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Why do tourists keep vandalising Italy's Colosseum?

Tourists continue to deface ancient landmark despite public outrage.

In recent days two teenage tourists vandalised the Colosseum by carving their names into the monument, weeks after a similar incident sparked outrage around the world.

On Friday a 17-year old Swiss tourist, on holiday in Rome with her family, was filmed etching the first letter of her name into a Colosseum wall by Italian tour guide David Battaglino who promptly reported the incident to authorities.

Battaglino told Corriere della Sera newspaper that he informed the girl's parents that she had committed an offence but they reacted with annoyance, dismissing him and trying to "minimise" the incident.

"She's just a young girl, she wasn't doing anything wrong," the parents reportedly said.

Later on Battaglino said he received a phone call from the carabinieri who summoned him to make a formal report at the police station in Piazza Venezia.

The Swiss girl is accused of causing damage to a site of historical and artistic interest, an offence that carries a jail term and a fine of up to €15,000.

The next day a German teenager, also aged 17 and in Rome on a school tour, was caught defacing a wall of the Colosseum and now faces the same charges as the Swiss tourist.

In an interview with Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero on Monday, the director of the Colosseum archaeological park Alfonsina Russo lashed out at the "lack of civic education about heritage" of many tourists who are "primarily interested in taking selfies."

Russo, who warned of "selfie tourism" in a 2020 interview with Wanted in Rome, insisted that the site's surveillance system was "absolutely up to par" as well as underlining efforts to "educate younger visitors" in particular.

The two recent incidents are the latest in a string of other similar offences, and, while allowances could - possibly - be made for the tourists' youth, the same cannot be said for the majority of other acts of vandalism at the Colosseum, carried out by people much older than the two teenagers.

In June a tourist made world headlines after a viral video showed him carving "Ivan+Hayley 23” into an inner wall of the Colosseum, an act slammed as "uncivilised and absurd" by Italy's culture minister.

The tourist, identified as a 27-year-old Bulgarian fitness instructor living in the UK, was tracked down by Italian police and risks a fine of €15,000 and a prison sentence of up to five years.

The tourist wrote a letter of apology to Rome's prosecutor's office, begging forgiveness and offering his "most heartfelt and honest apologies to the Italians and to the whole world".

However the man's letter concluded with the bizarre claim that he was unaware that the Colosseum was ancient, prompting widespread scorn in Italy.

In an update to the case on Monday, the Rome public prosecutor's office is set to request his indictment, sources close to the matter told Italian news agency ANSA.

Last summer a Canadian tourist used a stone to carve her initials into an external wall of the Colosseum while in September 2020 an Irish man, aged 32, was caught doing the same on a pillar inside the monument.

High profile acts of vandalism at the Rome landmark in recent years include an Israeli woman, aged 39, who scraped the initials of her husband and children into the amphitheatre; a man from Uruguay (32) who used a key to write 'Juan' on a Colosseum wall; and a Hungarian tourist (29) who engraved a letter 'T' as a memento of his visit.

In 2015 an Austrian woman (40) used a Swiss army knife to carve the letters 'M.D.S.' into the Colosseum; a top Bulgarian footballer (33) left behind his initials; and two American women, aged 21 and 25, used coins to carve a "J" and an "N", before taking a smiling selfie of their handiwork.

In 2014 a Russian tourist was fined €20,000 after carving a large letter “K” on a wall inside the Roman landmark.

Many of the tourists stopped by police claim they thought it was "alright" to add their mark to the graffitti (much of it ancient) already present on the monument's walls.

The question that many people in Italy have been asking recently is: will the message ever sink in that it is not alright to vandalise the Colosseum?

Photo ANSA / Carabinieri

General Info

Address Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy

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Why do tourists keep vandalising Italy's Colosseum?

Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy

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