The UK-based tourist who triggered widespread outrage for carving his name into Rome’s Colosseum has claimed he was not aware of the monument’s age.
Fitness instructor Ivan Dimitrov, 27, was caught by a fuming sightseer engraving “Ivan + Hayley 23” into the 2,000-year-old structure last month.
The Bristol resident could now face a fine of up to $15,000 and five years in prison.
In an apology letter published in Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper, addressed to the prosecutor’s office and Rome’s mayor, Roberto Gualtieri, Mr Dimitrov said he was not aware of the ancient monument’s age or the “seriousness of the deed committed”.
“Through these lines, I would like to address my heartfelt and honest apologies to the Italians and to the whole world for the damage caused to an asset which, in fact, is the heritage of all humanity,” he wrote.
“It is with deep embarrassment that only after what regrettably happened did I learn of the antiquity of the monument.”
Mr Dimitrov’s lawyer, Alexandro Maria Tirelli, told Il Messaggero that his client was “the prototype of the foreigner who frivolously believes that anything is allowed in Italy, even the type of act which in their own countries would be severely punished”.
Italy’s Carabinieri tracked Mr Dimitrov and his girlfriend down in Bulgaria five days after the incident sparked international outrage. Italian police officer Major Roberto Martina said the 27-year-old expressed “sincere remorse” for his actions.
“He told us he was very upset by what he had done, and he kept apologising for it. I think he was worried about the consequences of any trial,” Mr Martina told the Mail Online.
A report of the investigation will be sent to Mr Dimitrov’s home address in the UK before any potential trial proceeds.
The fitness trainer and his girlfriend were said to be holidaying in Rome on a three-week European tour when the incident took place.
The Italian culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, said the act “offended those around the world who appreciate the value of archaeology, monuments and history”, and thanked the police for identifying the alleged suspect.
The minister said the government was considering a law that would impose stringent punishment on those found guilty of defacing or damaging the country’s historical and cultural heritage sites.
Rome’s Colosseum, a protected Unesco World Heritage site, was constructed during the reigns of the emperors Vespasian and Titus in the first century AD. It attracted the Roman public to see spectacular gladiatorial bouts, historical reenactments and parades of exotic wild animals imported from Africa and the Middle East, including elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, lions, leopards, panthers and ostriches.
In 2014, a Russian tourist was given a suspended four-year jail sentence and fined €20,000 (£17,000) for engraving a “K” on the walls of the Colosseum.
The following year, two American tourists were also cited for aggravated damage after they likewise carved their names into its stones.
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