Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does a Star Wars Palace in Italy Need the Army to Protect It?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Does a Star Wars Palace in Italy Need the Army to Protect It?

Article excerpt

In size and splendor, it rivals the Palace of Versailles, and has been used as a set for Hollywood blockbusters such as Star Wars, Mission: Impossible, and Angels & Demons.

But the Royal Palace of Caserta is in such a bad state, and suffers from such lax security, that local officials have called for the Italian army to be sent in to protect it.

The sprawling palace, built to the same scale as its more famous cousin at Versailles and listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, should be one of Italy's premier tourist attractions.

Instead, it is losing visitors at an alarming rate, its statues and walls are covered in mildew, and cars regularly race up and down avenues that should be the preserve of pedestrians, cyclists, and families pushing strollers.

The sense of neglect was underlined over Easter when a group of teenagers was photographed stripped down to their shorts and splashing in a pool at the top of a huge ornamental waterfall that dominates the palace's landscaped gardens.

The grounds of the palace were supposed to be closed to the public, but the youths - described as "a barbarian horde" by one Italian newspaper - managed to sneak in nonetheless and take advantage of spring sunshine to take a dip in the cascade.

The palace and estate now has such a security problem that troops should be called in to guard it, the mayor of the local town of Caserta said Monday. Pio Del Guadio wrote to Italy's ministers for defense and home affairs calling for "urgent intervention" by the army.

The controversial proposal was rejected as overly alarmist by Giovanni Puglisi, the president of Italy's commission for UNESCO sites. He said that "at most" the lax security around the palace required a beefed up police presence, rather than bringing in troops.

He also called for children in Italian schools to be taught "civic education" and a greater respect for the country's heritage.

The sorry state of the palace is a potent emblem of the dysfunction that afflicts modern Italy and the country's apparent inability to capitalize on its extraordinary cultural heritage, from Roman remains such as the Colosseum and Pompeii to Baroque churches and Renaissance monuments.

"The neglect of the Royal Palace of Caserta is the umpteenth sign of the growing disinterest of this country towards one of its main assets - its culture," says Armando Cirillo, a spokesman on tourism for Italy's biggest political bloc, the Democratic Party. …

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