Italy interior ministry owns earthly paradises

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Due to a series of quirks in Italian history, the Interior ministry -- and not the Vatican or the Roman Catholic Church -- actually owns some 700 of Italy's most famous basilicas, cathedrals, churches and monasteries and all the masterpieces inside.

Whenever Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu wants a respite from the rigours of protecting the country's borders and preventing terrorism, he can turn to master artists like Caravaggio or Giotto for solace.

Walk into the church of Santa Croce in Florence or the splendid ceramics-covered cloister of Santa Chiara in Naples and you are actually stepping onto a property owned by the Interior Ministry's "Fund for Places of Worship".

When Italy was unified between 1860 and 1870, the papacy lost a huge swathe of territory known as the Papal States.

They stretched from the Mediterranean near Rome and ran northeast to the Adriatic coast -- a landmass that is now occupied by five of Italy's 20 modern regions.

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