Its a very warm day in Naples, 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the hot weather, I still decide to go to Caserta to visit the famous Palazzo Reale.
Most commonly known as the Reggia di Caserta, this Unesco-listed pad is considered one of the greatest and last-achievements of Italian Baroque architecture. It also where Tom Cruise shot scenes for Mission Impossible 3 and where George Lucas filmed the interior shots of Queen Amidala’s royal residence in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars, Episode 2: Attack of the Clones.
Work on the palace began in 1752 after Charles 7 of Bourbon, ruler of Naples,wanted a palace to rival Versailles, Neapolitan Luigi Vantivelli was commissioned for the job and built a palace not just equal to Versailles, but even bigger — think, 5 floors, 1200 rooms, 1790 windows, 34 staircases and 250m-long facade.
I enter by Vantivelli’s immense marble staircase and follow a route through the royal apartments. My eyes scan ceilings, inlaid marble floors, Stucco walls richly decorated with tapestries, furniture, Bas-Reliefs, Frescoes, and crystals. I can furtively perceive my friend’s annoyance for having forgotten his existence in front of a carousel of such magnitude of style, art, harmonious colors and materials everywhere I looked around, my head spinning and completely aghast. Beyond a library he then takes me to a room containing a vast collection of Presepi composed of hundreds of hand-carved nativity pieces.
To clear my overstimulated head of all the capolavori (masterpieces), a guide nearby suggests in Italian we take a romantic pre-sunset walk in an hour on the elegantly landscaped grounds where the royals probably used to spend their weekend. Mind you,this is still in the Palazzo Reale. The park, the largest in Europe, stretches out for some 3 km to a waterfall and fountain of Diana and the famous Giardino Inglese (English Garden) with its intricate patterns, exotic plants, pools and cascades.
We played as we were hiding among conifers, ferns, Wandae orchids, exotic Victorias Regias, small roofless tempietti, (sanctuaries), and silent Roman Gods. A tourist and his family, seeing us lost, asks (to make the matter even worse) if we have encountered the magnolia on our way. We laugh and say no. The sun is setting, time to go. Charles 7 and his queen built a magnificent Reggia for sure, but most of all they made my day.
Contact for visiting the Reggia: Ente Provinciale del Turismo Palazzo Reale
81100 Caserta CE / Tel +39 0823 322233 / Fax: +39 0823 326300
The visitors Guide website : www.ambientece.arti.beniculturali.it/guida_reggia/Xenglish/index.htm
The Book: Gardens of Naples
by Elisabeth B MacDougall; Nicolas Sapieha, New York : M.T. Train/Scala Books ; Wappinger’s Falls, N.Y. : Distributed by Antique Collector’s Club, 1995