VENICE (AFP).- After three months of empty squares and alleys and gondoliers stranded on dry land, Venice sprang back to life on Saturday as tourists flocked back to the city for the reopening of the Doge's Palace.
Hundreds of Italians and foreigners lined up for more than 300 metres (yards) in Saint Mark's Square, in front of the Ducal Palace.
A local news agency said a thousand internet bookings had been recorded for the reopening day.
"There were people queuing at 8:00 am this morning and, to be honest, it's just what we were hoping for," Maria Cristina Gribaudi, president of the Venice Civic Museums Foundation, told AFP.
"It's a very strong emotion, like the first day of school," she explained.
Inside the palace, masks are compulsory, numerous signs encourage people to "keep their distance" and all the rooms are controlled to avoid overcrowding.
After months without tourists Saturday marked a clear change, with Venice bustling much as it would do on any ordinary spring weekend.
Souvenir shops have reappeared in Saint Mark's Square and almost all of the shops and restaurants -- including the historic Cafe Florian -- have reopened.
Around the Rialto Canal, visitors pushed their way through the tight alleys, and the famous gondolas and vaporetti, the city's water buses, were again loaded with passengers and going about their business on the canals.
"If the most spoken language is Italian, there are many Germans and, surprisingly, French," Ansa reported.
"We hope to have slow tourism in the future," said Gabriella Belli, director of the Foundation for the civic museums of Venice.
"This does not mean less tourism, it means better organised tourism."
The COVID-19 epidemic has killed more than 34,000 in Italy but as the number of new cases steadily falls so the country continues the process of deconfinement which began last month.
The country's many monuments, famous buildings, museums and emblematic places have almost all reopened, including St Peter's Basilica in Rome, the site of Pompeii, the leaning Tower of Pisa, and the cathedrals of Florence and Milan.
In a bid to retrieve the summer tourist season, Italy reopened its borders on June 3.
© Agence France-Presse