Italian police have identified two men suspected of having vandalised the famed white limestone Scala dei Turchi (Stairway of the Turks) cliff in Sicily, which features prominently in the Inspector Montalbano books by the late author Andrea Camilleri.
The cliff, shaped like a huge staircase jutting into the Mediterranean from the coast of Realmonte, was on Friday defaced with red iron oxide powder which left red stains running down the limestone.
Sicily’s governor condemned the vandalism as a “cowardly gesture” against not only “an asset of rare beauty, but also the image of our island”.
Police on Wednesday said that two men from Favara, a short distance from the site, were identified and reported to the authorities for “damaging a protected natural asset”.
The prosecutor’s office of Agrigento, which led the investigation, said that after a series of searches in neighbouring villages the two men had been identified on surveillance cameras.
The footage shows two men leaving a Ford truck pulling two large sacks containing red powder.
Investigators recovered traces of red powder and gloves stained with the same substance in a shed near the residence of one of the men.
One of the alleged perpetrators had previously been convicted of vandalising the Milan metro and the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento, as well as the Punta Bianca white cliff near the Scala dei Turchi.
The motive for the vandalism is still unclear, but prosecutors believe that the gesture represents a sort of “challenge of authority”.
A group of volunteers from the area spent the weekend scrubbing the stains off the cliff.
The Scala dei Turchi was submitted as a candidate for Unesco world heritage status in 2019. However, the landmark was temporarily closed and seized by prosecutors in early 2020 after years of complaints about its poor preservation.
Every year, the gigantic white limestone cliff, which drops steeply over the sea, attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. Its name originates from ancient raids on the coast by pirates, probably Saracens.