Rome is a city of great history, art and culture. Any visit should include the stunning attractions, museums and monuments, and witness great masterpieces like The Last Judgement at the Sistine Chapel, Bernini’s Altar at St Peter’s Basilica and She Wolf at the Capitoline Museums.
However, there are some who think otherwise and would rather vandalise and deface these historic sites than appreciate them.
The cultural experts at OMNIA Vatican and Rome (http://www.romeandvaticanpass.com/) have decided to look at why vandalism is such an issue in Rome and to champion Rome’s edifying heritage and its preservation, so that its legacy lives on.
Did you know the word Vandal actually stems from the sacking of ancient Rome in 455 (2nd June), when the Vandal Kingdom descended on Rome, ransacking the city and damaging the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus by removing the bronze roof tiles? So you see, vandalism in Rome is unfortunately not a 21st century thing. Since the sack of Rome is over 1,500 years ago, clearly the issue has been around for centuries – but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable.
The mistreatment and disrepect of ancient monuments, landmarks and art around the city is proving a continuous battle between the authorities and the criminals. It’s not just the aftermath and clean up that are the difficulty, but catching the culprits red-handed, despite best efforts. These vandals are stealthy and secretive, striking at any opportune moment, seemingly right under the noses of the guards.
Vandalism is prevalent across the city of Rome, so much so that the Italian Carabinieri, or policemen, have a targeted anti-vandalism patrol to try to control the problem. Unfortunately, it seems to be unmanageable. Pincio park, the viewpoint in Villa Borghese overlooking Piazza del Popolo, is one of the hot spots for art crime in the city. Marble statues of famous Italians are defaced with graffiti, or suffer brutal attacks as their noses and other body parts are knocked off with hammers. Despite six-men-strong patrol squads, on the go 24/7, tens of thousands of euros worth of damage were inflicted on statues and busts across this supposedly peaceful pocket of green last summer alone.
It’s not only Pincio that suffers at the hands of the vandals. The Trevi Fountain has experienced its fair share of damage, when red dye was thrown into its clear waters. Another serious offence was a direct anti-Pope assault vandalising the Holy steps, Scala Sancta – one of the most significant places of pilgrimage in the world. A further act of vandalism occured in 2011 when a man attacked one of the 19th century Moor statues in Piazza Navona with a rock, causing huge damage. Thankfully the pieces were recovered and it was later repaired.
If you’re wondering how anyone gets away with this despite recent efforts to crack-down on vandalism, increasing surveillance and CCTV: they don’t. Anyone caught vandalising will pay for it. Literally. In 2014, a Russian tourist was caught engraving his initial (‘K’) into one of the Coliseum’s ancient walls, which are over 2000 years old – undeniably a punishable offence. The initial measured 25cm in total, leading to the arrest of the tourist and a hefty €20,000 fine!
Another well known vandal was Laszlo Toth, who gained international notoriety in 1972. A man of questionable mental stability, Toth was a failed geologist who moved to Rome wishing to become known as none other than Jesus Christ himself. He took his new calling so seriously that on the 21st May he visited St Peter’s Basilica and, wielding a hammer, struck Michelangelo’s Pietà with fifteen blows. Thankfully he was wrestled to the ground before he could cause any more damage, having already broken Mary’s arm, knocked a chunk off her nose and chipped one of her eyelids.
It’s ironic to think that while Rome has such a problem with graffiti now, it was once considered a thing of art. Interestingly, a lot of the art that’s now preserved and considered historic art heritage, such as the engravings and paintings at the Coliseum, were actually hand-painted scenes of gladiator fights by the spectators themselves. But while it might have been acceptable over two thousand years ago, times have changed and the law enforcers are on the look out. We must protect all we can of the historic monuments, art works, statues and architecture around the city. Who knows what might be left if noone cared!
Remembering the second sacking of the city in 455, it’s sad to think not much has changed in terms of hitting Rome where it hurts. Please leave Rome’s beautiful urban landscape and art history alone – everyone will thank you for it in the long run.
WordBank – Header Image Credit : Lorenzoclick