The Royal Palace at Caserta was built in the 18th century by Charles Bourbon who wanted to get out of Naples where he was the ruler, mainly because it was in danger of being attacked by the British.
Like many another European monarch he also wanted to build something to mirror the palace at Versailles. How many times have you visited palaces in Europe and heard from the guide that it was built to rival Versailles!
A lot of kings with inferiority complexes if you ask me. Although, in fact Caserta was one of the largest buildings put up during the 18th century in Europe.
The palace is strictly classical in style, despite being built in the Baroque era of over-the-top decoration. It has vast marble staircases, echoing antechambers, grandiose throne rooms hung with Murano glass chandeliers and luxurious private apartments.
But Charles was forced to implement austerity measures during the building of Caserta – the floors are painted terracotta rather than expensive marble.
The gardens are grand beyond belief. The water feature to end all water feature stretches far up the hill to where the forest starts (Charles initially used Caserta as a hunting lodge).
The Cascade is a glory of frolicking white figures and trickling water. The hydraulics alone are mind-boggling. There are follies and ponds lushly full of water lilies and secret ferny corners.
Also part of the Unesco World Heritage Site designated complex is the ‘new town’ laid out at San Leucio by Charles on an adjoining piece of land. Again he wanted to establish something to rival the great European cities.
San Leucio was subsequently turned into a silk factory by Ferdinand IV. Astoundingly for this time Ferdinand, influenced by liberal ideals spreading from France, sought to establish a ‘free’ city, with a workers code and greater equality between men and women.
This sort of proto-socialism was unfortunately brought to an end by the invasion of the French but the silk factory has been reignited and is operating again, producing beautiful silk items.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited the Royal Palace at Caserta?