Naples's notoriety trumps its culture

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The posters on Claudio Velardi's office walls mix alluring Neapolitan sites with phrases like "Monnezza a chi?" (Who are you calling trash?) Velardi, a public relations whiz recruited from Rome, runs the regional tourism office here. His advertising campaign to counter images that have plagued Naples since last year - the endless news photographs of rotting garbage in the streets - clearly hasn't done much, not yet, anyway, to turn around the city's fortunes. Tourists still stay away in droves, notwithstanding that for months the center of town has been immaculate.

Culture was supposed to be Naples's salvation, as so often is the hope in former industrial centers. The steelworks that drove much of the local economy had mostly closed by the end of the 1970s. The earthquake in 1980 compounded the misery. Then things looked up, for a while.

"We had a dream," said Nicola Spinoza, who is in charge of Naples's state museums. He shook his head, remembering the promise squandered by the time Antonio Bassolino, an ex-Communist who became mayor in 1993, had left office and moved on to be governor of the region.

Culture was Bassolino's weapon of choice as mayor for bringing about change. Capitalizing on money and aid that had already begun to flow in after the quake, the city refurbished scores of churches, museums and dilapidated palaces; cleared downtown landmarks like the Piazza del Plebiscito of cars and muggers to make way for temporary art installations; and Naples began to brand itself as a hotbed of filmmakers, actors and musicians.

"Bassolino is criticized for doing a lot for culture and not enough for unemployment," Francesca Del Vecchio, an art historian here, said in 1997. "But give him time. Four years ago, we couldn't sit in an outdoor café because of the traffic and the crime."

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