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THEFT

Italy’s looted treasures found in Rome ‘museum’

Authorities in central Italy have discovered a villa transformed into a private museum, housing hundreds of Roman artefacts allegedly stolen from the state.

Italy's looted treasures found in Rome 'museum'
A display cabinet found in the villa, part of which was turned into a private museum. Photo: Guardia di Finanza

Treasures filled the “splendid villa” in Lanuvio, south of Rome, which was transformed into “a small private museum”, Italy’s financial police said on Monday.

Roman columns, statues, decorated marble and fragments of mosaic were found along with funeral plates and well-preserved terracotta vases.

In one room police found display cabinets filled with ancient artefacts, while elsewhere they uncovered a bas-relief depicting a hunt and a collection of coins.

The vast haul has been catalogued with the the help of the Lazio region’s cultural heritage superintendency, police said.

Four people have been reported and accused of illegally possessing cultural heritage and state property.

Given Italy’s wealth of ancient sites, the country’s police force is embroiled in a continuous battle with heritage thieves. In March, a gang broke into Pompeii and stole part of a fresco from the UNESCO World Heritage site, despite security being upped in recent months.

READ MORE: Thieves steal part of Pompeii fresco

Italian authorities also work with their counterparts internationally in order to reclaim ancient treasures which have found their way onto the international market. In March, Switzerland finalized the return of 4,500 artefacts robbed from Italy, completing a process than had begun in 2001.

READ MORE: Italy reclaims looted treasures from Swiss

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TOURISM

British tourist arrested for stealing Pompeii mosaic tiles

Italian police have detained a British woman suspected of removing ancient Roman tiles from a mosaic at Pompeii.

British tourist arrested for stealing Pompeii mosaic tiles
Visitors at Pompeii, a World Heritage Site and one of Italy's most popular attractions. Photo: Mario Laporta/AFP

The 21-year-old, who was visiting the famous archaeological site with her father and sister, had crossed a protective railing and was seen using a tool to dislodge the mosaic tiles – called tesserae – from the floor mosaic in the House of the Anchor.

Staff called local caribinieri police, who detained the woman as she tried to leave the area.

The incident caused some €3,000 worth of damage, the site’s manager estimated.

Pompeii has long struggled with unscrupulous visitors who pocket relics as holiday souvenirs, or even to sell for a profit.

Last year a French tourist was fined and given a suspended prison sentence after he tried to leave Pompeii with a backpack stuffed full of ancient artefacts.

Sometimes however, the thieves try to make amends. In 2014, a Canadian tourist returned an artefact she had stolen from Pompeii's amphitheatre during her honeymoon – 50 years earlier.

And several thieves have sent back their loot claiming the relics are 'cursed'.

An exhibition of the returned artefacts and accompanying letters of apology has recently been set up at the site in the hopes of deterring would-be thieves.

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