Image:Inspecting damaged bust in Rome
Pier Paolo Cito  /  AP
Italian policemen, inspect a damaged bust during an anti-vandalism patrol at Pincio park in downtown Rome on July 12.
By
updated 7/29/2010 2:38:42 PM ET 2010-07-29T18:38:42

They knock the noses off statues in a park that was a favorite haunt of poet John Keats and throw dye into the iconic Trevi Fountain.

Vandals are increasingly on the prowl in the Eternal City — and now Italian authorities are fighting back, sending more police, installing cameras and even considering using convicts to protect monuments and artworks.

For the troublemakers nothing is sacred: earlier this month vandals left anti-pope graffiti on the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, a major Catholic site that draws pilgrims from around the world who climb its 28 marble steps on their knees.

Compounded by pollution, negligence and a chronic shortage of funding, vandalism adds to the city's difficulties in preserving its unique artistic heritage, forcing officials to use valuable funds in emergency restoration.

What makes protecting the Italian capital especially challenging is the sheer wealth of its treasures.

"You'd need an army of 20 million people to be there every day, every night," says Daniel Berger, an art consultant with Italy's Culture Ministry. "You have to somehow protect them by encouraging people to understand that it's their heritage, and that it's the Western European culture."

Officials have beefed up police patrols of monuments and parks — including sending plainclothes officers mingling with the crowd of visitors — and have installed CCTV.

The agency in charge of keeping Rome clean is working with jail authorities to allow former inmates or convicts released on parole to help clean up vandalized monuments. There is no set date but the initiative might begin in coming months, regional authorities say.

Officials say their efforts are paying off, and that vandals are being caught thanks to the cameras. Still, "it takes 30 seconds to damage a monument," notes Rome's top art official, Superintendent Umberto Broccoli.

One of the most common targets of vandals is the 19th-century park atop the Pincian Hill, where statues of celebrated Italians are routinely vandalized, their noses broken, their faces smeared with offensive writing. The park was frequented by Keats, the Romantic poet whose last home in Rome sits at the foot of the hill. It's right in the center of the Italian capital, and with its breathtaking view of the city is a favorite of Romans and tourists alike.

The Carabinieri police force has increased patrols in the park, sending in six-member squads 24 hours a day. They walk or drive their cars and motorbikes among the park's graveled avenues; at night, they set up a roadblock in the main driveway to the park, checking for drunken youths. Vandalism is often perpetrated by students or young people under the fumes of alcohol.

Image: Cleaning the Trevi Fountain in Rome
Massimo Percossi  /  EPA
Italian firefighters remove red dye, from the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy on June 25.

But the damage keeps happening.

In May and June alone, 13 of the park's 230 busts had their noses broken and four were uprooted and thrown to the ground, said Alessandro Cremona, a chief restorer for Rome's city hall. Another three were vandalized in the promenade atop the Janiculum hill, another classic Rome spot.

The Rome city hall did not provide an overall figure for the funds it uses in emergency restoration. But officials say that each "nose job" costs some euro800 (about $1,000), while for the busts that are toppled the cost soars to about euro1,500 (about $1,950) each.

"It's tens of thousands of euros that could be spent elsewhere and which instead we are forced to spend to remedy stupidity," Broccoli told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

It is not just the parks.

Years ago, a man threw red dye into the Trevi Fountain to the shock of onlookers, an act recently reprised by another vandal. Bandits splashed red and green colors on the white walls of a museum recently built by U.S. architect Richard Meier.

Said Lt. Ciro Aquino of the Carabinieri, speaking during a recent patrol at the Pincio park: "Every corner you turn, there's something that must be protected."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Rome, “The Eternal City”

loading photos...
  1. Open for business

    Tourists walk in the Colosseum near the hypogeum (underground) on October 14, 2010, in Rome. The underground, never before available to the public, is now open for visitors. (Franco Origlia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Underground tour

    Gladiators, wild beasts and ... tourists? Yep. People visiting the Colosseum can now walk around the underground chambers where lions and tigers were caged and gladiators waited to hear their fate. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Roman hot spot

    More than 18,000 people visit the amphitheatre every day. The newly opened areas will be accessible to guided tours of a maximum of 25 people at a time. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Colosseum

