Florence's Duomo cathedral reopens in 'message of hope'

The Duomo cathedral in Florence opened to the public on Friday for the first time since March

Florence's Duomo cathedral opened to the public on Friday for the first time since March, drawing thousands of people who reserved visits to the church and its related monuments.

With its Giotto bell tower and Brunelleschi dome, the colourful Duomo is one of the Tuscan city's top tourist attractions.  

"It's beautiful and touching to see the Duomo open again, especially since it's not often that you see it so empty," said one local, Marco. "It's even better that way."

Another Florentine, Gabriele, said he learned that visits were free until the end of the month. 

"It's been so many years since I've gone inside the Duomo. It's a perfect occasion to take advantage of with fewer tourists and people," he said. "It's a great feeling."

Italy's cultural sites shut in early March after the government imposed a national lockdown. On Monday, they were allowed to open, although many remain closed. 

Also on Monday, Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City reopened to tourist visits.

Duomo administrators said they were surprised by the enthusiastic response, with 10,000 people reserving within 24 hours. 

"We decided to reopen free of charge for everyone to give a message of hope, of revival, of a return to normal life," said Lorenzo Luchetti, director general of Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, which administers the cathedral and its associated sites.  

At the entrance, guards used a thermal scanners to take the temperature of visitors, who were given gadgets to be worn around their necks to help them respect safe distances from others. 

When two people approach within a range of two metres (6.5 feet), the device beeps softly, vibrates and flashes.