Though some 75,000 people live in Caserta, and the city is a charming, colourful and picturesque, the only building anyone ever visits in Caserta is uninhabited. This is the famous “Reggia”, the most sumptuous royal palace in Italy and one of the more impressive buildings in Europe.
The vast palace, originally a summer home, was begun by King Charles III of Naples in 1752 and completed by Ferdinand I in 1774 from the plans of Luigi Vanvitelli.
Both king and architect where inspired by Versailles, and the rectangular palace was conceived on a massive scale, with four interconnecting courtyards, 1,200 rooms, and a vast park. Though the palace is not as well maintained as its French counterpart, the main staircase puts the one at Versailles to shame, and the royal apartments are sumptuous.
The first stone was laid by the king on his 36th birthday, 20 January 1752 and construction proceeded briskly until 1759, the year in which Charles left Naples to take the throne in Spain. Work then slowed, coming to a complete halt in 1764 when, in the midst of a sever plague and famine, the half-finished building was occupied by the poor and homeless.
After the death of Vanvitelli in 1773 his son, Carlo, continued the construction, but he ran into difficulties of various kinds and was unable to complete the building according to his father’s plan. Eliminated from the design were four corner towers and a central dome – which undoubtedly would have relieved the gravity of the building’s present configuration – and the guard’s quarters, which were to enclose the vast the fast forecourt on all sides.
During the long reign of Ferdinand IV the palace was enlivened by balls, receptions, hunting parties and theatrical performances. It was the favourite residence of Ferdinand II and after the Unification of Italy it was visited by the Savoyard Kinds.
The two principal facades, 247m long and 36m high, are pierced by 243 windows and several monumental entrances.
The palace consists of five stories – a ground floor, mezzanine, first floor and second floor, and attic – containing 1200 rooms served by 43 staircases, all arranged around four monumental courtyards, whose decoration was never finished.
From the main portico you enter the gardens (open 09:00-1hr before sunset), which extend to the north, east and west sides of the palace.
Among the more enchanting achievements of Italian landscape architecture, they were laid out by Martin Biancour under the supervision of Luigi Vanvitelli. They are famous for their fountains and ornamental waterworks adonred with statuary gropus.
The crowing glory of the gardens is the great cascade, a waterfall some 75 m high that can be seen clearly from the palace 3 km away.
The central promenade leads across a broad lower garden bordered by oaks and camphor trees (paths diverge into woods on the left and right) to the circular Fonatna Margherita, which linked by a bridge over a sunken road to the impressive pescheria superiore. Beyond, a long, narrow lawn ends at the semicircular Fontanna di Aeolo, inhabited by stautes of 29 zephyrs and wind gods (54 were originally planned). This is follwed by the Fontanna di Cerere, containing seven stepped cascades and statues of Ceres, nymphs, tritons, and river gods; then more lawn and the Fontanna di Venere, with its group of Venus and Adonis.
Article an Photos by Jesse Andrews 2005