How do I love thee? Let me etch it into the Colosseum.

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How do I love thee? Let me etch it into the Colosseum.
In this file photo the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is projected in Italian on the Colosseum monument.

by Elisabetta Povoledo

ROME.- A tourist decided to immortalize a visit to the Colosseum in Rome with his girlfriend recently by scratching their names into one of the walls of the nearly 2,000-year-old monument.

“Ivan + Hayley 23/6/23,” he etched into the brick on Friday with a set of keys.

The act, apparently captured by another tourist and posted online, has left Ivan facing the prospect of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 15,000 euros — if he is apprehended.

In the video, whose authenticity has not been verified but which has been shared widely online, the person filming Ivan asks: “Are you serious, man?” using an expletive.

Colosseum officials confirmed the vandalism and noted that a clearly marked sign nearby reads: “No climbing and writing on the walls.”

The Italian culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, condemned the act.

“I consider it very serious, unworthy and a sign of great incivility when a tourist defaces one of the most famous places in the world,” he said on Twitter.

Sangiuliano reposted video of the wall being defaced and said, “I hope that whoever did this will be identified and sanctioned according to our laws.”

It is far from the first time that Italy has grappled with visitors intent on leaving their mark. Huns, Visigoths, mutinous 16th-century German mercenaries — take your pick. Modern-day tourists tend more toward partying then pillaging, but they can still do a lot of damage.

Three years ago, a spate of incidents prompted lawmakers to stiffen laws penalizing those who vandalize Italy’s venerable cultural heritage. Italy wants to impose even tougher laws on climate activists, who have vandalized cultural property to protest what they call government inaction on climate change.

But the tougher laws haven’t put a stop to bad behavior. Last year, a tourist pushed an electric scooter down the Spanish Steps in Rome, causing damage put at 25,000 euros (about $27,000).

Alfonsina Russo, the director of the Colosseum, which was inaugurated in the first century, said that the wall Ivan defaced was built during a mid-19th century restoration. That, however, makes little difference, she said.

“Mid-19th century or original, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s vandalism,” Russo said in a telephone interview.

Colosseum officials found out that the wall had been defaced only on Monday, after the video went up on YouTube, Russo said. She said the person who made it should have alerted the Colosseum security staff.

“This is hardly the first time someone has vandalized the monument,” Russo said. But visitors who see damage being done are ordinarily proactive. “We generally catch the culprit,” she said.

A representative for Italy’s specialized art squad, which fights art theft and protects Italy’s artistic heritage, said it was working with the carabinieri, the country’s military police force, to identify and track down the offender.

Russo said it was important to punish such acts.

“It’s everyone’s patrimony,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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