The Royal Palace in Caserta

After three weeks of warm weather and sunshine, we have a rainy spell in Italy. The farmers are happy as it seems that there hasn’t been rain for a hundred days. Given the sudden change in weather, I’m glad that I visited the Reggia di Caserta a little while ago. My friend Luigi suggested it as it is only an hour by train from Rome.

The Regia Caserta is a baroque palace built by Luigi Vanvitelli for Charles VII of Naples (the Spanish king Charles III). It was started in 1752, modelled on Versailles, and was the largest royal palace in Europe at that time. The concept was that it would house not only the king and his court but also a university, museum, and government cabinets and become the administrative centre for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies which at that time before the unification of Italy comprised the island of Sicily as well as the Italian peninsula south of the Papal States. The town of Caserta Vecchia was moved 10km away in order that the palace could be built and the workers housed close by.

The Palace has 1200 rooms including a church and a theatre, and covers an area of 61,000 sq metres. Only a few rooms are open to the public and I’m not sure what the rest of the palace is used for. The rooms that we saw were in the usual baroque style with ornate mouldings, painted ceilings, Murano glass chandeliers, mirrors and so on. I would have liked to have seen the theatre which is a replica of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples but it is only open at weekends. The Palace was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997 and was the location of the first episode of Star Wars in 1998.

The gardens span 11 acres and stretch for over 3 km at the back of the Palace. They were created in the Renaissance style of the time featuring lots of pools and fountains. It took us a while to walk to the end and the Palace itself is just a speck when viewed from the last fountain. Vanvitelli built an aqueduct fed by a stream in the hillside beyond to provide enough water for the fountains and Palace. Adjacent to the last pool is a Botanical Garden also referred to as the English Garden and here there are more trees of various kinds as well as greenhouses presently being restored.

Sfogliatella

Thankfully, before setting off for the garden visit, we had a cappucino and the typical Neapolitan pastry, sfogliatella which is crispy layers of pastry wrapped around ricotta and is delicious.

Deep fried mozarella

By the time we finished our garden excursion, we had definitely walked more than 10 km and it was past lunchtime. We came acroaa a small restaurant close to the Palace which was open but only served mozarella prepared in various ways such as this deep fried mozarella which we had as a starter. An unusual concept but I think I prefer my mozarella served in the traditional way.

For such a big castle, what is restored and open to the public is a bit disappointing and definitely not as evocative of the period as Versailles near Paris. Perhaps because the Royal Family did not end up living there. Charles VII did not even spend a night there. He abdicated and went back to being the K ing of Spain leaving the Palace to his son Ferdinand. After unification, Garibaldi used it for a time. It was taken over by the Nazis during the war and plundered of its art works and was subsequently bombed suffering damage. Later, it became the Headquarters of the Allied Nations. Perhaps restoration will continue and more of it will be opened up to the public. It was a pleasing excursion for a day trip and we were extremely lucky with the weather as it was around 20C and sunny the day we went.

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