The Sicily of "The Godfather" fame suggests a Mafia-ridden badlands where family feuds are settled in blood.

The Sicily of a new Saatchi & Saatchi advertising campaign portrays a Mediterranean paradise with spectacular beaches, 5th century Greek temples and orange groves.

It's tough to know where image and reality meet in Sicily, historically a place apart in map and mind from il continente, as Sicilians refer to the boot-shaped mainland of Italy.

The Italian government, though, is trying to bury the island's less-than-sunny reputation as a mob haven by highlighting it as a tourist and business destination.

It launched a new publicity campaign and gave the go-ahead to a decades-old idea to build a bridge to the mainland that authorities say will bring visitors and investment to the island.

Construction of the two-mile rail-and-road bridge, one of the world's longest, is to begin by 2005 and be completed by 2011; its $4.8 billion price tag split between the public and private sector.

And that's precisely where Sicily's Mafia reality may come into play.

There are fears that the bidding and building will be tainted by mobs that have long held sway over construction on the island.

"If you put 5 billion euros into this kind of enterprise, the Mafia will make a tremendous amount of money," said Gianfranco Pasquino, a former leftist senator and member of the government's anti-Mafia commission in the 1980s and 1990s.

"There's no way the Italian state can control it," he said in an interview. "They can find a decent entrepreneur, [but the Mafia] can blackmail him."

Government officials promise controls to ensure bidding and construction are clean.

"We will follow all procedures of transparency to avoid any type of polluting" of the process, said Pietro Ciucci, chief executive of Stretto di Messina, the government company responsible for the project.

Officials said the bridge and related rail, road and port development projects would reduce the mob's economic hold on Sicily and boost employment in one of Italy's poorest regions.

The Mafia's hold on Sicily has diminished over the past 10 years, with top bosses behind bars and an estimated $500 million in assets confiscated by the government, according to the police.

The crackdown began in 1992 after the mob killed two crusading anti-gang prosecutors, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, at the height of the Mafia's years-long violent campaign against the state. Their deaths sparked an unprecedented wave of public revulsion that prompted the government to step up its war against the Mafia.

Ten years later, the mob is still around, and there are indications the bosses are again ready to violently strike.

Jailed dons began protests in July to complain about tough prison conditions, which include isolation cells and only one monthly visit and phone call.

Citing intelligence documents, La Repubblica newspaper reported in September that the mob was preparing a "new season" of bloodletting to make its protests heard, and would also target politicians who had not honored promises to the Mafia.

Intelligence officials have publicly confirmed the report.

In this atmosphere, even such a bureaucratic matter as office space can take on a sinister meaning.

In Corleone, the real-life place where the fictional "Godfather," Vito Corleone, was born, a new town government has taken over a conference room of the International Mafia Documentation Center, saying it needs more space.

But some are asking whether it means that the center and its museum of Mafia history are being downgraded and that authorities have lost their stomach for fighting the mob.

"It's not a question of space, it's a symbolic question," said Claudio Di Palermo, a former leftist politician who runs a stationery store in Corleone.

"If people forget that the problem exists, then there's the risk that people start to live with it as if it's natural," he said.

Angelo Vintaloro, the chief of staff to Corleone's current mayor, insists it's all innocuous, saying the conference room was unused.

But Corleone's former mayor has formally complained to Italy's president, the United Nations and regional authorities.

Sicilian authorities would rather highlight the island's potential for business and such treasures as the baroque cities of Noto and Ragusa, recently added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The campaign by the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency features pictures of beaches, archaeological sites and the snowcapped Mount Etna volcano, each with a tiny image of a bikini-clad woman hidden in the photo.

"Sicily is so beautiful we don't need tricks to attract you," the headline says.

The Sicily region's president, Salvatore Cuffaro, explained the necessity of the campaign in a recent interview, saying Sicily's image both abroad and in the rest of Italy "is often a distorted image, constructed by the mass media, that all too often doesn't correspond to reality."

"The problem of organized crime certainly is a problem," he said. "But it doesn't seem to me that this alone can construct an image of a region."

Giovanni Ruggirello, whose family runs a cafe in the center of Corleone, concurs.

"People come here because of 'The Godfather' and they expect to see men with holsters," he said. "Instead they find flowers."

He pointed to the trend of Danish couples getting married in Corleone. Nine Danish couples have exchanged vows there since 1997, but less out of a Mafia fixation than because it's a pretty little town, said the Danish consul general in Palermo, Hanne Carstensen.

The Mafia isn't Sicily's only problem. The island consistently lags behind the rest of Italy economically, with a 19 percent unemployment rate that pushes the national average up to about 9 percent.

Petty crime, water shortages and earthquakes, including this summer's strongest in two decades, are also common.

But it is organized crime that casts the darkest cloud over the sun-parched island and its people.

In Palermo's Vucciria market, where workers were slicing a giant swordfish into steaks, a fishmonger named Angelo said the Mafia's shadow made him feel he was living in medieval times.

"There is some development," he said, "but this criminality. . . . Their interests are above the tragedy."

An ad promoting the natural beauty of Sicily shows a tiny bikini-clad woman next to a red asterisk, with the notation: "We could have shown her closer to you, but it would have been scandalous to hide away our magnificent sea."Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, right, and Giuseppe Zamberletti, president of Stretto di Messina, discuss a proposed bridge to link Sicily to mainland Italy.A woman shows her daughter a photo of the assassination of entrepreneur Libero Grassi in 1991, displayed in the anti-Mafia museum in Corleone, Sicily.