Covid 19 coronavirus: Italy wants its tourists back, unless they sit on the statues

Damaged treasures and broken rules have put the spotlight on the country’s fragile cultural heritage, and the need to better educate visitors.

First, two German tourists took an unauthorised dip in the Grand Canal in Venice, under the Rialto Bridge. Then an Austrian tourist broke the toe of a plaster statue of Napoleon’s sister while posing for a photograph at a museum in northern Italy. After that, a French tourist was caught red-handed using a black felt-tip pen to immortalise her stay in Florence on the city’s famed Ponte Vecchio.

Now Italian officials have set their sights on a young woman who took a selfie standing atop some newly reopened thermal baths in Pompeii, the fragile archaeological site.

“An investigation has been opened,” said Massimo Osanna, the outgoing director of the Pompeii site, adding that prosecutors in a nearby city were looking into the events.

The coronavirus pandemic may have crushed the tourism industry in Italy this year — delivering a significant blow to the country’s economy — but Italians say that should not give tourists who do come a free pass to run amok among the country’s cultural treasures.

“There’s a question of vigilance, but also of the unpreparedness of visitors,” read an editorial published Tuesday in the Rome daily La Repubblica. “What happened in Pompeii shows that the path to educating those who visit museums is still dotted with difficulties and unforeseen events,” a nod to countless episodes of vandalism and damage caused to cultural treasures by visiting tourists.

Past attempts to curb such behaviour have not always been successful.

Lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament introduced a bill last month that would toughen penalties for those convicted of destroying Italy’s artistic patrimony. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini has been trying to put such a law on the books since 2016 but has not managed to get approval from both houses of Parliament.

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