The Royal Palace of Caserta (Reggia di Caserta in Italian) and its lush gardens, are together one of the most incredible wonders of Italy.
The Reggia di Caserta is one of the biggest royal palaces in the world and an Unesco Heritage Site.
What is the Reggia di Caserta?
The Reggia di Caserta was the Royal Palace of the King of Naples.
It was built in the 1700s by Carlo of Borbone, the king of the Reign of Naples.
After centuries of foreign control, Naples became again the capital of an independent kingdom. In fact Carlo of Borbone, the son of the King of Spain, defeated the Austrians and established the Borbone dynasty in Naples.
Carlo of Borbone became the King of Naples and he initiated some important administrative and political measures.
And he also promoted great architectural projects, such as the Real Teatro di San Carlo, to mention an example, which is a real jewel of Naples.
It was a period of flourishing for Naples.
At this point Carlo decided to create a new administrative capital in his reign.
His plan was to build a royal palace that had nothing to fear against other European royal residencies, especially the Royal palace of Versailles, in France.
Carlo therefore commissioned his project to one of the greatest architects of the time: Luigi Vanvitelli.
Vanvitelli was a Neapolitan architect with Dutch roots. He designed the whole Reggia di Caserta, as well as the Royal park with its incredible water games and fountains. A real triumph of Italian baroque!
Everything started on January 20th 1752.
It was the 36th birthday of the King, and the first brick of this incredible Unesco Heritage site was laid.
Why was the Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Naples.. outside of Naples?
Caserta is a town located about 40 minutes drive from Naples. So why didn’t the king build his palace in Naples?
At the time in Europe it was normal to build Royal palaces outside of the Capitals. Think of Versailles. That was the Royal Palace of France and it’s located about an hour drive from Paris.
In this case, the king chose the town of Caserta. It was near the capital Naples, but far enough not to fear attacks from enemies approaching from the sea.
The numbers of the Reggia di Caserta
This royal palace is huge. It covers an area of 47000 square meters.
It has a rectangular plan (250m x 200m).
It’s 40 meters high (5 storeys), it has 1200 rooms.
4 inner courtyards.
More than 1700 windows.
1026 chimneys, 24 staircases, over 1000 doors.
Plus, underground sections.
To make it short: the Reggia di Caserta is one of the biggest royal palaces in the world! And volumetrically speaking, it is the biggest royal palace in the world!
How long did it take to build the Reggia di Caserta?
Now that you have an idea of the dimensions of this palace, you’ll understand why it took almost 100 years to build it.
The first stone was laid in 1752, and the works were completed in 1845.
This means that his designer, Vanvitelli, never saw it completed.
It has been a giant building site, reaching more than 3000 workers operating at the same time. Among them, there were also slaves and prisoners forced to work, as well as exotic animals which were dedicated to the movement of the heaviest materials.
Fountains and gardens
Let’s start with the park. The Reggia di Caserta features 120 hectares of park, designed by Vanvitelli.
The first thing you notice when looking at the park from the palace is the “Via d’acqua”, a real waterway which is 3 km long, with waterfalls, fountains, and statues inspired by mythology.
Where is all this water coming from? From the Caroline aqueduct, which was built by the architect Vanvitelli, just to provide water to this complex.
The Caroline aqueduct
To convey all the water to the Reggia di Caserta fountains, Vanvitelli built also an aqueduct, the Caroline aqueduct.
This aqueduct is 38km long and its route is almost entirely underground, with the exception of this section here, where we can see three series of arches on top of each other.
Doesn’t this remind you of the ancient Roman aqueducts?
It took 16 years to build this aqueduct.
The English Garden
At the end of the 3km water way we find one of the most beautiful places of the Royal Palace of Caserta: the English Garden.
In the heart of the English Garden we find something magical: the Bath of Venus.
Venus is having a bath inside this heavenly pond, it almost looks like we interrupted her when we walked in the garden. How beautiful!
This garden is full of waterfalls, fishes, plants and archaeology.
In fact, next to the pond there is a grotto, an artificial cave. Everything here looks like an archaeological site. Or at least this is what the architect Vanvitelli wanted us to feel like.
Vanvitelli created an ancient Roman archaeological site! The statues are original, most of them coming from Pompeii. He wanted to recreate a suggestion. The suggestion of entering an Ancient Roman site.
Vanvitelli made the apertures of the broken ceilings on purpose, it looks almost like a movie set!
The architect created the atmosphere that foreigners imagined when thinking of Italy, in that period of time, at the end of the 1700s.
That was the time where the archeological finds began. The period of the Grand tour, where young people from north of Europe traveled all the way to Italy, to Rome and Pompeii, to see with their own eyes the wonders they heard about.
The Royal Palace
Now that we explored the garden, let’s walk back 3 kilometers to see the Royal Palace!
As we enter, we get into a huge corridor. From where we can see the park and the water way in this fantastic perspective view.
The disposition of the pools and the fountains are organized in a way that they seem like a continuation of the corridor.
When we are at the very center of the building rectangle, we find on our left this incredible Ancient Roman statue: the Ercole a Riposo, the Resting Hercules.
A giant ancient statue 3 meters tall, found in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.
Right opposite we find this monumental staircase, called “Scalone”.
Imagine the foreign delegations walking up these monumental stairs, waiting to be received by the King.
As guests walked up, they would be welcomed by these giant marble lions.
The marbles of these ramps also include ancient Roman marbles, reutilized from Ancient Roman buildings.
The Elliptical Vault
As we are standing on the Scalone, on the Grand Staircase, we can see a beautiful oval fresco over our heads. That ceiling hides a secret and special effect..
On the ceiling in fact, we can see the representation of the four seasons, and in the center, the god Apollo.
What you see up there is a false ceiling with an oval hole in the middle. On top of that false ceiling, there used to be musicians!
Now imagine the situation: the King and his guests are walking up this staircase, and all of a sudden music starts to play. The guests are surprised, they don’t know where the music is coming from.
Because the musicians are on top of the false ceiling, and guests cannot see them from here. It must have been so special.
The elliptical vault is closed to visitors, however the Reggia di Caserta has been so kind to let Live Virtual Guide inside, so that we can give you an exclusive view of this super secret place!!
Here it is, this is where the musicians used to play without being seen.
Here we can see the ceiling only a few inches away from our heads, and if we look down we can see the grand staircase, the scalone!
The Court Theatre
The King of Naples thought of everything and he also included a Court Theater.
This theater was for exclusive use of the inhabitants of the Reggia di Caserta. And it is a real jewel.
There’s lush decorations all over and no two details are the same.
Now let’s move upstairs. Here we’ll find the apartments of the royal family, the Borbone family.
The life in the Reggia di Caserta
As we walk through these rooms we can imagine how it felt for the royal family to walk through these rooms. Or also we imagine the ambassadors, delegations, militaries etc.. walking up and down these floors.
What we can notice is the huge distance between one end and the other of the corridors! Basically from the Scalone until the royal apartments you’ll have to walk about 200 meters!
It’s an enormous distance and imagine waiters, servants working in this palace, they would walk continuously up and down these corridors.
It was like a small city!
As well as the King and the Queen there were lots of people living here.
This was the court of the Kingdom of Naples, so there were counselors, court ladies, stable hands and hairdressers. It is estimated that there were around 700 people living here.
Reaching up to 2000 people during the parties.
The Throne Room
This was the room of the throne. The king would sit at the end of it, a 40-meter long and 15-meter high room. Everything is richly decorated with gold all over.
The throne was very small, but very elegant. It featured winged lions, symbols of the Borbone dynasty. As well as mermaids, the symbol of Naples.
The Queen’s private bathroom
Another special place in the Royal Palace of Caserta is the private bathroom of the Queen.
In this room we can see stucco decorations all over, covered with gold.
In the queen’s bathroom there is a beautiful bathtub, made of a single block of marble, then covered inside with golden copper.
But there was something that back then was considered as something weird: the bidet. Many guests had no idea of what this was for.
This was the room where the Queen used to get changed and undressed.
We can recognize it by some details: the angels of stucco on the walls have their eyes covered, so that they could not see the queen naked.
The Queen’s bathroom also has beautiful sinks held by marble eagles.
The queen used to spend a lot of time in these rooms, far away from the gossip of the court.
However it is believed that from her bathtub the queen could see the entrance of the Reggia, thanks to a sophisticated system of mirrors in line. So that when she was spending her time with her lovers, she could still keep an eye in case the king would come back home.
This gossip started also because Queen Maria Carolina and King Ferdinando had very different personalities, and they used to argue all the time, even while they were posing for their portraits!
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How to get there
You can get to the Reggia di Caserta by train and by car. Please refer to the official website for more precise information: https://reggiadicaserta.cultura.gov.it/how-to-get-here/