Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies faces an uncertain existence as austerity begins to bite


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As a further sign that Italy's priceless cultural heritage is under threat from stifling bureaucracy and government bean counters, one of the world's most important philosophy libraries is facing oblivion.

Leading 20th-century thinkers, from the Italian Renaissance historian Eugenio Garin to the Austro-British philosopher Karl Popper, have taught at the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies in Naples, which contains 300,000 volumes on philosophy and related disciplines.

"This is the most beautiful private library in Europe. We have been working on it for more than 40 years," the institute's founder, Gerardo Marotta, 85, said. Despite a decades-long delay to transfer the library's collection from a 17th-century palazzo and various other sites to a new central building, red tape and funding cuts appear to have scuppered the plans.

The institute's financing from the higher education ministry of around €3m (£2.4m) a year was abruptly cut to zero in 2010. Thousands of books are already on their way to storage depots outside the city.

But the Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, has insisted that efforts were being made to save the collection. "Creating a library for the precious volumes of the institute is a top priority not only on a local but on a national level," he said. Antonio Gargano, the institute's secretary-general, told The Independent that bureaucracy and political infighting also explained why plans to transfer the collection had stalled.

"It's vital we preserve this for future generations," he said.