Here is the story of the Royal Palace of Caserta, one of the largest palaces in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Caserta Palace is one of the largest palaces in Europe. The four palace buildings absorbed the best of the French Versailles and the Spanish Escorial.
Both the residence and the palace were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. This is one of those places that cannot be missed when traveling in Italy. We publish two articles about the park and the residence itself, courtesy of Arte.it.
The Royal Palace is the nucleus of the monumental Reggia di Caserta. It was designed by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli for King Charles III of Naples and Sicily of the Bourbon dynasty. The rectangular structure is divided into four inner courtyards by two transversal blocks. At the place of their intersection Vanvitelli originally planned to place a dome, but the idea failed; instead of a dome the complex is crowned by a small lantern tower. The total area of the palace is 47,000 square meters and its height is 41 meters.
From the main entrance of the palace begins a long gallery that runs through the entire palace, creating a spyglass effect. It runs in line with the “road of water”, a long chain of fountains and pools with a waterfall at the foot of Mount Briano. In the middle of the gallery is the octagonal lower vestibule, from the center of which all four courtyards are visible.
On the right begins the grand staircase, the heart of the palace, a superb fusion of two beginnings: classicism and baroque theatricality. The long central aisle is crowned with two marble lions. It then bifurcates into side parallel flights of stairs. The back wall of the staircase has three niches with statues whose symbolic meaning Vanvitelli described in detail in the “Explanatory Drawings”.
These statues should have been made of marble, but fate had it that their creation was halted at the stage of plaster prototypes. The central figure represents royal majesty and the allegories to its sides represent dignity and truth; the sculptures were by Tommaso Solari, Andrea Violani and Gaetano Salomone respectively. On the landing, where the staircase bifurcates, one can simultaneously enjoy the best view of both lobbies, the lower one (dominated by the giant statue of Hercules) and the upper one, leading to the ancient apartments.
Special mention should be made of the design solutions that Vanvitelli chose when designing the royal palace at Caserta; a special route entitled “The Royal Staircase from Heaven to Earth” is dedicated to this aspect of the complex.
From the upper vestibule you can reach the upper level of the building and admire the ceilings. Some of them are painted, for example the artist Girolamo Starace Franchis (1730-1794) painted here the residence of Apollo, and on each side of it four medallions with allegories of the seasons; according to Franchis this composition symbolizes the support of the arts by the monarch. Here, too, on a special level under the second vault, were once the musicians who were to accompany the court guests through the rooms of the residence.
In the mezzanine of the palace, above the upper vestibule, is the Palatine Chapel, opened for Christmas in 1784. Its plan resembles that of the Royal Chapel in Versailles: it has a single-nave structure with a polychrome marble floor and a barrel-vaulted caisson vault. The two side aisles to the sides of the chapel lead to the sacristy where the sacred utensils museum is housed.
A circular staircase to the right of the entrance leads to the Royal Ribbon and to the upper gallery where one can still see the damage that the bombing of September 27, 1943, caused to the building.
On the main altar, framed by two paired columns with troughs, is a painting by Giuseppe Bonito (1707-1789), The Immaculate Conception, the only surviving painting commissioned for this chapel. There is also an altar in the apse area – in fact, it is only a model and was planned to be made of precious marble of various kinds, but these plans were not fated to come to fruition.
The Hall of the Halberds
The vaults of the first room of the suite are decorated by a fresco by Domenico Mondo (1723-1806), representing the Arms of the House of Bourbon, upheld by the virtues; a preparatory sketch for this painting is in the Louvre Museum. The walls are decorated with molded trophies and weapons by the sculptors Angelo Brunelli (1740-1806) and Andrea Cali (c. 1775-1877); this decoration was created between 1786 and 1789. The decor of the room is made up of furniture of Neapolitan work of the second half of the 18th century. On the consoles are placed marble busts of the queens of the Two Sicilies. The chandeliers in this and the next room were made in the nineteenth century in gilded bronze and the floors in terracotta painted in marble.
The Private Guard Room
The second room of the apartments designed by Vanvitelli for the king is also called the “Stucco hall” because of the rich stucco decoration: twelve bas-reliefs adorn the walls. On the right wall in the center is a monument to Alessandro Farnese, dressed as a Roman general. On the vaults of the hall the artist Girolamo Starace Franchis depicted “The glory of the sovereign and the twelve provinces of the kingdom”.
Salon of Alexander
The Salon of Alexander is the third room in the royal apartments; it is entirely dedicated to the celebrated Macedonian warlord. The vaults of the room were painted in 1787 by the Sicilian Mariano Rossi (1731-1807) who painted here the “Marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxana” thus celebrating the peace and prosperity of the kingdom. Above the fireplace is a marble high relief representing Alexander in profile and framed by laurel branches.
