Conservationists Try to SaveTuscan Villa Where the Poet Lord Byron Lived

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Campaigners are trying to save a ramshackle Tuscan villa where the poet Lord Byron lived towards the end of his life, but which has fallen into ruin despite its rich history.

Conservationists in Livorno have appealed to the Tuscan regional authorities to preserve the Villa Dupouy where Byron stayed for three months until his friend Shelley's death by drowning in the nearby Gulf of La Spezia in July 1822.

A year later Byron stopped again at Livorno while sailing from Genoa to join the fight for independence in Greece, where he died in 1824. A local road, Via Giorgio Byron, was named after the poet in 1900 to commemorate his association with Livorno.

Fabio Roggiolani, a Green Party councillor in Livorno, said that the Villa Dupouy - formerly owned by Count Pietro Dupouy, a wealthy banker and also known as the Casa Rossa, or Red House - had been allowed to fall into disrepair and was nearly derelict. The 17th century two-storey villa boasts a once elegant facade with niches for statues. It has interior and exterior stone staircases and ceilings frescoed with cherubs and classical scenes. However the property, long uninhabited, has been subdivided into 15 apartments.

Mr Roggiolani said that it was "part of the historic patrimony" of Livorno, and has appealed to Claudio Martini, the president of the Tuscan region, to step in and buy it with regional funds to prevent it from being put up for auction.

However Federico Gelli, the deputy president of Tuscany, said that while the regional council regarded preservation of its heritage as a priority, it could not afford the Euro 2 million (£ 1.6 million) price sought by its owners.

"The most we can do is to offer our collaboration to whoever buys the villa to enure that its memories are preserved," he said.

Partisan groups joined the preservation campaign, pointing out that the villa had been used during the Second World War as the local headquarters of the Committee for National Liberation, the anti-Fascist partisans' guiding body. Garibaldo Benifei, a former partisan aged 96, said that it would be "marvellous to be able to use the villa as a museum explaining to young people what happened in the war".

The frescoed villa is to be put up for auction in October, giving campaigners three months to acquire it. According to some, the villa is believed to be haunted - not by the ghost of Byron, but by Count Dupouy's daughter, whose lover he had decapitated with his sword, banishing his daughter to a convent. It is said that local people swore they had seen the ghost of the girl "desperately seeking her dead lover and holding his head in her hand".

Riccardo Ciorli, an architectural historian in Livorno, said that it was "one of the most beautiful and important villas on the hills of Livorno". He said that Pietro Dupouy, who was of Basque origin, acquired it in 1793, when Livorno was known to the British as Leghorn...

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