ROME (NYTIMES) – Saturday (Jan 8) was a bad news, good news sort of day for Ms Sabrina Lattuca, mayor of Realmonte, a small town on the western coast of Sicily.
She awoke that morning to find that vandals had thrown iron oxide powder across the white cliffs known as the Scala dei Turchi, or Staircase of the Turks, staining Realmonte’s principal tourist draw with bloody red blotches.
But by nightfall, much of the damage had been undone thanks to the efforts of a crew of cultural heritage experts, municipal workers and local citizens who spent the day scrubbing the site with the aid of mops, brooms and water pumps.
“They are an example of the best of Sicily,” Ms Lattuca said of the people who helped with the cleanup.
In 24 hours, she added, “this teamwork was able to restore beauty and splendour to the Scala dei Turchi”.
Moulded by waves and wind over millennia into a grandiose natural staircase, legend has it that it was the favourite landing spot of pirates and invaders from faraway lands, like the Turks, hence its name.
Long a seaside draw for Sicilians, the marlstone cliffs achieved wider fame thanks to a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano by the late Italian writer Andrea Camilleri, who lauded the site’s “astonishing beauty”. The works were later turned into a popular TV series.
And they also achieved cinematic renown in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Malena and other films.
Investigators in Agrigento, the area’s largest city, about 16km to the east of the Scala dei Turchi, are now scouring videos taken from surveillance cameras on the roads leading to the site on the night between Friday and Saturday, when the vandalism took place.
Major Marco La Rovere, commander of the military police branch of Agrigento, which is investigating the case, said his officers and local prosecutors had “an idea” of who might have vandalised the site, which had been defaced by graffiti in the past.
Now, they were searching for evidence to back up their hunch, he said, declining to give details. “It’s an open investigation,” he said.
Ms Lattuca had no doubts that the vandalism “was the work of a madman”.
“There is no other explanation for such an absurd act,” she said.