The room of Mars
This room is the first of the rooms that belong to the apartments of Napoleon’s Marshal and King Joachim Murat of the Kingdom of Naples. The neoclassical decor here celebrates the military prowess that allowed the French to conquer the kingdom; the room is dedicated to the ancient god of war, Mars. The hall was furnished and decorated on Murat’s commission by the architect Antonio de Simone.
The Hall of Astrea
The Room of Astraea was intended for “dignitaries, envoys, secretaries of state and other privileged persons”. Its name is derived from the ceiling painting depicting the “Triumph of Astraea”. According to ancient myths, this goddess symbolized justice and lived among the people during the Golden Age.
This room was also designed by the architect De Simone and commissioned by Murat, with the help of Etienne Cherubin Lecomte. The painting on the vault was by the Frenchman Jacques Bergé (1754-1822); it depicts the goddess Astrea surrounded by allegories of truth and innocence, and of “self-law, ignorance, and error” running away. The labyrinthine ornamented floor is made of Carrara marble.
The throne room is designed to exalt the absolute power of the monarch. It is more than 40 meters long, flooded with light from six high windows and decorated with gilding. It was designed for a long time, and in the course of the works it underwent various changes. The work began in 1811, during the reign of Murat, and was not completed until 1859. The long walls are decorated with 28 pilasters of Corinthian order, whose carved capitals are decorated with the symbols of the Bourbon dynasty. The architrave that surrounds the room above the pilasters is composed of the portraits of the governors and in the center of the room is the fresco “Laying of the foundation stone of the palace, January 1752”, made in 1844 by the Neapolitan Gennaro Muldarelli (c. 1769 – 1858).
At the back of the room is the throne. It is in golden and carved wood; its arms are in the shape of winged lions with the sirens (symbols of Naples) on each side; they appear in many official portraits of the Bourbon rulers. According to mythology, the Siren Partenope, unable to seduce Odysseus with her sweet songs, committed suicide in the Bay of Naples. For three days her body was carried on the waves, until finally she washed ashore on the island of Megarida, where the city of Naples later arose.
The throne from Caserta, judging by its black-painted wood base with four handles, was intended for ships. Apparently Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies, used it in the Neapolitan royal palace after his return to the Neapolitan throne.
The works undertaken at the will of Murat also affected a number of rooms located behind the throne room. The ceiling paintings on subjects from Roman mythology and Greek literature were done for the most part by the Neapolitan Giuseppe Cammarano. In the apartments of Murat you can also see furniture and paintings.
The Court Theater, very similar to the Neapolitan San Carlo Theater, is located on the west side of the Caserta residence. It is housed inside the palace building and was intended exclusively for courtiers. The young crowned couple, Ferdinand and Maria Carolina, opened this theater in 1769.
The room has the classic shape of a horseshoe with a five-level gallery and columns made of alabaster marble that was quarried not far from here, in the quarries of the Gesualdo. Thanks to a special entrance, the king had direct access to the royal box.
The scene, framed by allegorical statues of music and tragedy, was provided with a portal overlooking the park; this allowed for a spectacular scenography involving nature itself.
Address: Viale Douhet, 2/A, Caserta (CE) Phone: +39 0823 448084
January, February, November, December: 8:30 – 14:30 March: 8:30 – 16:00 April: 8:30 – 17:00 May: 8:30 – 17:30 June, July: 8:30 – 18:00 August, September: 8:30 – 17:30 October: 8:30 – 16:30
Ticket prices: Park and English Garden: full € 12, reduced € 6
How to get there: By plane: 24 km from the international airport of Naples – Capodichino By car: From Rome, take the A1 freeway (Milan-Naples), exit Caserta-Nord. From Naples / Salerno / Bari. By train: There are high-speed trains to Caserta from Rome and Naples. Then it’s a 5 minute walk from the station.
Reggia di Caserta
The huge palace and park complex of Caserta, 26 km from Naples, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. It is the biggest royal palace of Europe, built in the middle of the 18th century combining late Baroque and Classicist elements. The palace and park of Caserta, along with the ruins of Pompeii, are among the major attractions of southern Italy.
It was the location for filming such films as “The Da Vinci Code” and its sequel “Angels and Demons”, “Mission Impossible” and even some scenes of “Star Wars”. Part of the palace is open to visitors and has been turned into a museum, and a huge area of the park is available for walks. It is worth setting aside at least 3-4 hours to see everything that is there.
The palace itself is open from 9:30 to 19:30, with Tuesday off. Parkland closes earlier: in winter at 15:00-15:30, in spring and fall at 16:00-16:30 and in summer at 18:00.
