Italians have reacted with indignation to two tourists who stripped down to their underwear and cavorted in a fountain in Rome beneath a monument that commemorates the dead of the First World War.
One of the young men pulled down his underpants to reveal his genitals, in a scene that was captured on video by a passerby.
As the capital sweats through the dog days of August, it is not common for international visitors to try to cool off in the city’s many Baroque and Renaissance fountains, despite signs warning that it is prohibited.
But the latest episode provoked particular anger because the fountain that the two men clambered into is part of the Altar of the Fatherland, a giant white stone monument in the centre of Rome that includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and an eternal flame.
“I condemn in the strongest terms this behaviour, which offends each one of us, as well as the memory of those who died for our country, to whom the monument is dedicated,” said Luca Bergamo, the deputy mayor of Rome.
“Behaving like this shows stupidity and ignorance and a lack of respect for the history of Rome and of Italy.”
Police said they were trying to identify and locate the two men, who reportedly spoke English.
They waded into the water of the fountain as the temperature hit 95F.
“Once they are identified they will be punished with the maximum penalties possible,” Mr Bergamo said.
Video footage of the men appears to have been taken by a motorist, possibly a taxi driver, who had pulled up alongside the fountain.
“Mamma mia, this is absurd. This will go down in the history of Rome,” the driver can be heard muttering as he filmed the men laughing and gesticulating at their friends.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of a vast monument known as the Vittoriano that dominates Piazza Venezia in central Rome.
It was built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of Italy after its unification in the 19thcentury.
“Under siege from the new barbarians,” was the headline in La Repubblica, one of the country’s biggest dailies.
According to the Rome-based daily Il Messagero, it was “the umpteenth affront to Rome’s fountains, and nobody intervened.”
It was the “latest in a long act of idiocies”, said Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Rome has long had to put up with the louche and unacceptable behaviour of tourists, who jump into fountains, urinate in the streets and carve their initials on the 2,000-year-old walls of the Colosseum.
Police said the tourists had “gravely offended national sentiment and the memory of the fallen. Initial reports suggest that they are foreigners whose mother tongue is English.”
The police said they were determined to locate and prosecute the tourists for their “illegal and offensive behaviour”.
One of the fountains that proves most tempting to tourists wanting to cool off is the famous Trevi Fountain.
The city is considering the idea of introducing a one-way route that tourists would have to follow to view it, in order to ease overcrowding and cut down on anti-social behaviour.
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