venerdì 9 maggio 2014

'Gaping hole' opens up in 'Italian Versailles' roof

'Maintenance problem' says superintendent

Caserta - A hole has opened up in the roof of Italy's Versailles, the 18th-century UNESCO-listed Bourbon Palace of Caserta near Naples whose rundown state has grabbed headlines over the last few years. "At first we just saw light peeping through and then the hole became gaping," said the head of the Reggia di Caserta special superintendency, Flavia Belardelli. She said the damage was caused to a part of the sprawling building occupied by the Italian air force, who heritage bodies have vainly been trying to dislodge for years. "It looks like a maintenance problem," Belardelli said.

The palace that once hosted the kings of Naples and Sicily, one of the lesser-known splendours of southern Italy, has been dogged with upkeep woes, and its image was dented further last June when drug pushers were arrested just outside its magnificent grounds. More than 20 people including four pregnant women were selling drugs to teenagers in a garden opposite the entrance to the UNESCO-listed Reggia, the largest palace built in Europe in the 18th century.

The Reggia, built to rival Louis XIV's Paris chateau of Versailles by the dynasty that ruled Naples, saw a string of structural collapses earlier in 2013, while its grand waterworks ran dry because of local farmers punching holes in pipes for their crops. In October 2012 Caserta's overall arts superintendent appealed to the Italian government to save the treasured building after bits fell off it. "It's a serious situation," said Paola Raffaella David at the time. "In the last 10 days two parts of the facade have collapsed due to deteriorating iron clamps that anchor the marble structures". A family was nearly struck by a piece of the building's cornice that fell to the ground in late October 2012.

Ten days earlier a piece of a facade's tympanum fell into a square. After the drug-gang arrests, the culture ministry vowed to "immediately" secure all structures around entrances to the Reggia in order to protect the thousands of daily visitors. The Reggia has been a World Heritage Site since 1997. The massive palace was dreamed up by Bourbon King Charles III, who hoped it would one day be as famous as the French kings' opulent residence outside Paris. Designed as the new capital of the Bourbon Kingdom, it was lost to the Napoleonic invasion for several years but returned to the Bourbon House in 1815. In 1860, it became the property of the royal family of the new Italian state, the Savoys, before finally ending up in State hands in 1919.

The palace complex, which has won awards for its beautiful gardens, was based on designs by papal architect Luigi Vanvitelli and took nearly 100 years to complete. The courtyards, vestibules, park and Palatine Chapel of the landmark have featured in several Hollywood movies. The building's interior appeared in George Lucas's second Star Wars trilogy, where it was the home of the young Queen Amidala, Natalie Portman's breakout role. It has also doubled as the Vatican in two more recent blockbusters, Mission: Impossible III and Ron Howard's adaptation of the Dan Brown prequel to the Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons. 

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