The palace was intended to be the jewel in the crown of the Bourbon rulers of what was then the Kingdom of Naples when it was commissioned in the 1750s. One of the largest palaces in Europe, it has 1,200 rooms and took nearly a century to build. Its statues are mildewed and crumbling, its marble floors disfigured by stains and bits of plaster and stone tumble from the facade of the UNESCO World Heritage site. The number of visitors has declined by around 50,000 a year for the last decade, with the palace now attracting an average of just 1,500 tourists a day. The sorry state of the palace, which lies outside Naples and has been used as a set for the Star Wars and Mission Impossible films, is the latest example of Italy’s failure to make the most of its extraordinary cultural heritage, amid drastic government funding cuts and a deep recession. The sense of neglect was underlined over Easter when a group of teenagers was photographed stripped down to their shorts and splashing in a pool at the top of a huge ornamental cascade that dominates the palace's English-style landscaped gardens. The grounds of the palace were supposed to be closed to the public but the youths – described as "a barbarian horde" by one Italian newspaper – managed to sneak in nonetheless and take advantage of Spring sunshine to take a dip in the waterfall. The palace and its estate, which is surrounded by grim, Mafia-ridden satellite towns of Naples, now has such a security problem that the army should be called in to guard it, the mayor of the local town of Caserta said last week. Pio Del Guadio wrote to Italy's ministers for defence and home affairs calling for "urgent intervention" by the army. Last month Lorenzo Ornaghi, the minister for heritage, said the palace needed an injection of funds similar to that given to Pompeii, the ancient Roman city that was buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, south of Naples. It has been estimated that the renovation of the Bourbon estate would cost around 22 million euros (£19 million). There was another blow to the sprawling royal palace when thieves managed to access the roof and steal copper from a lightning conductor. The theft took place right under the noses of Carabinieri paramilitary police and the Italian air force, both of which have offices in the building. The copper was estimated to be worth around 80,000 euros. Heritage officials said they had no idea how the thieves managed to swipe it from such a high-profile location. It is popular with film makers and has appeared in Mission: Impossible III, as well as two of the more recent Star Wars movies, when it stood in for the palace of Queen Amidala, played by Natalie Portman. It doubled for the Vatican in Angels and Demons, the film adaptation of one of Dan Brown's bestselling thrillers. Alarm over the deteriorating state of the palace was last raised in October when chunks of masonry fell from a cornice, narrowly missing a group of tourists.