This stunning architectural complex at Caserta – which includes the Royal Palace, its magnificent gardens, the San Leucio complex, and the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli – is a true wonder. The large palace, often compared to luxurious buildings like Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid, is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
History of the Royal Palace in Caserta
The construction of the palace started in 1752, on the orders of Charles VII of Bourbon, king of Naples. His aim was to give to his kingdom a court able to compete in beauty with those of France (Versailles) and Madrid.
The King was immediately taken with the royal palace’s architectural plans prepared by Luigi Vanvitelli. However, Carlo VII was to become king of Spain in 1759 and never lived at the complex.
The construction of the palace still took place and was completed for Carlo’s son, Ferdinand IV. Works on the royal palace and its surroundings were completed in 1780, under the supervision of Vanvitelli’ son, who took over after his father’s death.
Once finished the palace boasted a total of 1,200 rooms, a large royal theater, and more than two dozen apartments. The theater had been designed to resemble the theater San Carlo of Naples, still today one of the most renowned opera houses in the world. It is not only the palace, but the whole complex to hit visitors with its size and majesty: to make place for it, many people had to be dislodged and business relocated, as it happened to San Leucio, which turned from silk manufacturing firm to park pavilion .
The Architecture of the Palace
The Palace was built on a rectangular plan that measured 247 meters by 184. The four sides of the complex are connected by orthogonal arms forming four courtyards. The forecourt of the complex had plenty of buildings that matched the palace and, behind them, several more buildings were constructed and eventually assigned to administration.
In the past, several of these structures were used as military barracks, a duty they also held during World War Two, when US troops were stationed there.
For centuries, the Palace of Versailles had been considered the most magnificent royal residence in the world, to which every other should be compared, and certainly with reason. The Reggia di Caserta is often thought to be the only architectural complex that can compete, artistically and aesthetically, with Versailles. The two have similarities: both, for instance, have pavilions opening on their façades and independent, fully functional aqueduct used as the source of all water required for fountains and various other grand displays.
The Interiors of the Palace
This large Baroque palace was built as a reflection of the Bourbon monarchy’s power. Its gilded interiors only add to the overall magnificence of the place.
The Piano Reale, located above the King’s floor, is one of the most beautiful locations in the palace. Its grand architecture and its sublime decorations are noteworthy. The saloni of the palace, done up in late Baroque style, were often used as a place for displays of precious national objects and wealth. If public rooms are stunning, the royal family’s private quarters certainly followed suit.
The government’s offices, a university, a theater, and a library were also built within the palace. Apart from the luxury and grandeur of the palace, it also served a practical purpose: being located inland meant that it was safer from attacks, ensuring the safety of the reigning King.
Visitors to Caserta today will notice that the large entrance to the Palace has now been incorporated into the city.
The Palace Gardens
The gardens of the palace were also completed in a Baroque style and stretched for 120 hectares, some of which are spread out over hills. Although originally inspired by the garden at Versailles, the palace gardens at Caserta are widely agreed to be much more beautiful than their French counterpart.
Starting from the back of the main building, the park stretches along an alley lined with cascading streams and beautiful fountains. The English garden was designed by Carlo Vanvitelli and is considered one of the earliest of these type of gardens in continental Europe.
Along with a multitude of fountains, several beautiful statues and figures dot the gardens grounds. Designed by Gaetano Salomone, these statues all came from the workshops of local artisans and are a sight to behold.
More recently, due to its reputation as one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe, the Royal Palace of Caserta has been featured in various movies including Star Wars I and II and Mission Impossible III.
Every year thousands of visitors travel to Caserta just to gaze at this marvelous wonder of architecture and excess. Visiting the palace is almost like stepping into another universe, one filled with Kings and beauty, grandeur and luxury.