Drug pushers arrested outside Reggia di Caserta

Gang including 4 pregnant woman caught at 'Italy's Versailles'

Drug pushers arrested outside Reggia di Caserta

Caserta, June 3 - Italian police on Friday rounded up a gang of drug pushers operating outside a famed former Bourbon palace north of Naples whose rundown state has grabbed headlines recently. More than 20 people including four pregnant women are suspected of selling drugs to teenagers in a garden opposite the entrance to the UNESCO-listed Reggia di Caserta, 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, has seen structural collapses in the last six months and its grand waterworks have run dry because of local farmers punching holes in pipes for their crops. Last October Caserta's 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. "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. Ten days earlier a piece of a facade's tympanum fell into a square. David said the culture ministry has promised 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. 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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