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Palace of Caserta (Caserta, Italy)

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Former residence of the Italian royal family near Naples, Italy.

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      06.06.2012 18:51
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      A fascinating insight into the extravagance of the Bourbon dynasty.

      The Royal Palace of Caserta.

      Two weeks before I visited Italy I discovered by chance a snippet of information about the Royal Palace of Caserta just outside Naples. I had never heard of this place before and got quite excited the more I read about it. It is said to be the Italy's equivalent to The Palace of Versailles just outside Paris and it is in fact even bigger than Versailles. I hurriedly tried to find out as much information about it to see if it would be possible to make a visit to the palace and once I had discussed it with my friends we decided to make a visit to it.

      In my research about that palace I discovered that it has World heritage site status gained as only recently as 1997. I must admit to my ignorance in never having heard of it before and find it rather odd that very little is known about it. I have spoken to quite a few people since and they had never heard of it either so I am not alone. Hopefully this review will do something to correct that. Unfortunately it seems that due to lack of state funding there is poor maintenance of the actual building itself so the more people who get to know about it and visit it should help towards maintain it.

      A bit of history about the Palace.

      In the 1700's King Charles VII of Naples from the Bourbon Dynasty of Italy decided that he wanted to build a new Palace which afforded him protection away from the Capital of the region Naples where he could move the Royal court and administrative centre and government to a place that would be safer from sea attack. The idea was to build the palace and move everything to do with government there where he would hold court and run his kingdom. Some of the buildings were designated to the armed forces who still maintain a presence there.

      He employed the services of the architect Luigi Vanvitelli to design the palace and grounds and set to the construction of the palace which started in 1752. It took over 28 years to complete the building of the palace and by a twist of fate following the death of the king of Spain Charles inherited the Spanish throne which meant he had to abdicate his Kingdom and left to take up his place on the Spanish throne. He never actually ever spent one night in the palace which was built for him.

      Part of the plans was to build a magnificent highway between Caserta and Naples 20 Kilometres away but this never happened. However the train station is right in front of the palace and if coming by train you alight immediately in front of the palace. At the front of the palace is a wide open expanse that had been laid out as a formal parterre with pathways leading to the palace entrance. However today it is poorly cared for and looks a sorry sight but you can still make out the original design.

      The Palace.

      The palace is absolutely massive and dwarfs that of Versailles. It has a massive Palladian façade on all four fronts and is actually built in a rectangular shape with four quadrangles inside the palace. It is said to be the largest palace in the world taking into account the total floor space of over 2million square metres. Believe me it is really vast. Only about a quarter of the palace is actually open to the public and it is even more ornate than Versailles or Buckingham palace with massive marble columns, flooring and gold leaf everywhere. Most of the ceilings are absolutely adorned with Frescos and murals and plastered with gold leaf.
      To be honest bearing in mind how poor the population of Italy are it is quite sickening to think that something so ostentatious and fitted out with priceless paintings and furniture had been built for the king.
      There are over 1,200 rooms in the palace of which 44 are state rooms (Versailles has only 22 State rooms). It contains a chapel, Library and its own theatre. Its beauty is really outstanding however there is a distinct lack of maintenance of the building which can be evidenced as you walk through the different state rooms of the palace.

      The tour of the palace.

      Starting at the front of the building you enter the front entrance and immediately to the left there is the ticket office. Walking along the wide aisle of the ground floor which is covered with large columns and statues you come to the centre of the palace. To the right is a massive grand staircase the Scalone D'onore (Royal staircase) built completely with marble. There is one staircase leading to a landing area then it doubles back on itself either side of the central stair case where you arrive in the vestibule which is a vast open space with corridors leading off either to the Royal apartments or straight ahead into the Chapel Royal.

      The Royal chapel is absolutely stunning with marble flooring and columns and lining the walls whereas the ceiling is covered in murals and gold leaf. It was actually damaged during World War II taking a bit by a bomb and causing damage to the chapel. You can still see some damage to the upper columns high above your head.

