I have a friend who recently visited Florence for a week with a to-do list that didn’t allow for standing in line for hours – too much to see, too little time. Unfortunately, Florence is the city of lines and, although with some planning a resident or visitor can reserve spots (for a price) in a shorter line at some of the museums, there was no way to avoid the queue at the Duomo. My friend solved her problem by signing up for a 15 euro tour of the cathedral that she didn’t want to take, but this saved her from standing with hundreds of people, waiting to get in the front door.
I have another friend who is one of those “it’s Tuesday so it must be Florence” type of traveler. He has to see the Uffizi, the David, the Duomo and the Baptistery between 9am and 7pm – no time for lines.
To the rescue comes the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and a Milan-based company called Key Fast. In partnership, they are trying to give visitors (tourists and citizens, alike) the option to skip the lines at the Duomo (visited by over 25,000 people per day), Brunelleschi’s Dome (approx. 2,000 climbers/day), Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery, the Duomo Crypt and the Museo Opera del Duomo. The cost? A mere 7 euro for a Priority Pass that is good for unlimited expedited entries for an entire year. (To be clear: this card does not get you free entry, just fast entry (see below).)
For the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, this is forward thinking, unexpected of the 715 year-old lay organization that is charged with the conservation of the cathedral. For Key Fast, operating as ARTFAST, it was “simply” seeing a need and providing a solution.
One wishes that listless Ministero per I Beni e le Attivitá Culturali and bureaucratic Polo Fiorentino Museale, which are charged with solving the dual disasters of the never-ending lines at the Uffizi and the Accademia, take note of the ingenuity of the spry Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.
ARTFAST is a gem of an idea of the folks behind the year-old SKIFAST smart card. (SKIFAST allows skiers to get on the slopes faster by skipping the lines at the lift ticket windows.) ARTFAST, using the various sites in Piazza del Duomo as a trial operation, eventually hopes to aid visitors in Rome, Milan and Venice, to move more quickly into venues to marvel at the art and history, rather than roast slowly in the August sun. And, hopefully, ongoing negotiations will result in the service being offered at other museums in Florence (there may be hope for the Uffizi and Accademia, yet).
Visitors (and residents) can choose to buy the card and then go directly to the Priority Pass entrance (it may be a different door, it maybe a different speedy lane to the original entrance). Once inside, if there is an entrance fee (as with Brunelleschi’s Dome or the Baptistery) the Priority Pass holder will go immediately to the kiosk to purchase an entry ticket. If there is no entry fee, as with the main sanctuary of the Duomo, those with the Priority Pass will merely show their card to the attendant and enter (later, this activity will be mechanized with a swipe of the smart card).
ARTFAST hopes that soon the visit to the ticket kiosk will be unnecessary because of plans to install (at the cost to the Key Fast company of over 100,000 euro) a wi-fi smart card system that will allow ARTFAST cardholders to pay the fee by swiping the same card that allows them expedited entry.
All aspects of the service are not in place yet (wi-fi repeaters and smartcard readers need to be installed in very wi-fi-unfriendly ancient stone structures (something the prescient Brunelleschi never envisioned), therefore ARTFAST is testing parts of the system by using a simple plastic pass that is being sold by company representatives outside the door to the ticket office at the bottom of the stairway to Brunelleschi’s Dome. They can take all credit cards (except Amex), as well as debit cards. In the first ten days of the trial period, ARTFAST has been surprised and gratified by the popularity of the service. The initial supply of cards has run low some days.
As an American, I could tell them that my compatriots, on a hot (hitting over 100 F this week) museum-filled day in Florence, would be happy to pay 7 euro to be spared 30 to 45 minutes in line. (Today, I counted 408 people in the queue outside the Duomo just before the door opened at 10am.) This is especially true since the card works in five locations and can be used over and over (by the same person) for a full year. Reportedly, tourists from Spain, however, are outnumbering Americans in purchasing the pass.
Italian newspapers, trying to work up a bit of controversy, argue the card discriminates against the poor who can’t afford to expedite entry into the cost-free Duomo. This is an accusation without basis. The ARTFAST service actually shortens the line for those who don’t take part by getting Priority Pass holders out of the queue. When, in the near future, tour operators and their huge groups use it, the pass will make the Duomo line a thing of the past.
Reportedly, the priests are concerned that the marketing the ARTFAST pass makes it look like the Duomo is not open for free visits (please note that fees are charged at Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo…). Hopefully, they will soon realize this is merely a time-saving service that allows hundreds of people to be amazed and awed at the wonders of the third largest cathedral in the world, rather than be forced by time constraints (and perhaps, lack of patience) to forsake a visit the Duomo because of the incredible line.