The Light Wins Over the Shadow: Culture against the Italian Mafia
The poster of the exhibition

The Italian city of Casal di Principe is located in the Province of Caserta, Campania Region, not far from Naples. This is the hometown of one of the most dangerous Italian Mafia clans, known as the Camorra, the Casalesi clan. Francesco Schiavone, also known as “Sandokan”, who is in prison now, has been the head of this clan for many years.

The Casalesi clan still largely controls the economic and political life of this area. This means they are influencing the lives of thousands of people who live in a city where one can hardly find any alternative to this illegal lifestyle. The city council of Casal di Principe has already been suspended three times, which is a record in Italy, as a result of mafia infiltrations in the public administration. During the mid 1990s the city had the highest homicide rate in Europe and still today it is recognized as one of the most dangerous places in Italy.

The province of Caserta is a strategic area between Naples (in the South) and Rome (in the North). It is the home of several significant cultural heritage sites, such as the Museo Campano of Capua and the Royal Palace of Caserta, which is the largest royal residence in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Despite this, the Province of Caserta hasn’t been able to achieve economic growth, nor reach any kind of cultural development. This is why local residents find the Camorra the only way to survive in a place with no opportunities: no jobs, no culture, no future prospects, and no alternatives. For this reason, the Mafia remains deeply rooted in the local life and it is proving challenging to change this socially devastating situation. Help should arrive from political institutions, both national and local ones, but the truth is local politicians can be easily corrupted by the Mafia or affiliated to it. Moreover, the Italian government has not treated this issue as a priority over the past few years, and even under previous governments only a few serious attempts were made at fighting against the Mafia.

For many years it felt like this area didn’t belong to Italy, and many Italians didn't think their lives were affected by the Mafia, seeing it as an issue confined to the south. Partly because of this negligence, the Mafia slowly moved to the north to acquire access to more profits. Today, in fact, there is undeniable evidence of their presence in rich cities such as Rome, Venice, Genoa, Torino and above all Milan.

Nonetheless, many individuals – local judges, common people and priests – living in Casal di Principe have tried to fight against the Camorra. The story of a local priest, Don Peppe Diana, who was killed by camorrists in 1994 because of his sermons against illegal organisations, is quite symbolic. Local artists and famous people also asked for more effective support from the national government. So did the writer Roberto Saviano, the author of the famous book Gomorrah – millions of copies were sold worldwide and it was translated into many languages. Saviano is the first Italian writer ever to publicly report the effects of the business run by the Camorra in this part of Italy, and because of this he has been living under protection for years now.

The Museum Casa Don Diana hosts the exhibition. Permanent scaffolding represents the wish of changing and rebirth trough a long work.

An important exhibition. Finally, the central government decided to do something for this area. After the capture of a camorrist, the Italian government confiscated his beautiful house, a typical Italian villa, in which the Mafioso invested much of his money obtained thanks to his criminal life. The house has been restored and transformed into a museum, and named after the priest Don Peppe Diana. On 19 June, the museum was inaugurated with the aim of providing room for important cultural events to foster the renascence of this area.

Since 21 June the museum has been hosting its first exhibition, The Light Wins the Shadow (La Luce Vince L’Ombra in Italian), which will stay open until 21 October. This provides a good opportunity for local people to see masterpieces from some of the most eminent Italian museums, including the Uffizi of Florence, the Royal Palace of Caserta, the Museo Campano of Capua and the National Museum of Capodimonte of Naples. Different masterpieces originally displayed in other Italian museums are shown during the exhibition, and it seems that for the first time the rest of Italy is sending a message to the inhabitants of Casal di Principe: 'We are ready to help you, it’s time to stand up!' A great variety of notable paintings are currently exposed in the show, such as Caravaggio and other artists of his school, but also Warhol and a number of Italian baroque artists such as Preti, Gentileschi and Giordano.

Local products (wine, pasta, mozzarella and other dairy products, fruits and vegetables, sweets, pizza) produced by some social co-operatives on the confiscated properties that once belonged to some camorrists are sold in the museum. In this way, tourists and above all local people can understand how important it is to join forces to fight together against the Mafia, and to bring a different kind of development to an area where, in the end, people will be able to legally work and produce high quality local goods.

Unfortunately, this exhibition is not enough to change the prevailing situation  in the region, but it is a perfect way to demonstrate that thanks to the promising improvements taking place no one needs to escape from here. The entire area might be finally reborn thanks to culture.

It is the first time that Casal di Principe hosts a high profile art exhibition. In this way the organisers hoped to give local people, who are often forced to move somewhere else, the chance to spend quality time in a museum at a cultural event. What is more, tourists are also invited to visit this area, thus contributing to the city’s new development.

The current Italian Minister of Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism Dario Francescini attended the inauguration of the museum. “This testifies the importance of an exposition which is not only ethical, but rather a sign of rebirth. The wish I can make for young people and the whole community of Casal di Principe, is to continue to work together under the symbol of legality and ‘beauty’, challenging pessimism and fears, and proudly claiming membership to their land,” he says.

The entry fee to the exhibition is 8 euros, but for local inhabitants only 4. If you are planning to visit Naples and its surrounding area, don’t forget to take a short trip to this exhibition. Remember: By stopping by, you support the rebirth of Casal di Principe.


When: 21.June–21 October 2015 (10:30–20:30)

Where: Casa Don Diana, via Urano 18, Casal di Principe, Caserta (IT)