NEWS » Changes in law aimed at deterring cultural vandalism

Changes in law aimed at deterring cultural vandalism

Italy has more world heritage sites than any other country on earth. Important monuments and art masterpieces have often been damaged. The colosseum, symbol of the city of Rome, was recently vandalised. The City authorities  announced plans to increase security around the area and harsher punishments for those who break the rules. Ultra high-tech surveillance is also going to be put into use.


After the terrorist attacks in France, Germany and Belgium, security on the tourist sites had already been increased since Italy's terror warning is level 2, which is the highest possible in the absence of a direct attack. Nevertheless, in most tourist areas there is no night time security staff. Recently, two drunk tourists tried to break into the colosseum at night but they fell over the gate and were later charged with trespassing. On the same night on one of the columns close to the entrance the word 'morte' (death)  had been written in black paint. 


Last year a Russian tourist was fined €20,000 for carving a giant 'K' on one of the colosseum pillars.


In late December 2016 the Italian government approved a bill which would increase punishments for cultural vandalism. The bill introduces a specific offence for defacing or damaging cultural heritage or landscapes, and the punishment for such crimes can range from one year to five years' imprisonment.


Plans to contrast vandalism include a more sophisticated CCTV system to protect the colosseum and a 'no-go zone' around the monument which would be also protected with video surveillance.


Many of the most famous Italian monuments have been vandalised over the years. Here are listed some of them:


On the 20th of April 1978 Giovanni Bellini's “Madonna col bambino” (Piove di Sacco, Padova) risked being stolen. Unfortunately the painting was damaged by the broken protective glass.

The Fountains of Rome have been repetitively vandalized: the Fountain of the “Quattro fiumi” in 1998, the Fountain of the “Api” in 2004, the Fountain of “Barcaccia” in 2005, the Fountain of the “Quattro fiumi” in 2007, the Fountain of the “Navigatori” in 2010, the Fountain of the “Moro” in 2011.

On the 15th of  April 1993, the wild boar of the sculptural group "Hercules and Caco" by Baccio Bandinelli was damaged (Florence, Piazza della Signoria).


On the 19th of October 2007, the post-futurist Graziano Cecchini threw liquid containing a red dye into the marble basin of the Trevi fountain. The following year 500000 coloured balls rolled down the Spanish Steps. In both cases, no damage to the monuments was caused but a great deal of money was spent to clean up.


On the 13th of October 1993 the fresco by Filippo Lippi depicting "The funeral of Santo Stefano", inside the cathedral Santo Stefano in Prato was damaged.


On the 31st  October, 2004 a man climbed onto one of the tabernacles of Orsanmichele (Florence) to urinate while holding on to the sculpture, a piece of the San Marco cape was broken. Fortunately it was a copy placed there in 1990. Donatello's original sculpture is safe within the Orsanmichele Museum.


On the 12th of July 1993 Andrea Mantegna's "The transportation of the body of St. Christopher" (Padova, Church of Ermitani) was vandalised by being written on.


On the 24th of January 1989  a man threw flammable liquid against the painting "Madonna di Foligno" by Raphael (Vatican Museums), then attempted to set fire to the framework with a lighter. The keepers intervened immediately extinguishing the fire.


On the 14th of September 1991 three toes of the foot of Michelangelo's "David" (Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia) were chopped with a hammer. Damages were limited and soon restored by using the original fragments of the toes.


On the 21st of May 1972 Michelangelo's "Pieta" (St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican) was damaged, the virgin in particular had the left arm broken off, and her face was damaged.

Giulia Lombardo

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