Caserta
The Extravagant Whimsy of the Bourbons
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For many years, and especially under the Bourbon kings, Naples was one of the great capital cities of Europe. It reached its cultural zenith during the reign of Charles IV, who later became Charles III of Spain. To Charles we owe the magnificent Teatro San Carlo, Italy's largest opera house, which you should visit on a morning tour; during his reign Herculaneum and Pompeii were discovered, the palaces of Portici and Capodimonte were built and the Archeological Museum was founded.

Perhaps Charles' greatest creation was the Royal Palace at Caserta. Wanting a home to rival his ancestors' palaces at Versailles and Escorial, Charles hired Luigi Vanvitelli, southern Italy's greatest architect, to design a complex of buildings and gardens that ended up being larger and more impressive than either of its predecessors.


L
ocated out of range of both Vesuvius and of marauding sea pirates, Caserta is a 45-minute train ride from Naples Central station. The palace was the last great building of the Italian baroque, and though you can't visit each of its 1200 rooms, the ones you will see are as extravagant as they are exquisite. The majestic main staircase, whose 116 steps were all carved from one gigantic block of stone, is a perfect combination of rich marbles and dramatic perspectives. It leads to the splendiferous 25 rooms of the royal apartments. Be sure to visit the jewel-like theatre, modeled after San Carlo.

The gardens are immense; stroll through the Bosco Vecchio (old wood), past the little castle built as a playhouse for the Bourbon princes, past the fish pond where mock sea battles were staged to amuse the members of the royal court, past the dolphin fountain and on to the fountain of Diana and Actaeon, a sculptural group as animated and enchanting as the one in Trevi Fountain. Rest a while here, for you still haven't reached the loveliest section of the park, the English Gardens, embellished with a tiny lake and fake ancient ruins. Return to the train station by bus or by foot (if you have the energy to walk).

Few American travelers visit Caserta, but it's a very popular attraction for Italians, so try to avoid the dreaded weekend. The address is at Via Douhet 22. To get there, exit the Autostrada A1 at Caserta Nord and follow signs to "parcheggio comunale." Or you can take the train to Caserta and then walk for five minutes. The royal apartments are open 8:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; the park is open 8:30-2:30 (Jan., Feb., Nov., Dec.), 8:30-4:00 (March), 8:30-5:00 (April), 8:30-5:30 (May, Sept.), 8:30-6:00 (June, July, Aug.), and 8:30-4:30 (Oct.). The English Garden closes one hour earlier. All are closed on major holidays. Tickets cost 2 Euro/person for the park and gardens only; 4,20 Euro/person for only the apartments; 6 Euro/person for the whole property. EU citizens under 18 and over 60 enter free of charge.

[Reggia di Caserta, 34k JPEG]
Click here to see a view of Mt. Vesuvius
from the English Garden at Caserta (34k JPEG)



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