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 caught scratching graffiti onto a brick of the ancient Roman Colosseum. Italians reacted with outrage at video (taken by an equally outraged American) when Bulgaria-born Englishman Ivan Dimitrov used his 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 Dimitrov 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 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.

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21 responses to “A Tale of Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites”

  1. M. Purdy Avatar
    M. Purdy

    “Free speech.” Except when I don’t approve…genius.

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      Seriously? So, OK to shout profanities on the Lawn with no regard to other residents or visitors? No expectation for the immature, wrong brat, rewarded with a room to act like an adult? UVA was actually right with respect to her disabilities act claim for reasonable accommodation.

      Let’s go over this again – for beginners – she has the right to her opinion and to express it. It was wrong of her to express it on the Lawn door. It was selfish and inconsiderate and a betrayal of the honor accorded her with a Lawn room. Then, politically correct, secretly agreeing with her milquetoast Jim Ryan failed by not condemning her manner of speech. But he didn’t, and he hid behind free speech as his reason not to man up (and also to preserve his academic street cred as a good Leftist. He would be attacked by the Left if he did what he should have done.)

      1. M. Purdy Avatar
        M. Purdy

        Thank you for proving my point.

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          And thank you for proving your inability to reason and to only parrot your Party Line. Lemme guess…abortion after birth is good with you, cuz Choice! How come a stupid noose on Homer (and I couldn’t tell you where the statue is!) is a hate crime and UVA goes all in to identify the hate crime? Hira Azher was right! She was not an immature brat! Lemme know when the Party denounces the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on Azher and she becomes an enemy (and it will happen to you and all other useful idiots once your useful idiotness has been used up).

  2. AND some wonder about the application numbers …. too funny….

  3. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    They are still looking for the person behind all the Kilroy was Here graffiti all over Europe, circa 1943-45. Boy when they catch him will he or she be in so much trouble…..

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    You clearly missed the religious icon (Wiccan, no doubt) hanging from the top of the doorframe. This is a freedom of religion issue, thus removing anything from the door violates the student’s right not to design door art for Republicans.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    “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.”

    1. Is the restriction of signage to a small message board constitutional?

    2. Of course the restriction was promptly ignored. Refusing to ignore logic and the English language by not to referring to an individual as “they” or “them” is an act of violence and maybe even a hate crime. But ignoring the provisions of the lease you signed for your dorm room is an act of brave free speech.

  6. WayneS Avatar

    Is that guy wearing pajamas?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Nah, just a tee shirt. But, ya know, for awhile there it wasn’t unusual to see people wearing pajamas out.

      Stopped at a Wendy’s on I-95, oh 2008 or so, and a bus pulled up full of high school aged kids. They were all wearing pajamas. Lucky break, I got to the counter first.

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Lest we forget…


    It just took a little push to topple the delicately perched boulder – millions of years in the making – in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. Then the man who did it laughed, high-fived his son, and flexed his muscles while being cheered on by a fellow Boy Scout leader.Jan 31, 2014

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Two men, the boulder pusher and the man who filmed the action, were each charged with a felony for their ‘prank’. Apparently, they were also expelled from the Boy Scouts.

      They ended up pleading down to misdemeanors and being sentenced to one-year probation and were required to pay restitution (amount unknown).

  8. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    There is a big difference between a sign and initials carved into a brick wall. However, because the Ryan administration made it a point this year to include in the room leases the limitation on signage to a message board, it should enforce that provision. One would think they would have enforced it for a year or two anyway, when they knew critics would be watching, until the hubbub died away.

  9. StarboardLift Avatar

    Find me an apartment rental unit anywhere in which a tenant may scratch graffiti into the structure, or paint anything on a door. Such a simple matter. Why would we expect UNESCO to be more permissive than any landlord?

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Find me a college dorm not so decorated by most of the tenants. By the end of the year mine were pretty ragged…..I recall no sanctions. Wasn’t Yates 1973 a World Heritage Site? I was with a UVA board member yesterday and somehow forgot to bring this up. He is my doc and he did have needles in his hand….Oh, and of course, I don’t actually care about decorated doors on Mr. Jefferson’s Sacred Shrine.

  10. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
    Virginia Gentleman

    Vandalism verses Free Speech. Seems like two completely different scenarios. Hopefully, there is not a Roman Colosseum Board Member with a box cutter involved.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Paint scraper.

      1. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
        Virginia Gentleman

        “I was prepared to use a small razor blade to remove …. “

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Would have been funny had he gouged the door in the effort.

          I doubt any of the doors are original.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            Well, the panels have been replaced on numerous occasions; doorknobs, locks & hinges updated several times; and the doorframes rebuilt as needed, but those doors are original – and only someone who hates UVA and its heritage would argue otherwise.


            You remember the story of George Washington’s ax, right?

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Yes. Great one. But I think that story line goes all the back to Gethsemane. “Well, we replaced the crossbeam in 200 CE, broke it up and sold it for indulgences. The nail holes were augered out two years later…”

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