Mafia-ridden Naples neighbourhood given fresh hope with new university

Mafia-ridden Naples neighbourhood given fresh hope with new university

When Naples’ Scampia neighbourhood makes the headlines, it’s rarely for something good.

The district is one of the most impoverished in the country, a hotbed of crime, gang warfare and a prime territory of the Camorra, the city’s notorious Mafia clan.

It even hit TV screens when it featured in Gomorrah, a crime series and televised adaptation of journalist Roberto Saviano’s eponymously titled book.

But earlier this month, the infamous Neapolitan suburb generated an entirely different kind of media buzz: the opening of a brand new faculty of the city’s prestigious Federico II university.

The medical faculty is inside a sleek new building which has 33 halls that can host up to 2,660 students. It will also offer 16 undergraduate degrees and six Master’s courses.

Local residents, city officials and commentators across the country have lauded the faculty’s opening as the beginning of a new era for the deprived district.

‘Decay, neglect and loneliness’: Italy’s most dangerous neighbourhood

In Italy, Scampia has become synonymous with ‘malavita’, the kind of urban deterioration and despair surrounding the criminal underworld.

A suburb in Naples’ northern outskirts, with a population of roughly 80,000, it was developed from the 1960s to 80s as a working-class commuter town.

Scampia’s recognisable brutalist tower blocks (known as ‘Le Vele’, ‘The Sails’, after their distinctive shape) become emblematic of the Camorra clans’ illicit activities, especially drug trafficking.

SALVATORE LAPORTA/AP
Scampia’s Camorra feuds. January 2005. - SALVATORE LAPORTA/AP

In the mid-2000s, it was the setting of a violent fight between local Mafia gangs who wanted to exert their control on the neighbourhood.

Roberto Saviano, an anti-mafia activist and journalist, has often spoken about the neighbourhood and its squalor.

“Scampia is not [just] decay, neglect and loneliness, but also wealth, huge wealth. Criminal wealth, unfortunately,” he tweeted in 2012.

In the past 15 years, there have been many attempts to breathe new life into the maligned district. Naples city council eventually decided to demolish the ‘Vele’ social housing projects and relocate their residents.

Part of the new initiative included expanding Naples’ Federico II University to the district. Come 17 October 2022, the new faculty finally opened its doors.

Wikimedia Commons / User “Uomovariabile”
Carnival in Scampia, 2016 - Wikimedia Commons / User “Uomovariabile”

‘Naples can be the country’s reference point’

Calling it a “victory over prejudice”, Naples’ mayor, Gaetano Manfredi, commended the faculty’s opening

“Naples can be a reference point for the country’s own rebirth, starting from the very places that are renowned for their deprivation rather as being places of opportunity,” stated the city’s mayor, Gaetano Manfredi.

“Naples has many resources, talents, and a willingness to succeed,” he added. “We haven’t made it to the finishing line, but this a starting point - and it’s the true confirmation that things can be done well in Naples.”

“Today Naples joins one of its most forgotten and denigrated suburbs,” added the city’s Bishop, Domenico Battaglia, upon the inauguration. “Today a new story begins in a place where many young people came to find death. In this neighbourhood, young people will [now] come to build their future.”

But some local officials remain concerned that the neighbourhood’s distance from the city centre will make it challenging for students to access the faculty.

Scampia’s troubles are still far from over. Earlier this month, the son of a clan member was shot and injured near one of the neighbourhood’s housing projects.