Tourist Seen Defacing Rome’s Colosseum Says He Didn’t Know It Was Ancient

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A man seen on video last month using his keys to etch his love for his girlfriend on a wall in the Colosseum in Rome has written a letter of apology, saying he had no idea the nearly 2,000-year-old monument was so ancient.

“I admit with deepest embarrassment that it was only after what regrettably happened that I learned of the monument’s antiquity,” the man — identified by his lawyer as 31-year-old Ivan Danailov Dimitrov — wrote in a letter dated July 4 and addressed to the Rome prosecutor’s office, the mayor of Rome and “the municipality of Rome.”

Portions of the letter were first published on Wednesday in the Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero.

In it, Mr. Dimitrov acknowledged the “seriousness of the deed I committed,” and offered his “heartfelt and sincere apologies to Italians and the entire world for the damage done to a monument, which is, in fact, heritage of all humanity.” Mr. Dimitrov offered to “sincerely and concretely” right his wrong and redeem himself.

The carving came to light last month after a fellow tourist in Rome filmed a man scratching “Ivan + Hayley 23/6/23” into a brick on a wall of the Colosseum. The video went viral, and “Ivan,” whose identity was then not known, was widely rebuked for his devil-may-care attitude. Admonished — with an expletive — by the video-taker, Mr. Dimitrov carried on.

The brick that was defaced was actually part of a wall built during a mid-19th century restoration of the monument, which was inaugurated in the first century A.D. But that made little difference to Colosseum authorities who said that it didn’t change the fact that the act was vandalism.

Mr. Dimitrov was eventually identified by Italian military police officers who crosschecked the two lovers’ names with registered guests in Rome and found they had stayed in an Airbnb rental in the Cinecittà neighborhood. Roberto Martina, the police commander who oversaw the operation said they tracked Mr. Dimitrov to England, where he and his girlfriend, who is not under investigation, live.

Italy is no stranger to unruly visitors leaving their mark. Three years ago, a spate of incidents prompted lawmakers to stiffen penalties for vandalizing Italy’s venerable cultural heritage. And the country wants to impose even tougher laws on climate activists, who have vandalized cultural property to protest what they call government inaction on climate change.

“It should be said that when foreign tourists come to Italy, from anywhere, not any particular nationality, there’s this idea that they’ve come to a country where everything is allowed, where they turn a blind eye, where it’s that’s how it goes,” said Alexandro Maria Tirelli, Mr. Dimitrov’s lawyer. But his client may get caught in the crackdown, risking between two and five years in prison and a fine up to 15,000 euros, about $16,300. Mr. Tirelli said he was hoping for a plea bargain that will allow his client to pay a fine but serve no jail time.

Mr. Dimitrov’s apology, the lawyer said, was an attempt to make clear “that he had pulled what he thought was a harmless stunt.”

Italian media on Wednesday pulled no punches. The letter of apology “defaced common sense,” Il Messaggero declared. Dagospia, a popular online website, suggested the letter only made things worse (Did he think the Colosseum was a fast-food restaurant, it asked?). A news anchor on the lunchtime news program of RAI 1, the main state channel, said the fact that Mr. Dimitrov hadn’t known that the monument was ancient “is really a somewhat unbelievable excuse.”

A spokesman for the Rome’s mayor office said that they had not received Mr. Dimitrov’s letter. The Rome prosecutor’s office declined to comment.

“I hope this apology will be accepted,” Mr. Dimitrov wrote in the letter.

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