Comprehensive ticket for adults costs 14 €. Only to the palace – 10 € (and 3 € after 17:00). Only to the park – 9 €. Children under 18 years of age pass free of charge.
Tourist transport runs through the territory: minibuses (2.5 €) and horse-drawn carriages (50 €), there are bicycle rentals. The park has two cafes: at the entrance and at the fountain of Diana and Acteon, there are also toilets.
At the entrance you can get a free map of the area. There is a store with souvenirs and books outside the palace. There are audio guides in Italian, English, French, German and Spanish for 5€ per person. There is its own luggage room.
There are guided tours and school activities and you can book at email@example.com.
Architecture and interiors of the Caserta Palace
This palace was built from 1752 to 1780. Construction was begun under Charles XVII Bourbon by the famous architect Luigi Vanvitelli. The architect was inspired by the royal palace in Madrid and the French Versailles. But after Charles became King of Spain in 1759 and left Naples, construction slowed down. In 1773 Luigi Vanvitelli himself died. Construction was already finished by his son, Carlo, for the next royal couple: Ferdinando IV and his wife Maria Carolina of Austria, who moved here after their primary residence in Portici had suffered another eruption of Vesuvius.
During the first half of the nineteenth century the palace was still being refurbished and furnished: the rulers of Naples used it as a country residence. The most famous king of Naples who lived here in the nineteenth century was the famous Napoleonic marshal and brother-in-law Joachim Murat. Since 1919 the palace complex passed into state ownership and became a museum.
The total area of the square building, including 4 courtyards – 47 thousand square meters, height – 37 m, length of facades – 250 m. There are a total of 1200 rooms, about one tenth of the territory is accessible to visitors: it is a hall, ceremonial halls and living quarters in the north-west wing.
Here you can see:
- The grand hall with its marble staircase, called the Staircase of Glory. It is decorated with marble statues by Tommaso Solari: for example, the first owner of the palace, Charles Bourbon, is depicted here as Apollo. Under the ceiling there is a special gallery for the orchestra: the guests of the castle were welcomed by music.
- There are seven state rooms with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century interiors. In them are historic relics. For example, two thrones that belonged to Joachim Murat and his wife Caroline, the younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. They are located in the Alexander Hall, which is named because of the huge ceiling fresco depicting Alexander the Great. And Caroline’s portrait herself can be seen in the next room, the Hall of Astraea: she is depicted on the fresco as Astraea, the goddess of justice. Crowning the suite of rooms is the Throne Room, which is Empire style and decorated in white and gold colors. One of the frescos tells us that the foundation stone of the palace was laid in 1752.
- The living quarters of the castle’s owners, the original interiors have been preserved. The Baroque residence of Ferdinand IV and Marie Caroline comprises four rooms of different colors, with names given to the seasons; the bedroom of Murat and Caroline Bonaparte and the drawing room are Empire style. There is also a later billiard room and a children’s room with a magnificent collection of toys, a huge carousel, and carved wooden cradles.
- The library of the palace occupies five halls: two reading rooms and three book depositories. It contains over 50,000 books. In addition to the bookcases of various forms themselves, here you can see frescoes, large decorative globes, etc.
- The home theater is the only part of the palace that Luigi Vanvitelli himself managed to finish, it is based on the Neapolitan San Carlo theater.
- A picture gallery with portraits of members of the ruling families of Naples and Italy and a collection of modern art.
- The Palatine Chapel, built in 1784, is decorated with gilded vaults, statues of cherubs at the entrance and a central canvas by Giuseppe Bonito depicting the Virgin Mary. Some of the columns bear the marks of the bombardment of 1943: the chapel was badly damaged then but was completely restored after the war.
The total area of the park grounds is 120 ha and the length of the regular Upper Park with its cascade of ponds, waterfall and fountains is 3 km. The fountains are decorated with numerous sculptures on mythological themes, and decorative carps live in the ponds.
The Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, considered an engineering marvel, supplies the ponds and fountains with water. Its total length is 38 km, and it was built on the model of ancient Roman aqueducts.
One of the attractions of the park is Castellucca – a miniature “mock” fortress of Ferdinand IV with an artificial lake. Game battles, including naval battles, were fought here. This part of the park is called the Old Forest.
The lower park is often called the English Garden. It was created at the very end of the XVIII century for Queen Mary Caroline by the German botanist Johann Greffer. Now it is a favorite place for walks of visitors, but at that time the park in the English style, imitating the natural environment, was not popular and was considered unsuccessful. There are oaks, hornbeams, oranges, and many exotic plants growing here: in fact, it would not so much be a park as a botanical garden.
How to get there
Most often this palace is included in excursion programs in southern Italy and a trip here is offered by all major tour operators. But from Naples and Rome you can get here on your own.