Rouhani naked statues Rome
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was shown around the museum by Italian Prime Minister Matteo RenziTiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Italians took to Twitter in protest against a government decision to cover up ancient marble carvings of naked bodies on display at a museum in Rome for an official visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Hundreds of people voiced their displeasure at the sight of the statues at the world-famous Musei Capitolini being hidden behind large white panels.

The vast censorship effort was implemented as a show of respect to the Islamic Republic's leader, out of fears that the exposed private parts of ancient Roman gods could offend Iranian sensitivity. In Italy, however, many were annoyed at what was felt as an excess of prudishness that betrayed country's cultural heritage in the name of political correctness and business interests.

Using the hashtag "statuenude" (naked statues) some netizens started tweeting photos of other Italian masterpieces au naturel in protest.

Others posted pictures of Iranian artefacts depicting unclothed figures.

A few used irony to condemn the move. "Florence is readying for Rouhani's visit," wrote user @Acutissimo, posting an altered image of Michelangelo's David.

The hashtags "statuenude" and "Rouhani" were trending in Italy on 26 January.

Rouhani toured the Capitoline Museums, which host a huge collection of artefacts from the ancient, medieval and renaissance periods – accompanied by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on 25 January.

The centre located on the iconic Capitoline Hill, is managed by the local council. However, a spokesperson said all aspects of Rouhani's visit were attended to by the government. IBTimes UK asked Renzi's office for comment but had received no reply at the time of publishing.

Rouhani's visit in Rome was the first by an Iranian president in Europe for 16 years and aimed at rebuilding economic ties after the lifting of sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.