Showing posts with label tourism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tourism. Show all posts

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.





April 5, 2015

Report from Tunisia: After the Massacre at the Bardo Museum, Women and Families show up to Show Support

Women showing support (morning)
By Rita Sumano, ARCA Alumna Class of 2015

The Bardo Massacre

Tunisia’s democratic transition has been wounded by the atrocious attack at the Bardo Museum last 18th of March. Under the machinegun fire of Qatiba Okba Ibn Nafâa, a terrorist cell linked to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, 22 people died and more than 40 were injured.

Despite the claim of responsibility from the so called Islamic State, Tunisian authorities identified 21 individuals of Okba Ibn Nafâa split into four operative groups that carefully planned the operation (1). The role of the first group was to choose the target and make the necessary reconnaissance of the museum. The second group was responsible for the logistics, the provision of weapons, and explosives. The third group perpetrated the attack, while the fourth group taped and disseminated the images through the internet. 

Families gathering in from of the museum (morning)
The timing and venue were not casually chosen.  The complex commonly called “the Bardo” bears a deep historic and symbolic value, as it was a palace of the Beys, the former rulers of the country.  After Tunisia’s Independence, one wing was converted into a museum and the other wing turned into the Parliament, now the Assembly of the People's Representatives. The unique mosaic collection of the Bardo Museum – the largest in the world - contains mainly Roman art. In this context, the attack could be interpreted as a violent message against both democracy and any other form of non-Islamic culture.

Geologist Jallouli holding a sign saying
"No to terrorism" "No fear, no panic,
Tunisia is protected by its people"
(morning) 
The attack was also timely as the National Terrorist Act was being discussed that same morning in the Parliament; children had school holidays and were present in the musuem in great numbers; and, as reported by a guide present at the scene (2), terrorists waited for the arrival of tourist buses coming from the cruise ships that dock every Wednesday at La Goulette.  Hiding machine guns in large backpacks, they had time to spread out through the Museum and wait for the visitors to arrive.  Tourists were selected as a suitable target to wreck the country’s shaken economy, highly dependent on tourism.  

As a result of this murderous attack, the lead suspect of the cell and 46 terrorists (3) have been eliminated or arrested.  Several heads of security in charge of the Bardo area, as well as six commanders of police and intelligence services have been dismissed.(4)

The Tuesday After
International media said the museum would open to the public on Tuesday 24th, but the few hundred people that showed up could only gather around the gate.  Inside, an official opening ceremony was taking place.  Security was tight, polite but tense.  Under steady rain, men, women, and children gathered to show support.  The feeling floating in the air was neither anger nor fear, but rather sadness.

I spoke to Geologist Kamal Jallouli, representative of the civil society at the National Parliament, who had been there a few hours before the attack.  Emotionally touched, he told me about his childhood when he would spend Sundays exploring the museum’s collection with his parents.  He praises the long, diverse history of the country and warns me that the investigation into the attack is still open. I knew that there would be many answers he could not provide, but I still asked the questions:

Q. Some international sources talk about the attack being initially directed at the Parliament but that ended up taking place in the museum. Nevertheless, it looked to me as if the venue was carefully selected.  Do you think the attack was initially directed to the parliament?
-“No”, he answered shortly.

Q. In that case, one might infer that the terrorists were familiar with the museum, and must have visited it many times.  Could they have been identified had the museum guards carried out effective surveillance? 
-“I guess so”

Q. Is it plausible to think of an insider providing assistance?
-“I cannot answer that question”

Q. Do you think this type of attack could escalate into plundering Tunisia’s heritage sites? 

Kamal Jallouli is confident that as we speak, security forces are being deployed to guard archeological sites, other museums and touristic spots.  He doesn’t think that this incident is part of a larger plot.

Q. A few days before the attack, downtown Tunis looked heavily guarded: police checkpoints, dogs sniffing cars, hand bags being checked and several forces being deployed. So why, in such a “hot spot” was security so lax?

–“Because we Tunisians are candid, we have no tradition of violence”, he replies with a shy smile.  

His answer is the most convincing one I have received so far.

Foreign demonstrators showing support (afternoon)
Hours passed by, and as steady rain was transformed into a downpour, a human river also flooded the streets around the Bardo Museum.  Nearly 50,000 people of all sorts and several nations participated in an inspirational, almost spontaneous, demonstration against terrorism. The museum’s gate was the final goal of the crowds taking part in the march.   The happy coincidence with the World Social Forum taking place in Tunis, engrossed the international presence and added to the feeling of solidarity.

In parallel, the deployment and weaponry of security forces was significantly heavier than in the early hours, but the ambiance was festive and police and army elements were friendly.  Participants would smile and take proud pictures with police and military… certainly not the typical interaction between security forces and demonstrators.

Under the rain, music, dance, chants and cameras show how cultural heritage could be an effective tool to build peace.  The feeling floating in the air was hope. 

Proud demonstrators
with friendly soldier
 (afternoon)
Museum Security

The Bardo attack had a triple target: it was an attack against democracy, against tourism and against culture. The Bardo Museum is not an exceptional example of how close, physically and symbolically, many museums are to power centers.  Many other cities in the world could have been victims of such an attack, and this should send a warning to all cultural institutions: to be fully prepared for this and other types of catastrophes.  

In recent years, we have witnessed how cultural heritage has been devastated due to political instability, religious fundamentalism, and armed conflicts; similar crimes, could be perpetrated in comparable places. 

Operators should engage in an active preventive role, carrying out proper selection and training of staff and making sure that the risk to visitors, personnel or the collection is minimized.  Museum security is a professional activity that should not be left to amateurs.

The accompanying photos were all taken by the author on March 24, 2015.

(1) Tunise - Attaque terroriste due Bardo: Le point sur l'enquête, in Tunisie Numérique, 25/03/2015, 11:44.

(2) Frida Dahmani. "Attentat du Bardo: l'musée de l'horreur", in Jeune Afrique, 24/03/2015, 8:28.


(4) "Attentat du Bardo: Le gouvernement Tunisien pass a l'offensive", in Jeune Afrique, 23/3/2015, 12: 35