(By Sandra Cordon). Rome, June 12 - Conservation and restoration of the UNESCO-listed Reggia di Caserta, the largest palace built in Europe in the 18th century, must be treated as a high priority in a drive to make tourism the engine of the southern Italian economy, Italy's new culture minister believes. Massimo Bray, who left his post as editor of Italy's prestigious Treccani dictionary to become minister of culture and tourism in April, this week called for "rapid action in developing strategies to revitalize the site". "The Reggia must become a showcase for the South, a jewel in the crown of the government's new policy for the Mezzogiorno," he said after meetings with key officials. The minister "asked all present to engage (with) stakeholders in the common goal of making the Reggia di Caserta a place of excellence in artistic, cultural and tourism (fields)," a ministry spokesman said. The ministry will also consider legal and organizational issues around improving the famed former Bourbon palace, which has suffered significant structural collapses in recent months. The Reggia di Caserta, a World Heritage Site since 1997, was described in its UNESCO nomination as representing "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque, from which it adopted all the features needed to create the illusions of multi-directional space". Despite its long history and grandeur, the palace was allowed to deteriorate to the point where late last year, it came to public attention after some dramatic damage was reported. That was when Caserta's arts superintendent appealed to the Italian government to save the treasured structure. "It's a serious situation," Paola Raffaella David said last October as pieces of the structure continued to drop off. "In the last 10 days, two parts of the facade have collapsed due to deteriorating iron clamps that anchor the marble structures". At the same time, a family was nearly struck by a piece of the building's cornice that fell to the ground. Such cases demonstrate why one of the first necessary steps is more financial support, "to cope with the many existing structural emergencies" of the palace, Domenico Zinzi, president of the provincial government of Caserta, said following this week's meetings. He also urged a more organized national program to link significant cultural and historic sites such as the Reggia di Caserta with other, similar structures including Turin's famed Venaria Reale, the grand former hunting lodge of Italy's former royal family, the House of Savoy. "We need to work in a spirit of collaboration...(on) cultural tourism programming, by networking all the resources of each territory and making sure that our beauties become opportunity for economic development," said Zinzi. Construction on the the Reggia, built to rival Louis XIV's Paris chateau of Versailles, began in 1752 on the orders of Charles VII of Naples, who worked closely with his architect Luigi Vanvitelli. Although Charles reportedly was filled with emotion at the sight of Vanvitelli's grandly scaled model for the Reggia, he never actually had a chance to use it as he abdicated in 1759 to become King of Spain. The Caserta project was instead left to his third son and successor Ferdinand IV of Naples to complete on the site, located about 40 kilometres north of Naples. The palace complex, which has won awards for its beautiful gardens, took nearly 100 years to complete. 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. Since then, it has served many functions. At the end of World War II, the royal palace became the seat of the Supreme Allied Commander, and in April 1945 was the site of the signing of terms of the unconditional German surrender in Italy. As well, the courtyards, vestibules, park and Palatine Chapel of the landmark have featured in several Hollywood movies. The building's interior has doubled as the Vatican in two recent blockbusters - Mission: Impossible III and Ron Howard's adaptation of the Dan Brown prequel to the Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons.