A Tale of Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites

by James A. Bacon

Italians demand that people treat their UNESCO World Heritage sites with respect. Consider the recent example of the idiot who scratched graffiti onto a brick of the ancient Roman Colosseum. Italians reacted with outrage at video (taken by an equally outraged American) when Bulgarian-born Englishman Ivan Dimitrov used a key to memorialize his devotion to his girlfriend with the phrase, “Ivan + Hayley 23/6/23.”

According to the Sunday Tribune, Dimitrov faces a potential 2- to 5-year prison sentence and a fine of 15,000 euros. He has since apologized, pleading that he didn’t realize the structure was nearly 2,000 years old. His legal representative hopes to negotiate a plea deal that would enable him to pay the fine without serving jail time.

Compare and contrast the reaction to Dimitrov’s offense with the response two years ago when Hira Azher, who posted the infamous “F— UVA” sign on the door of her room on the Lawn, also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On the one hand, the young woman did not etch the words into her door, permanently defacing it.

On the other…

  • The size of the sign, hence, the visual impact, was vastly larger.
  • The message was profane and even more disrespectful of its surroundings than Dimitrov’s scrawl.
  • Azher never faced the prospect of a fine or prison sentence. to the contrary, citing her freedom of speech, university officials did not compel her to take it down. It was removed only after the woman graduated and moved out of the room.

The UVa administration did tighten restrictions in the lease signed by subsequent Lawn residents, requiring them to fit any signage onto a small message board affixed to the doors. That restriction was promptly ignored.


I took the photo above last spring. (Yes, that’s my finger in the upper left-hand corner.) The door in the photo was far from unique. Numerous other Lawn residents had littered their doors with posters in violation of the lease terms.

The administration justified its non-action in the Azher incident on the grounds that it had neglected to enforce the lease provisions, arguing that to start doing so mid-year would constitute a violation of the student’s freedom of speech. One would think that the administration had learned a lesson, but it appears that it was back to its old tricks last year. We are fortunate that none of the flyers and leaflets approached the vulgarity and nastiness of the Azher sign, for we likely would have been forced to endure them.

One wonders if anything will change. It appears that UVa officialdom cannot muster a tiny fraction of the outrage that Italians do when their heritage is desecrated. Indeed, Student Guides giving historical and orientation tours routinely downplay Thomas Jefferson’s architectural genius while condemning the university’s founder as a slaveholder.

Maybe the Italians would think as little of their architectural inheritance as Virginians if the Colosseum had been built by slaves. Oh, my bad… it was.

Update: New headline: “A tourist is accused of defacing a 1,200-year-old UNESCO temple in Japan by carving his name into a pillar.” The Canadian teenager faces up to five years in prison.

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Wahoo74
Wahoo74
11 months ago

The utter hypocrisy is obvious to all but the willfully ignorant.

Perhaps the continued refusal of the Administration to enforce appropriate Lawn door regulations is part of the conscious “contextualization of Thomas Jefferson” that the BOV approved in September 2020 as part of the Racial Equity Task Force. Treat Lawn doors just like any other dorm room door, spitting in the face of Thomas Jefferson, defacing one of only 23 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the US.

You think the Indians would allow posters on the Taj Mahal or Egyptians on the Pyramids (built by Jewish slaves by the way)?

I think we know the answer.

Perhaps President Ryan should quit his UVA presidency job and apply for the UNESCO CEO position. Then all World Heritage sites whose early histories don’t measure up to 2023 Progressive morality standards (which would be 100%) could be similarly defaced. That way the Lawn would no longer be an outlier.

Geoffrey Close
Geoffrey Close
11 months ago

Does UNESCO have any judicial authority or enforcement power? Could residents who violate their lease agreements defacing or permanently or temporally face similar penalties to the Dimitrov?
Since UVA is happy to have the Lawn designated as a UNESCO World History site, shouldn’t violators or defacers face the same potential penalties as someone defacing the Colosseum in Rome? Should resident who violate their lease agreement face any consequences?