Autostrada is the Italian company that runs the nation’s motorway network. It is so pivotal to European financial history that the eurobond – the epic debt market established in 1963 in the City of London by Warburg – was even invented to fund Autostrada’s projects after a conversation between the governor of the Bank of Italy and Siegmund Warburg himself, the great German Jewish refugee financier. Italy in the 1960s took great pride in its rebuilding, and its friends rejoiced at its national resurgence and the updating of the dolce vita for the modern age. The motorways and ambitious bridges with bold engineering were a symbol of the country’s success after the horrors of the 1940s.

Today, as many as 35 people lost their lives when a bridge in Genoa built in the 1960s as part of that project collapsed shortly before midday. Cars and lorries plunged 150 feet. These are not normal scenes in the heart of the developed world.

The Times account of what happened is to the point, and features the following key observation:

As 200 firefighters, rescue workers and sniffer dogs combed through the wreckage of the bridge, Danilo Toninelli, the transport minister, called the collapse “an immense tragedy” and added: “If there are people responsible, they will have to pay.”

Indeed, someone will have to pay. Once the dead are found and buried, and the rubble is cleared away, shock and mourning in Italy will rightly turn to anger and calls for explanations and justice.

But the horrible truth is that it is not simple. The Genoa disaster is a bleak  illustration of what deep trouble Italy is in.

Italian debt is approaching €2.5 trillion, in excess of 130% of the nation’s GDP.

Meanwhile, Italian investment spending has actually fallen steeply since the financial crisis and eurocrisis that followed, as Marcello Minenna explained earlier this year in FT Alphaville.

As Reuters explained last year, the welcome uptick in Italian growth cannot obscure the failure to solve underlying problems of debt and a lack of reform.

The Brits and German visitors might dismiss this, from the perspective of a nice villa in an unspoilt valley, but urban Italy is a mess.

The infrastructure put in place in the Italy of the 1960s is half a century old. There has been investment in better high speed rail in the last decade but in swathes of the country the road network is in a dire condition and public spaces in many Italian cities are in a disgraceful state. Magnificent Rome is so disgusting and covered in rubbish and graffiti that a Twitter account – “Roma Fa Schifo,” Rome is disgusting – has more than 150,000 followers. The capital’s decline is a symbol of a wider fall.

Europe’s leaders need to face this, for Europe’s own sake and for the sake of the Italian people. One of the continent’s great countries, a pivotal European power, is at the risk of coming apart at the seams, its politics powered by populism, its infrastructure crumbling to such an extent that political and financial failure is now costing lives.