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Land battle forces Zeffirelli out of his £10m villa by the seaRichard Owen in Rome

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Land battle forces Zeffirelli out of his £10m villa by the seaRichard Owen in Rome
Franco Zeffirelli, the film and opera director, is to abandon his villa on the Amalfi coast where he has entertained Hollywood stars for half a century because of a dispute over land.

Local authorities have seized 4,000 sq m of land on the complex at Positano, claiming it as protected public land which was never “regularised” as private property.

Roberto Penna, prosecuting in Salerno, said the acquisition of the land was illegitimate.

Zeffirelli, however, said that the dispute was the result of a long-running campaign by a neighbour to gain access to the shore below.

“I have had enough,” he told The Times. “There was a time when I filled the villa with writers, actors, composers. It was a house of culture. Now those glory days are gone.”

The Zeffirelli property consists of three Arabesque villas overlooking the sea, connected by winding stone steps which lead down to terraces of orchids, bougainvillea and palm trees. The complex is said to be worth at least €15 million (£10.2 million).

In its heyday, in the 1970s, guests included Sir Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Eliza-beth Taylor, Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev, Leonard Bernstein and Liza Minnelli. More recent guests include Robert De Niro, Sting, and the French actress Fanny Ardant, who played the title role in Zeffirelli’s 2002 film Callas Forever.

Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon and former Italian Prime Minister, is said to have wanted to buy the villa after visiting. Carla Fracci, Italy’s legendary prima ballerina, said that it was the most beautiful place in the world.

Zeffirelli, 84, said yesterday: “These are names which, together with my own, have made Positano glamorous. But some people in the area are envious. This whole thing is a complete joke.”

Zeffirelli said that he had not been to the villa for several years, not only because he was getting older, but because of this “absurd dispute”.

He said: “If they go on like this I will never go back. I am sorry, because there are a lot of really nice people in Positano.”

Zeffirelli is best known for religious films such as Jesus of Nazareth and Brother Sun, Sister Moon, film versions of Shakespeare plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, and his 1999 film Tea With Mussolini, describing his upbringing in Florence by British expatriate women. In 2004 he was awarded an honorary knighthood by the Queen.

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