Roman Villa Graffiti Update: Portuguese tourist — and not Dutch, Thousands of Euros for Full Restoration

A Portuguese tourist vandalized a historic mural in Herculaneum’s Domus of the Bronze Herm on June 2, 2024, prompting immediate restoration efforts by the Herculaneum Conservation Project.

Roman Villa Graffiti Update: Portuguese tourist — and not Dutch, Thousands of Euros for Full Restoration
A Portuguese tourist defaced a Roman Villa wall with a graffiti/tag, on June 2. Credits: EFE, upscaling by Canva

On June 2, 2024, a historic mural in the Domus of the Bronze Herm at Herculaneum was vandalized by a Portuguese tourist, not a Dutch national as originally reported by Reuters.

The incident involved defacing a third-style decorated mural with a 15 mm chisel-tip permanent marker, damaging a 15 dm² area. Despite protective treatments, the ink penetrated the surface due to existing micro fractures.

The known facts as of now

The Ministry of Culture provided an update on June 19 concerning the opening of the Ancient Beach of Herculaneum, but also detailing the extensive measures being taken to restore the mural and ensure the integrity of the site. This update clarified the tourist's nationality as Portuguese and outlined the meticulous process involved in the ongoing conservation project. The Ministry emphasized the importance of preserving such historical artifacts and the significant resources allocated to these efforts.

CCTV cameras placed inside the room filmed the man at the very moment he defaced the painting, placing a signature/writing on the surface with a permanent marker with a 15 mm wide “chisel” tip. The black ink, despite the painted wall having been treated in the past with a protective product that had a “barrier” effect, unfortunately penetrated inside the underlying layers because the surface presents widespread micro fractures.

The following day, the Herculaneum Conservation Project, in collaboration with the park's authorities, began solvent tests to evaluate ink removal, using techniques previously employed on a vandalized Mark Rothko painting at Tate Modern. This method involved applying an absorbent compress to extract the ink from the underlying plaster.

How will the Roman wall be restored?

Further interventions are underway to address not only the recent damage but also older graffiti from reckless visitors on modern plaster, dating back to 2005-2007.

A comprehensive maintenance plan for the entire domus, focusing on both ancient decorated surfaces and modern plasters in the atrium and adjacent rooms, is nearing completion. The total cost of these restoration efforts is expected to run into thousands of euros.

Police and Cultural Minister's Response

Authorities identified the writing as the tourist's graffiti signature. Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano emphasized the gravity of such acts, stating, “Any damage hurts our heritage, our beauty, and our identity and that is why it must be punished with the utmost firmness.” The unnamed tourist faces charges of damage and defacement of artistic works.

Herculaneum, smaller than its neighboring Pompeii, was buried under a deeper layer of ash that preserved its ruins exceptionally well from looting. This act of vandalism is not an isolated incident in Italy.

Last year, an English tourist was filmed carving his and his girlfriend's names on Rome's Colosseum, and graffiti artists defaced the facade of Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II without being apprehended.

In response to these repeated acts of vandalism, Italy has introduced stricter penalties for damaging monuments and cultural sites, imposing fines of up to 40,000 euros ($43,548) for defacement. This move underscores the nation's commitment to protecting its cultural heritage and deterring future offenses.

This article uses the following tags:

Roman Empire News, Roman Villa, Herculaneum, pompeii, domus, vesuvius

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