Extravagant abodes of the Savoy, Bourbon, Anjou, Aragon, Hapsburg, Este, and Medici dynasties


How Many Royal Palaces Can One Country Have?

[Regions of Italy]

Largely because of its tumultuous political past, Italy is studded with countless "royal residences." You could easily spend an entire day in most of them and, to be truthful, if you only had one day in Italy this might be the most all-purpose way to experience the country. That's because kings, dukes and princes have a habit of hiring the best artists and artisans, and they love to steal their defeated enemies' most interesting belongings. As a result, their homes are excellent "life museums." Try to visit at least one.

Palazzo Reale, Piazza Castello, Turin. 17th- and 18th-century home of the Savoys, Europe's longest ruling dynasty. Although this is hardly Italy's most sumptuous royal home, it does offer such memorabilia as an exotic Chinese room and a Leonardo self-portrait. Open Tues-Sun 9-12:30 and 3-5:30. Click here for lodgings in Turin.
Castello di Miramare, Trieste. An ornate white castle surrounded by dark green forests on the edge of the crystal blue sea, this palace was built in 1860 by the Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian, who got to live in it for only three years before becoming Emperor of Mexico, where he was assassinated by the republican army. Furnishings are exactly as they were when he lived here with his beloved Princess Carlotta. Open daily for guided tours; reached by taxi or public bus from Trieste. Click here for lodgings nearby.
Castello Estense, Largo Castello, Ferrara. The Este family ruled an important part of northern Italy from the 13th to the 16th century, when this imposing castle was their stronghold. Although they were not a royal dynasty as we think of them, they were renowned for a luxurious lifestyle matched by few in history. Most of the castle now houses public offices, but visitors can view the beautifully frescoed Games Rooms and the Aurora Room. Open Tues-Sat. 9-1 and 2:30-6:30; Sun 10-6. Click here for lodgings nearby. Castello Estense, Ferrara
Poggio a Caiano, Petraia and Castello, Florence. When Florence was as illustrious a realm as a ruler could hope to have, the Medicis who ruled it built half a dozen country villas whose furnishings, frescoes and gardens rivaled anything in Europe. These three beauties are all within half an hour of Florence. You can attend outdoor theatre and concerts at Poggio in the summer; and Castello and Petraia are a stone's throw from each other in the town of Castello, on the way to Sesto Fiorentino.
Palazzo Quirinale, Via del Quirinale, Rome. Home of Italy's President, this enormous palace was for centuries the residence of the Popes. You can't go inside, but you can join the small crowd at 4 pm in Piazza del Quirinale to witness the changing of the guard.
Palazzo Reale, Naples Vatican City, Rome. This is the Eternal City's other royal palace, and it too is largely off limits. But a wonderful way to spend a nice morning is to take the guided tour, which leaves from in front of the tourist office in Piazza San Pietro. You must book in advance and bring an ID, and then you board the little bus for quite an interesting ride through this world unto itself, far removed from the hectic city just outside its tall walls. Tours begin at 10am Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri and Sat in summer; Sat only in winter.
Palazzo Reale, Piazza del Plebescito, Naples. We move on to other dynasties now, the Bourbons and Aragonese who ruled Naples and southern Italy in the 17th to 19th centuries. You'll find busts of all these sovereigns in niches along the landward side of the huge building, which faces the semi-circular church of St. Francis of Paola. On the opposite side of the palace are the hanging gardens, where an arbor was strategically placed to frame the king's view of his ships; nowadays it usually graces a 6th-fleet battleship. Most of the palace's extraordinary furnishings and art works are those of its original residents, the Bourbons, and much restoration has recently been completed. Open Tues-Sun.
Palazzo Reale, Caserta Palazzo Reale, Parco della Reggia, Caserta. Wanting to rival his cousins' palaces at Versailles and Escorial, King Charles III of Spain hired Luigi Vanvitelli to design this magnificent complex of buildings and gardens about 45 minutes south of Naples. It was the last great Italian baroque structure, and all of its 1200 rooms are breathtaking, starting with the 116-tiered marble staircase. You can't see all the rooms, but that leaves you time to visit the immense gardens, which have some of the most astonishing water games anywhere. The palace is open Tues-Sun 9-1:30 week days; the garden is open 9-sunset. Stay away on weekends, if you can; closed on holidays. We suggest you stay in Naples to visit this palace.
Castel del Monte, Fortezza Angioina (Lucera), and Città Vecchia (Bari) are three monumental castles built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in Apulia. All are still imposing examples of military architecture, but they don't qualify as living museums because they lack extravagant furnishings. Click here for lodgings nearby. There are many other former royal residences around southern Italy, but most have either been demolished by wars or earthquakes, or are currently being used by city governments or police departments who don't extend an invitation to curious visitors. Palazzo Reale, Caserta



[Regions of Italy]