Visiting Reggia di Caserta
The UNESCO World Heritage listed Reggia di Caserta started out as a royal boasting contest. King Charles VII of Bourbon wanted a palace to outshine the Palace of Versailles, so in 1752 he initiated the construction of the largest royal residence in the world.
King Charles of Bourbon introduced reforms and kick-started the economy with hectic building activity. His most ambitious project was a palace to rival Versailles, and he commissioned the Neapolitan architect Luigi Vanvitelli with the job.
Vanvitelli went for bigger is better. He designed a palace larger than any other royal palace in the world. The proportions are stunning. Walking up to the 250 m long facade can make anyone feel tiny and insignificant. And there are 1790 windows and 1200 rooms to underline this impression. King Charles never came to spend a night at the palace. He went on to become king of Spain, while Vanvitelli died before the structure was completed, leaving it to his son to finish the project.
Apart from the sheer size of it, Reggia di Caserta doesn’t flaunt its opulence to the outside world. The facade is repetitive and sparsely adorned, and there’s no glimpse of splendour, until you stand at the foot of the main octagonal staircase. This colossal marble structure guarded by baroque lions indicate the magnificent extravaganza of the things to come.
A tour of the palace takes you through an endless series of richly decorated rooms with vibrant frescoes, gold leaf ornaments and beautiful inlaid marble floors. There’s a house church with golden altar pieces and candelabras. A throne room with a golden throne chair, a gold bas-relief and crystal chandeliers. And uncountable salons, bedrooms, morning rooms, reception rooms, dining halls and libraries with stunning details, impressive frescoes, intricate tapestries and wood crafted furniture. It’s genuinely breathtaking. And you get a convincing impression of how 18th century royalty lived.
A tour of the royal palace and the special exhibition that highlight aspects of south Italian culture took us 1-2 hours at a reasonably high speed. But I’m sure you could spend the better part of a day in Reggia di Caserta without feeling bored. There’s so much to see.
No surprise that Reggia di Caserta is a popular location for Hollywood filmmakers, and film buffs may recognise ambience from Star Wars: Episode 1 and 2, Mission Impossible III and Angels and Demons.
Entrance fee is 12 euro and includes visits to both the royal apartments, a special exhibition and the magnificent gardens. The Aqueduct of Vanvitelli which can be seen on a country road east of Caserta is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage listing.