Tourist Carves His Name Into Ancient House in Pompeii

The man damaged a wall in the House of Ceii, a dwelling celebrated for its beautiful frescoes

"ALI" Etching
 A Kazakh tourist etched the letters "ALI" into a wall at Pompeii's House of Ceii. Pompeii Archaeological Park

A tourist from Kazakhstan has defaced one of Pompeii’s ancient houses by etching his name into a plaster wall.

Officials quickly caught the man, who scratched the letters “ALI” onto the House of Ceii at the Pompeii Archaeological Park over the weekend, according to the Kazakh news agency Kazinform’s Diana Bizhanova.

Park security notified members of the Carabinieri, Italy’s law enforcement, who were stationed near the park. After arriving on the scene, they arrested the man.

“Unfortunately, even today, we find ourselves commenting on an uncivilized and idiotic disgrace caused to our artistic and cultural heritage,” says Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, in a statement, per Artnet’s Jo Lawson-Tancred. “This is a very serious act that will have to be prosecuted severely.”

Excavated in the early 20th century, the House of Ceii likely belonged to a wealthy magistrate named Lucius Ceius Secundus, whose name is inscribed on the site. It is one of the few residences from the late Samnite period (the second century C.E.) still standing at Pompeii. Along with the rest of the ancient city, it was preserved in volcanic ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E.

Fresco at the House of Ceii
A fresco at the House of Ceii depicting scenes of predators and prey Pompeii Archaeological Park

The ancient dwelling is known for its unique architecture and vibrant frescoes, which were restored several years ago. Smithsonian magazine’s Jacob Muñoz described them in 2021:

The walls of Pompeii’s House of the Ceii are adorned with scenes of animals locked in battle, from a big cat on the verge of taking down a pair of rams to a deer looking back in terror as a wild boar gives chase. Nearby, African hunters standing in the shadow of Egyptian-style buildings prepare to hunt hippopotamuses and crocodiles on the banks of [the] Nile.

The vandalism at the site is just the latest in a series of incidents in which tourists have carved or written words on historic buildings and monuments. Just a few weeks ago, a Dutch tourist used a permanent marker to write on a wall at Herculaneum, another ancient town devastated by Vesuvius’ eruption. Last summer, a Canadian teen carved his name into an eighth-century Buddhist temple in Japan. Around the same time, a British visitor scratched a message—“Ivan+Haley 23/6/23”—onto a wall at the Colosseum in Rome.

The Pompeii tourist is no longer in police custody. According to Kazinform, Kazakhstan’s foreign affairs ministry says that the man was released “after completing all the necessary formalities with law enforcement agencies.” The vandal will, however, have to pay a penalty for his actions.

Torna al suo splendore il grande affresco del giardino della Casa dei Ceii

In January, the Italian government passed a law that increased the penalties for damaging the country’s cultural heritage sites. The new legislation raised the maximum fine from $16,000 to $43,000, per Artnet

The stricter measures were prompted in part by climate change protests, which often target historic artworks or cultural sites. Many of these sites—such as Rome’s Trevi Fountain, Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio and Milan’s La Scala opera house—have been located in Italy.

“Thanks to the new law that I strongly supported, the perpetrator will be forced to repay the costs of fully restoring the damage caused,” says Sangiuliano in the statement.

Going forward, the Pompeii vandal’s case will be “carried out administratively,” according to Kazinform, meaning that he “will not be subject to criminal prosecution.”

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