Ancient Roman Pantheon to start charging entry fee in 2018

ROME, Dec 11 (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 meter-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.

RELATED: Archaeologists excavate ancient Roman temple in Caesarea

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Archaeologists excavate ancient Roman temple in Caesarea
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Archaeologists excavate ancient Roman temple in Caesarea
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows a general view of the renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
An archaeologist presents a head of the god Asclepius in the city of Caesarea, Israel April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Archaeologists work at the site of King Herod� palace in the old city of Caesarea, Israel. April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A shell with inscibed menorah on it, which was found at the archeological site is displayed in the old city of Caesarea, Israel April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An archaeologist works at a site in the old city of Caesarea , Israel April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A visitor sits under the queduct in the Old city of Caesarea, Israel April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A worker takes part in renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
An archaeologist presents tools made of bone in the old city of Caesarea, Israel. April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Sandbags are seen near what remained from the Crusader port at the Old City of Caesarea, Israel April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A worker takes part in renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Tourists walk around the site of King Herod� palace in the old city of Caesarea April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows a general view of the renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A bas-relief of the head of Medusa is seen on top of a sarcophagus displayed at the old city of Caesarea, Israel. April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Beachgoers are seen on the beach near the aqueduct in the Old City of Caesarea, Israel, April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
People work during an archaeological excavation at the foot of the Crusader wall in the old city of Caesarea, Israel. April 26, 2017 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Beachgoers are seen on the beach near the aqueduct in the Old City of Caesarea, Israel, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows a general view of the renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows fruit bats gathering inside a cave in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea, during the renovations of the ancient harbour. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows artifacts, discovered during the renovation of the ancient harbour of Caesarea, on display during a press conference in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows part of ancient synagogue, discovered during the renovation of the ancient harbour of Caesarea, being displayed during a press conference in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows artifacts, discovered during the renovation of the ancient harbour of Caesarea, on display during a press conference in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers take part in renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows artifacts, discovered during the renovation of the ancient harbour of Caesarea, being displayed during a press conference in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows artifacts, discovered during the renovation of the ancient harbour of Caesarea, on display during a press conference in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers take part in renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows an ancient aqueduct in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows the head part of a figurine from the Roman period depicting the Asclepius, god of medicine, discovered during the renovation of the ancient harbour of Caesarea, on display during a press conference in the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
People sit next to an ancient aqueduct on the shores of the Israeli Mediterranean town of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, during renovations of the ancient harbour. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows a general view of the renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers take part in renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows a general view of the renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 26, 2017, shows a general view of the renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Workers take part in renovations of a minaret at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker cleans a mosaic floor during renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker takes part in renovations at the ancient harbour of Caesarea on April 26, 2017, in the Israeli Mediterranean town. / AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Pantheon's current form and six-meter 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.

($1 = 0.8487 euros) (Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by John Stonestreet)

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