Posted on behalf of Nicola Nosengo.
A fire broke out on Monday night at Città della Scienza, an interactive science museum and conference centre in Naples, Italy, destroying most of the complex.
No injuries were reported, but the damage was said to be devastating. The fire broke out at around 9:30 p.m. local time and raged on most of the night before firefighters finally managed to stop it.
Four of the five halls that make up the 12,000-square-metre museum, built on a former industrial site, were destroyed by the fire. Only one hall used as a theatre and conference centre withstood the flames.
“The damage is immense,” the museum’s director, Luigi Amodio, told Nature. “The interactive scientific museum has been entirely destroyed — both the buildings and the exhibits. The fire broke out last night and propagated very quickly. We are waiting for the results of the investigation to understand what caused it.”
Investigators are considering both the possibility of an accident and that of arson. The mayor of Naples, Luigi De Magistris, told the Italian news agency ANSA that he thinks there is “a criminal hand” behind the fire. “I don’t know what information he has,” says Amodio. “I prefer to wait to hear what the investigators say.”
With about 160 employees and averaging 350,000 visitors a year, the Città della Scienza (City of Science) has been Italy’s largest science centre, modelled after Paris’s Cité des Sciences. It comprised a planetary, a collection of interactive scientific exhibits and temporary exhibitions.
The project began in the 1990s as part of the reclamation and redevelopment of a former steel factory in the western part of Naples, and the centre has been open to the public since 2001.
In recent years, the museum had been facing funding problems, making it increasingly difficult for it to stay in operation. Amodio says that he and the rest of the staff hope to rebuild the museum, either on the same site or in a nearby building. “We want to continue our work, but we’ll have to see where and when.”