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The Scala dei Turchi, or Turkish steps, are a top tourist attraction on the Italian island of Sicily. The snow-white cliff is shaped like stairs jutting out over the Mediterranean sea.

Overnight on Friday, the famous cliffs were “shamefully defaced” with red powder, shocking residents.

The culprits had covered the cliffs with red iron oxide powder in an act which Sicily’s president called an “outrage”.

Nello Musumeci, Sicily’s President, said: “The splendid white marl cliff of the Scala dei Turchi, an attraction of the Agrigento area for visitors from all over the world, has been shamefully defaced.

“We condemn the perpetrators of this cowardly gesture.

“It constitutes an outrage not only to an asset of rare beauty, but also to the image of our island.

“I hope the judiciary quickly identify those responsible.”

The chief prosecutor has reportedly begun an investigation into the incident and police are looking for clues.

Much of the damage has now gone, due to the good work of many local residents who quickly took to the cliff.

Municipal workers and local residents spent most of Saturday scrubbing the cliff clean with mops and water pumps.

Sabrina Luttuca, the mayor of Realmonte, told The New York Times: “They are an example of the best of Sicily.

“This teamwork was able to restore beauty and splendour to the Scala dei Turchi.”

The Scala dei Turchi is currently closed to the public due to safety concerns and fears of overtourism.

Before the pandemic, the steps drew around one million visitors per year and were one of Sicily’s top sights.

Ms Lutucca told the New York Times: “As it is so snow-white, so pure, (the Scala dei Turchi) the emblem of a clean and honest Sicily, and it must be preserved and protected.”

The famous stairs are thought to have once been a hiding place for pirates on the island of Sicily.

They gained further attention when they featured in the famous Inspector Montalbano books as well as the TV series.

The Visit Sicily website warns that any visitors who remove any marl from the cliffs could face a fine.

It adds that the cliff dust has no therapeutic or medicinal properties, so there is no need for visitors to rub it on their skin.

It is hoped that there will be no lasting damage to the famous cliffs from the red powder.

They have previously been put forward for UNESCO heritage status and are very popular with tourists.

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