October 16, 2016

Dear Tourists, Remember the motto: “Take only pictures, leave only memories.”

Its an age old adage, a memorable saying which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people: 

Always leave things a little better than when you arrived. Take only pictures, leave only memories. You'll be happy you did

But for some tourists, building memories includes acts of selfish vandalism. 

This week, yet again, tourists have tried to chip away at what remains of the city of Pompeii. As if surviving an earthquake, only to be completely enveloped by the volcanic ash of a volcano wasn't insult enough, two Dutch tourists have brazenly walked off with part of a fresco from one of the most poignant villas of Pompeii.

La Casa della Venere in Bikini 
Nicked from the House of Julia Felix aka La Casa della Venere in Bikini (the House of Venus in a bikini); the villa dates to between AD 62 and 79, and stands on the well-trafficked via dell'Abbondanza.  The villa was reopened to the public this past winter following substantial conservation efforts as the site has already been subject to disrepair and predation. 

After the earthquake struck Pompeii in 62 A.D the owner of this extravagant home, the daughter of Spurius, decided to repurpose her villa, transforming portions of it into apartments, a workshop and a public bathhouse. The home's triclinium had beds made of marble and the bathing complex included an outdoor pool, a calidarium, a tepidarium and a frigidarium.  The villa and its amenities were converted most likely to ease the housing shortage caused by the earthquake and to profit from the fact that Pompeii's Forum and Stabian Baths were undergoing renovations. 

We know the history of the villa's renovations from a notice painted on the façade which read “elegant bathing facilities, shops with annexed apartments upstairs and independent apartments on the first floor are offered for rent to respectable people”.

Its doubtful that Julia Felix would have considered momento-grabbing tourists as respectable.  

Generally speaking, marauding tourists taking more than just selfies hardly take the time to comprehend what it is they are walking away with, perhaps wondering as many do, why the Italian authorities can't seem to find a way to secure a site so beautiful, yet so vulnerable to vandalism. 

One thing is for certain, when visiting sites like these, it is already difficult enough to imagine them in their former glory.  One already has to use one's imagination to understand how spacious and luxurious the place must have been, even by Pompeian standards, when so much has had to be carted off, in part for safekeeping and preservation in part for spoils. 

The thieves probably weren't aware that at one time the villa was dramatically adorned with wall paintings, two of which are now on permanent exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris.  The statuette for which the house is nicknamed, is also long missing from the site.  It's on display in the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet) of Italy's National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The gallery houses overly-naughty objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum once considered too erotic in nature for the general museum population. 

Spotted by a tour guide, who grabbed the 8 cm by 8 cm stolen fresco fragment from the culprits and notified the authorities, the two tourists have been charged with attempted grand larceny. 

Italian Newspaper Il Mattino reports that when confronted the tourist tried to tell the authorities 

This is not the first theft at Pompeii, nor is it likely to be the last. 

3 million tourists set foot in Pompeii every year.  Visitors need to remember that they have no right to desecrate ruins for their short term gain. If everyone takes away "a momento", even if found on the ground, in one hundred year's time there will not be a Pompeii - just a pile of rubble.


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