Calligaro, who's in charge of security at the mayor's office in Venice, says surveillance is particularly difficult among the lagoon islands that form his city.

Mr. MAURIZIO CALLIGARO (Security Chief): (Through Translator) Venice receives up to 15 million visitors a year. The problem is how to control this influx without paralyzing the town. We can't control tourists like passengers at an airport. It would block the town and create a climate of constant emergency.

POGGIOLI: Calligaro favors a large presence of police and plainclothes security guards constantly monitoring crowds, backed up by surveillance cameras. Up to now local residents defending individual privacy have opposed closed-circuit TV.

Throughout Italy indoor sites are also difficult to secure. Last week journalists left backpacks near Michelangelo's "David" and on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test security arrangements. The packs were left undisturbed for hours.

The Italian Culture Ministry has proposed an increase in security guards, surveillance cameras and metal detectors as well as a nationwide ban on bringing bags and backpacks into museums. But Gianfranco Cerasoli, a trade union leader at the Culture Ministry, is skeptical. He says that over the last several years the Italian government has steadily cut back funding for Italy's cultural heritage, and current appropriations are one-third of what the ministry had requested.

Mr. GIANFRANCO CERASOLI (Trade Union Leader, Culture Ministry): (Through Translator) We are hugely understaffed. We have only 5,300 security personnel instead of the 12,000 required by the ministry. If metal detectors and TV monitors are installed everywhere, who will staff the new security equipment, and where is the money going to come from?

POGGIOLI: Cerasoli says that Italy spends less than all other European countries to protect and preserve its artistic heritage. He says there's never been a full-scale evacuation exercise at any Italian museum or artistic site. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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