After Gomorrah: The Naples housing estate hoping to erase its mafia past

REPORTERS © Davide Cerullo

A symbol of the power of the Neapolitan mafia, the "Vele" buildings in the Scampia neighbourhood are to be demolished. A way for the southern Italian city to put its mafia past behind it, as FRANCE 24's team reports.


Built between 1963 and 1980 to accommodate nearly 40,000 people from the poorest neighbourhoods of Naples, the sail-shaped tower blocks known as "Vele" ("sails" in Italian) have long symbolised the influence of the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. They even became the setting for the acclaimed film and TV series "Gomorrah".

For their architect Franz di Salvo, the Vele were supposed to recreate the atmosphere of downtown Naples, with its alleys and its neighbourhoods. In other words, a good place to live. But this utopia was not to be. Some of the money for construction was misappropriated, while the buildings remained unfinished, then fell into disrepair and were abandoned by their inhabitants.

After an earthquake in the region in 1980, hundreds of homeless families decided to squat the vacant apartments. The Camorra also infiltrated the area and wove its web. In the space of a few years, heroin, cocaine and crack invaded the streets. By the 2000s, Scampia had become the largest drug supermarket in Europe.

The Italian government and the Naples city authorities took time to react, but in 2009, a large-scale anti-mafia plan took on the Camorra clans. In the middle of the district, the Scampia police station now takes pride of place, like a look-out post. "In ten years, we've cut drug sales by 90 percent", says Police Superintendent Lorenzo Stabile.

In the midst of this drug war, some 200 families are still squatting in the Vele. They pay no rent, have no municipal services, and have to illegally plug into the city’s electricity and water networks to survive. "We’re like ghosts," sighs one resident.

View of Scampia's "Vele"
View of Scampia's "Vele" © FRANCE 24


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