Posting the photo online last week, the user Nils Travels – a self-described "full-time globetrotter" – initially bragged about finding "a little area that had NO people! Meaning, nobody to yell at me meaning I had to come down from this thing! Exactly what I needed!"
But by Monday, the travel blogger had posted an apology after history enthusiasts spotted his picture and reported it to the archaeological site's authorities, attracting the attention of Italian media and causing his online profiles to be bombarded with criticism.
"I admit that it was not my smartest decision, and I was not thinking about the historical significance of the place and how it could be perceived by others," he wrote, adding that as someone with more than 40,000 online followers, "I bear a greater responsibility than others to be an example of what and what not to post, or how to behave as a traveller".
His original caption has since been deleted, though the photo – 'liked' nearly 2,000 times – remains. The "thing" he referred to is a column of Pompeii's monumental Basilica, the most important public building in the ancient city and one of the oldest of its kind still visible today.
The offending picture was first publicized by a local researcher, Vincenzo Marasco, who posted a screenshot to Facebook, attracting furious comments from fellow historians. After the blogger expressed his regrets, Marasco said he accepted the apology and hoped the episode would serve as a deterrent to others.
"The fragility of our historic heritage must be protected and defended, especially from those who show themselves unaware of its great value," he commented.
Nils, who said he had received death wishes for his post, claimed that many Instagram photos from the site show other tourists doing the same thing and indeed, the latest shots show several visitors leaning against, stepping on or even doing yoga among parts of the World Heritage Site (though The Local didn't spot anyone else atop a Basilica column).
Earlier this year, an American tourist was reprimanded by police for shifting one of the site's precious mosaics as he was trying to get a better picture, while a French visitor was charged for attempting to make off with fragments of pottery.
"His action was one of thousands that take place every day, not only at Pompeii but in churches, museums and all cultural sites," commented archaeologist and art historian Antonella Dentamaro. "Italy's policies on culture need a complete reform; we should learn how to better manage tourist flows, especially when and where entry is free. And in Pompeii's case, as someone once said, to save it we'd have to rebury it."
Professor of archaeology Antonio De Simone, who helped excavate the site, had a less radical idea: distributing leaflets to every visitor explaining the significance of the site and the importance of "appropriate behaviour", complete with illustrations.
Meanwhile the managers of Pompeii, one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions, said that they had received dozens of messages alerting them to the photo and would look into the reports.
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Photo: Pompeii Archaeological Park/Italian Culture Ministry