A proposal to turn a medieval palace in Genoa founded by Crusader knights into a multi faith prayer centre for Muslims, Jews and Christians has run into opposition from local politicians who say Muslims are "not welcome".
Members of the anti immigrant Northern League - which is part of the centre Right government led by Silvio Berlusconi - said the Genoa council's plan to use the Commenda di Pre for multi faith prayer was unacceptable.
Francesco Bruzzone, a regional councillor for the Northern League, said Muslims had "no business coming" to the hospital and hostel where crusaders and pilgrims had gathered and said mass before leaving for the Holy Land."This shows a lack of respect for history" Mr Bruzzone said. He said he had been due to go on holiday but instead had decided to stay in Genoa to protest.
Marta Vincenzi, the centre Left mayor of Genoa, said the council wanted to open an inter-religious centre "where members of the three monotheistic religions - Christians, Jews and Muslims - can all go to pray". Catholics would use the prayer centre on Sunday, Jews on Saturday and Muslims on Friday. Salah Hussein, the imam in Genoa, welcomed the idea, which he said would reinforce "civil co-existence".
However Corriere della Sera said there was already a Catholic chapel dedicated to St John adjoining the palazzo, while Jews had a synagogue in the centre of Genoa. The "real sticking point" was the Islamic community, which had asked to be allowed to build a mosque in Genoa but had encountered local resistance.
Ms Vincenzi said that as a compromise she had proposed that Muslims in Genoa be allowed to build a mosque near the port, wherer there was a mosque in medieval times, "but without a minaret". However the imam said that "for us a minaret is indispensable. It's like asking Christians to build a church without a belltower. A minaret has a very important function precisely because it is visible. It would show Muslims who come to Genoa but do not know the city where they can go to pray".
There was no question however of a muezzin call to prayer, the imam said, since Genoa was "not a Muslim city". Ms Vincenzi said a petition for a referendum being circulated by the centre Right in Genoa was "illegitimate - you cannot have a referendum on a constitutional right such as freedom of worship".
The Commenda di Pre, with three storeys of open galleries, was built in the eleventh century, and is still decorated with frescoes depicting the knights' battle insignia and coats of arms.