25 years ago, an American couple traveling in Italy snatched up a hunk of some ruins as a souvenir, and wracked with guilt, returned it decades later.
“We appreciate the gesture,” Italian police were quoted as saying. “But WTF. It’s a rock. It’s not like we even realized it was gone.”*
In all fairness, props to the couple for doing the right, though seemingly pointless, thing. In the future, I’d advice them not to take ruins home in the first place. Even if you place it next to a framed photo of the Colosseum, and you explain to friends what it is, no one will be impressed. They’ll just wonder why you have a concrete turd on your mantle.
I realize that the Italian government doesn’t really do the *best* job preserving all of the rich antiquities the country has to offer. That at some point, they just realized they had so many damn churches, amphitheaters, museums, and works of art, that they sort of stopped paying close attention to stuff. It’s like expecting Britney Spears to keep track of all her kids.
Whereas here in the states, we put anything that’s more than 100 years old on the National Register, over there kids spray graffiti on stuff that’s “only five-hundred years old”. And I realize that’s frustrating. And I realize that it might last a lot longer in your home than theirs. But we are not the British National Museum, folks. We can’t pillage stuff under the guise of “safe-keeping.” Besides that, Italy is actually making a concerted effort to crack down on antiquities thieves and dealers.
So let ruins lie where they may. You could easily take something home, but you shouldn’t. It belongs where it is. And if you get frustrated at the Italians’ seeming disregard for their own national treasures, just remember: it’s all about perspective. My cousin lives in a village with a 1,000 year old church, and roads so narrow that he has to pull in the side mirrors on his car. But I dazzled him (no joke) with a friggin apple corer. He brought one back to Italy with him. But of course, it was his for the taking.
*My translation might be a little off.