There’s a lot a local or a tourist can complain about in the Eternal City centro these days. Certainly in recent years the streets are less policed and clean; street vendor and busker numbers are up, all of which negatively affect one’s experience of the city. But it is the Russian tourist nabbed on November 21, 2014 for defacing the Colosseum that has made headline news around the globe– not just for the act (he’s the fifth person caught this year) but for the amount of the fine imposed: 20,000 euros.
Yes, he was caught in the act scratching a large K inside the Colosseum, on a wall. (Incidentally, why the K? Some colleagues in the heritage conservation field told me that some online comments indicated he was going to write that the “Krimea” belongs to Russia; hence the K). And where specifically did he write it? Clearly on a section of brickwork that is restored and refaced in the modern area. That’s not ancient brick he defaced. It shouldn’t lessen the crime, though. But let’s put the fine amount in context. The average annual Italian (net) salary is just over 23,000 euros (1923 euros/ month)- and I’m pretty sure the Italian government doesn’t accept credit cards. The other option instead of paying the fine is 4 years imprisonment.
As the Colosseum is the world’s most famous ancient monument, it’s time to really step up the amount of protection for the site, hand in hand with the ongoing Tod’s funded restoration project (see my video for an overview of the project). Zero tolerance for acts of vandalism, matched with a substantial fine is a great move that sends a powerful signal. And that’s what I said in the Guardian and on the Canadian radio show As it Happens.
Now, the following needs to happen:
- The fine gets paid. (My colleagues in Rome have told me that they have heard that the fine was paid, but I have not found any legal statement from the government, yet.) Personally, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’d also like it documented where the fine money will go. I hope toward heritage preservation in the Colosseum.
- This heavy fine imposed leads to more vigilance for other sites in Italy that are not as scrutinized (or well funded) as the Colosseum.
Failure to carry through and collect the money would ring like an empty promise– and send a message to travelers that want to leave a mark that Italy is not serious.
Let’s see what happens.