    The Colosseum is one of the most recognized structures not just in Rome, but in all of Europe. The building, which was inaugurated in 80 A.D., is visited by several million tourists each year. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Papal Basilica of St. Peter

    The Papal Basilica of St. Peter is illuminated in Vatican City, an enclave of Rome. The basilica, until recently, was the largest church ever built. The holy place stands where St. Peter was crucified and buried. (Miguel Villagran / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Roman Forum

    The Roman Forum is located between the Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill. The ancient city's most important and oldest structures were situated in or near the Forum, including many shrines and temples. (Doug Pearson / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Piazza del Campidoglio

    The Piazza del Campidoglio was designed during the 16th century by Michelangelo Buonarroti. The piazza is located atop Capitol Hill in Rome. The structure seen today dates back to 1560. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. City hall

    Two tourists rest next to a statue in front of the Campidoglio, Rome's city hall. The statue, one of a set of two, was built by Italian artist Matteo Bartolani in 1588 and is meant to represent Rome's Tiber River. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Castel Sant'Angelo

    Castel Sant'Angelo, sitting above the Tiber River, was built by the Emperor Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his successors. The Mausoleum was later completed by Antoninus Pius in 139 A.D. (Robert Harding / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Trevi Fountain

    Legend has it that if a visitor throws a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, he or she is ensured a return. About 3,000 euros are tossed into the fountain each day, according to the BBC. (Sharon Lee / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Capitole Museum

    Antique statue fragments sit inside the Capitole Museum yard, located at the Square of Campidoglio, in Rome. The Capitole Museum contains an antique collection began in 1471 by pope Sixte IV. (Gerard Julien / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Basilica's interior

    Shafts of light fill the interior of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Tourists who plan to visit the basilica should take note of a strictly enforced dress code, which includes no shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts. (Kazuyoshi Nomachi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Sistine Chapel

    The ceiling of Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Images on the ceiling depict scenes from the book of Genesis, and the walls are covered with Renaissance frescoes created by other artists. (Jim Zuckerman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Vatican Museum

    The main staircase of Vatican Museum forms a tightening spiral as it descends. The museum is located in the Vatican Palace, which popes have called home since the 1300s. (Peter Adams / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Pantheon

    The Pantheon, according to the Web site italyguides.it, is the Roman monument that holds the most and best preserved records, and is "the most copied and imitated of all ancient works." (Glenn Beanland / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Museo D'arte Contemporanea Di Roma

    The Museo D'arte Contemporanea Di Roma (MACRO) houses a permanent art collection that includes "some of the most significant expressions characterizing the Italian art scene since the 1960s," its Web site claims. (Paolo Cordelli / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Villa Medicis

    Villa Medicis is a 16th Century garden located on the Pincian Hill at the top of the Spanish Steps. The gardens are complemented by statues and fountains. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Villa Borghese

    The area now known as Villa Borghese was originally started as a vineyard in the 1500s, but was purchased by cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, in 1605 and turned into a park. Rome obtained Villa Borghese in 1903, and it was opened to the public. (Will Salter / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Piazza Navona

    People take a freshly brewed espresso at a cafe terrace on Piazza Navona in Rome during the "Espresso Italiano day 2009." Italians drink some 70 million cups of coffee at the bars every day, according to the figures given by the National Institute of Italian Espresso. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Rome from above

    This aerial shot of Rome shows the Vittoriano Monument, dedicaded to the Italian king Vittorio Emmanuelle II, in the background. (Patrick Hertzog / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Via Condotti

    Italian shoppers browse at Via Condotti, which is the home to some of the world's most famous designer boutiques, in Rome. (Franco Origlia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Spanish Steps

    The Spanish Steps connect Piazza di Spagna to Trinita dei Monti, a French church. Once a gathering place for beautiful men and women hoping to be chosen as artists' models, the Spanish Steps are now used as a catwalk for an annual summertime fashion show. (Tony Burns / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Altar of Peace

    The Ara Pacis Augustae, or Altar of Peace, dates back to 9 B.C. The altar was built to celebrate the advent of peace under the reign of Augustus, Rome's first emperor. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Vittorio Emmanuele II monument

    The Vittorio Emmanuele II monument is seen at sunset. With nearly 3,000 years of history, Rome continues to live up to its motto of "The Eternal City," being one of the founding cities of Western civilization. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments