A Historial Look at the Reggia di Caserta

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From world-famous ateliers to designer hotspots, Historical Interiors is your weekly column for iconic decor, rare residential imagery, and cultural fashion landmarks.

The Royal Palace of Caserta or Reggia di Caserta in Italian, is one of the most remarkable historical locations in Italy. The former royal residence was designed by Luigi Vanvitelli, the most prominent engineer and architect of the 18th century for Charles VII and the rest of the Spanish royal family. Construction began in 1752, but was halted in 1774 for a period of time due to Vanvitelli’s death. Overall, the marvelous palace took more than 50 years to build until it was completed. The fruition of this palace was meant to rival Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Although the palace was originally constructed for Bourbon of Spain, it was eventually occupied by different members of multiple royal families including the Habsburg of Austria, the Bourbon of France, and eventually, the Bourbon of Naples who presided over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The dynasty that stems from this royal family is still in existence today, the two most prominent members being Prince Carlo, Duke of Castro and his wife Princess Camilla, Duchess of Castro.

Of all of the royal palaces constructed after Versailles, it is said that the Reggia di Caserta is the closest in resemblance. It was created with the intention of being the core of the new capital city. The manor was purposefully located within a close proximity to Naples. Originally, an avenue stretching 20 kilometers leading directly from the palace to Naples was designed, but never brought to life.

A palace of such grandeur is bound to experience some type of turmoil due to international conflicts over the course of history, especially in the case of the Reggia di Caserta, which was greatly impacted by World War II. Due to the presence of German troops, the city of Caserta was bombed by the Americans and as a result, parts of the palace were damaged. Specifically, the Great Staircase and Palatine Chapel were devastated the most and many pieces of artwork were also destroyed. In 1943, American troops began an occupation of the palace. Despite their obligation to protect the residence and the contents of the palace, locals have recounted stories of American soldiers swimming in the fountains, shooting the sculptures, and defacing the walls with graffiti. It is even said that some artifacts from within the palace, such as tapestries and other furnishings, were stolen and sold later at international auctions. On May 7, 1945, the famous Surrender of Caserta was signed at the royal palace which took part in signifying the end of World War II.

Despite these somewhat disastrous events, the palace managed to survive and remain standing as one of the most grandiose and monumental royal residences in the world. Just the interior of the palace alone makes it the largest in the world in terms of volume. In total, it spans over 70 million cubic feet, stands five stories tall, and has 1200 rooms and two dozen state apartments. It comes equipped with 34 staircases, 1790 windows, a library, and a large theater modeled after the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. The rich interior is full of frescoes, paintings, royal furnishings, porcelain, and bronze. The royal residence also has its very own aqueduct, known as the Carolino Aqueduct, that was built in 1770. It allowed for a system that brings water to the pools, fountain, and the palace.

The palace has also served as the backdrop for several pivotal scenes from famous Hollywood films. The battle scenes from Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, Angels and Demons, and Mission Impossible III all took place on the decadent grounds.

The massive structure leads out to a 250-meter-long façade that encompasses the remainder of the property, including its park. It features a garden, known as the English Garden, that was partially designed by Vanvitelli. A German botanist by the name of John Graefer also contributed to its construction and layout. It takes inspiration from both the Italian renaissance, and the style of the Versailles gardens. The garden has an interesting feature that is unique to the Reggia di Caserta. It is designed like a “telescope effect,” making the distance between statues and throughout the whole garden seem shorter than they appear.

There are five fountains and cascades that surround the canal that runs down the middle of the park, each filling up a basin. These include the Fountain of Diana and Actaeon, the Fountain of Venus and Adonis, the Fountain of the Dolphins, the Fountain of Aeolus, and the Fountain of Ceres. These landscapes are filled with classical architecture and statues that were modeled by a man named Gaetano Salomone.

In addition to its impressive architecture and cultural significance, the Reggia di Caserta is also home to lavish events attended by prominent political figures. In 1994, then President Bill Clinton, along with First Lady Hillary Clinton, attended the international G7 Summit was held in Naples, with a gala dinner being conducted at the palace.

In 1997, the Reggia di Caserta was also listed as a UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site. According to the organization, „the monumental complex at Caserta…is exceptional for the way in which it brings together a magnificent palace with its park and gardens, as well as natural woodland, hunting lodges and a silk factory. It is an eloquent expression of the Enlightenment in material form, integrated into, rather than imposed on, its natural setting.“

Today, the palace and the park of Reggia di Caserta still stand as a popular destination for those who want to explore it’s gorgeously fascinating grounds. They offer guided tours of the entire residence, but you also have the opportunity to explore the palace yourself.

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