Rome is a city of great history, art and culture and any visit to Rome is synonymous with visiting its stunning attractions, museums and monuments to witness great masterpieces like The Last Judgement at the Sistine Chapel, Bernini’s Alter at St Peter’s Basilica and the She Wolf at the Capitoline Museums. Rome’s edifying heritage has been, and must continue to be, preserved for centuries, so that the legacy will live on.
Despite this, there are some who would wish otherwise and instead vandalise and deface these historic sites rather than appreciate them. Did you know the world Vandal actually stems from the sacking of ancient Rome in 455 (2nd of 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.
As you’ll see, vandalism in Rome is, unfortunately, not a 21st century thing. Since the sack of Rome 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 proves a continuous battle between the authorities and the criminals. It’s not just the aftermath and clean up which is the difficulty, but the catching them red handed despite best efforts. These vandals are stealthy and secretive and seem to work right under your nose, but strike when you’re not looking.
There is a prevalent case of vandalism 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 that it is unmanageable. Pincio park, the viewpoint in Villa Borghese overlooking Piazza del Popolo, is one of the hot spots for art-crime in the city, where marble statues of famous Italians are defaced with graffiti, or suffer brutal attacks with their noses and other body parts knocked off with hammers. Despite a six-men-strong patrol squads, who were the go 24/7, tens of thousands of euros worth of damage were inflicted on statues and busts across this peaceful pocket of green in over the summer last year alone.
It’s not only the Pincio that suffers at the hands of the vandals, the Trevi Fountain has experienced its fair share of damage, being a victim of red dye 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. Another violent act of vandalism occurred 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 under the recent efforts to crack-down-on-vandalism, increasing surveilance and CCTV; well, 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 at over 2000 years old, is undeniably a punishable offence. The tourist in question used a stone to carve a ‘K’ that measured 25cm in total, leading to his arrest and a hefty €20,000 fine!
Credits: Flickr/Hsing Wei
Another notorious vandal was Laszlo Toth who gained international recognition for the wrong reasons in 1972. A man of questionable mental stability, Toth was failed geologist who moved to Rome 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 after breaking Mary’s arm, knocking a chunk off her nose and chipping one of her eyelids.
Credits: The Associated Press
It’s ironic to think that while Rome has such a problem with graffiti now, once it was 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 otherwise who knows what might be left if no one cared.
From 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 the hardest. Leave Rome’s beautiful urban landscape and art history alone – everyone will thank them for it in the long run.
Fiona McCoss is blog editor at OMNIA Vatican and Rome, a sightseeing city card that offers free entry to over 60 top Rome tourist attractions, tours and experiences. In her spare time, Fiona loves exploring the city, visiting a wide range of events and exhibitions and venturing off the beaten track.