      After leaving the chapel you enter the Royal apartments. The first few rooms are ante chambers or waiting rooms. The idea being the more important you were the nearer you were permitted to wait for an audience with the King. The rooms are absolutely cavernous and all adorned in gold leaf and frescos on the ceilings and paintings on the wall. Furniture is rather sparse in these rooms. Each room has massive gold leaf chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Eventually you come to the throne room surprisingly the throne is quite a small chair which appears to be made of silver and covered with Air force blue coverings.
      After the Throne room you come across the private apartments of the King and Queen. The bedrooms, living areas, drawing rooms, bathrooms, music room, library, a nativity room where a massive display of the nativity scene is placed inside a display case. The palace is dripping with art works and some of the rooms contain priceless furniture. When standing at one end of the palace it is impossible to see the other end of the palace as it is so large.

      Once you have finished the tour of the Royal apartment then you make your way back to the vestibule and back down the Royal staircase to the centre of the palace.

      The gardens of the palace of Caserta.

      The gardens are spectacularly well laid out and quite formal. They cover an area of 125 hectares. Some people come just for the gardens alone we were fortunate enough to have the whole day here but could still have done with another couple of hours. From the rear of the palace you come out to a wide open park which seems to go on for miles. There is a central pathway that runs through a vast lawned area before you reach some trees that line an avenue.

      Continuing along the avenue you can see the water features ahead of you which start at the top of a hill working their way down into a variety of ponds via water falls. It looks absolutely spectacular and I really love to look at water features they are so calming and tranquil. The walk is just over 2 miles long or 3.5 kms.

      The first fountain you come to is the Margherita fountain which is quite small in comparison to the rest of the fountain features. It is set in a small round garden feature. After passing this you come to the Dolphin fountains which pour into a very long channel about three hundred meters long. The dolphins have water cascading from their mouths and have dragon clawed feet.

      The next water feature is the Aeolus fountain which is really stunning. It is formed by a semi-circle of archways and statues with water cascading down into a small semi-circular pond. After this is another long pond which takes you right up to the Ceres fountains. Continuing to walk along the avenue either side of eleven small cascades to the Venus and Adonis Fountains and the fountains of Diana and Atteone behind which is the Cascade that runs steeply down the side of the hill surrounded by trees.

      If you turn right here you will enter the gem of the Palace Gardens the pseudo English Italian gardens complete with water features, a grotto, formal and landscaped areas containing a rose garden, Azaleas, camellias just to mention a few. There is a lake and several walks available within the garden. Monte Don has presented a programme about the English garden on the BBC.

      The palace and grounds have been used in many films including Angels and demons, Star wars and mission impossible.

      Walking back to the Palace seemed to take an age even if it was in a downhill direction it was still tiring bearing in mind we had been on our feet already at the palace for five and a half hours. It took us 45 minutes to walk back to the palace from the top of the cascades and about an hour and 15 to walk up. I still think we could have spent at least another two hours there but guess that even with that I would have wanted even more time as there is so much to see and experience.

      Would I recommend a visit here?

      Does the pope have a balcony??? Of course I do! It is a real treasure that surprisingly is hardly known about which I find really sad. I do hope that this review will motivate more people to make a visit to the Beautiful Palace and grounds at Caserta.

      General information.

      The palace is open from 08:30 - 19:00 each day.
      Admission charges 12 Euro.

      European Union citizens under the age of 18 and over the age of 65 are admitted free as is common practice throughout Italy and its museums and other historical sites. Not all are free though but you have to provide proof of age.

      It is suitable for disabled access and has a lift to the State apartments. There are good toilet facilities, cafes and restaurants dotted around the park.

      There are horse drawn carriages that will take you for a spin around the park at a price of course. You can also hire bikes and there is a bus that will take people around the park although when we visited the Palace and grounds we never saw evidence of it at all.

      It is easy to reach Caserta either by road and especially by rail as the railway station is directly outside and will take you to Naples in about half an hour. The palace is in the North of Caserta and is sign posted from the motorway. You cannot miss the palace once you have reached Caserta.

      Address : Reggia DI Caserta - Viale Douhet. 22-81100 Caserta. Italy.
      Telephone:-
      00 39 823 377369

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