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Burned. A fire has claimed this science museum and educational center in Naples.

Italian Science Museum Burns

The Città della Scienza (City of Science) complex in Naples, which was home to an interactive science museum, educational and conference facilities, and a business incubator, all went up in smoke last night.

A dense and dark column of smoke could be spotted from much of the city as the blaze occurred, according to the national press service ANSA. The fire, which took hours to extinguish, reduced the science museum to empty peripheral walls and ashes. Just one of the museum's buildings used to hold events survived. Altogether, the fire destroyed an area covering 10,000 to 12,000 square meters.

What remains of the Città della Scienza is located in a part of Naples called Bagnoli, a huge industrial site with breathtaking views of the sea that was abandoned by the Italian steel-producing company Italsider in the 1990s. Vittorio Silvestrini, a physicist at the Federico II University of Naples, and colleagues saw an opportunity to convert the area to a high-tech complex that would create jobs. The Città della Scienza was subsequently launched by the Institute for the Diffusion and Valorization of the Scientific Culture Foundation, which is led by Silvestrini, following an agreement with the Italian finance ministry and local authorities.

The interactive museum opened its doors in 2001; the education and conference centers and business incubator soon joined it. The museum was, according to ANSA, "considered one of the cultural jewels of Naples, as well as one of its main factors of tourist attraction, with an average of 350,000 visitors a year." The Città della Scienza employed some 160 people, many of whom are now worrying about their professional future.

Although the Web site of the Città della Scienza was down on 5 March, its Facebook page is asking for donations to rebuild. "Our dreams, 20 years of work, everything we put in this project caught fire in few hours during the nigth [sic]," the page reads. "We need the support of everybody, wherever you are, to beleive [sic] in a new start."

The Italian National Research Council, which had organized an exhibition on the Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen that burned, also called for rebuilding. The "Città della Scienza has been the symbol of recovery, through sharing and scientific divulgation, of the disused industrial area of Bagnoli," writes the president of the National Research Council, Luigi Nicolais, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. "It became an example of redemption of a place, of an entire city, demonstrating that culture creates employment and development." Last night's "fire has interrupted this project; for this reason there must be a strong reaction on the part of all institutions and by those who care about a better future," he added.

The origin of the fire, which occurred on a Monday when the museum is closed and reportedly caused no injuries, is currently under investigation. But "it seems to me that a criminal hand is behind the flames," Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris publicly stated. He made no specific allegations, however.

Posted in Europe