Caserta, near Naples was certainly the largest palace and probably the largest building erected in Europe in the 18th century. Long after the spate of imitations of Versailles had calmed down, this grand gesture was begun in 1752 for Carlo VII of Naples, who worked closely with his architect Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-73), until on October 6, 1759 he resigned from the throne of Naples in favor of his third son Ferdinand IV of Naples, for whom the project was carried to completion. Vanvitelli was followed at Caserta by his son Carlo.
Of all the "would_be Versailles", Caserta is the most like: the unbroken balustraded skyline, the slight break provided by pavilions within the long, somewhat bland stretch. As at Versailles, a major aqueduct was required to bring water for the prodigal water displays. Like Versailles, the palace was designed to function as the heart and brain of a centralized, absolute Bourbon monarchy: more than a series of Late Baroque parade apartments for diplomacy and show, more than suitable housing for the royal family and the court of the Kingdom of Naples, Caserta was planned to house the offices of government bureaucracy, barracks in the outbuildings, a national library, a university, and a national theater, set free from the disorder and stink of Naples, as Versailles had freed Louis XIV from the mob and factions of Paris. Behind the facades of its matching segmental ranges of outbuildings that flank the giant forecourt, a jumble of buildings arose to take care of the mess of daily business. In the arc on the left, built as barracks, weary GIs of the US Fifth Army recovered in a "rest center" during World War II. The wide central entrance carriageway has been incorporated into the city's automobile circulation.
Between the 16th and the 19th century, many "perfect" square structures, with four all_but_identical facades enclosing crosswings forming four identical interior courtyards were admired on paper. Caserta was completed as planned. As finished, the palace has some 1200 rooms, two dozen state apartments, a royal theater modelled after the Teatro San Carlo the King provided for Naples.
The population of Caserta Vecchia was shifted 10 km to be available to the new palace. A silk manufactory at San Leucio was disguised as a pavilion in the immense parkland.
The fountains and cascades, each filling a vasca ("basin"), with architecture and hydraulics by Luigi Vanvitelli at intervals along a wide straight canal that runs to the horizon, rivalled those at Peterhof outside St Petersburg: the Fountain of Diana and Actaeon (sculptures by Paolo Persico, Brunelli, Pietro Solari); The Fountain of Venus and Adonis (1770_80); The Fountain of the Dolphins (1773_80); the Fountain of Aeolus; the Fountain of Ceres. A large population of figures from classical Antiquity were modelled by Gaetano Salomone for the Caserta gardens and excuted by large workshops. In the 1780s, an early Continental example of an "English garden" in the svelte naturalistic taste of Capability Brown was added, to designs by Giovanni Antonio Graefer; the landscape garden is a mark of the influence at the court of Naples of Sir John Acton the British consul.
When King Carlo had first seen Vanvitelli's grandly-scaled model for Caserta it filled him with emotion "fit to tear his heart from his breast". But in the end, he never slept a night at Caserta, which was completed for Ferdinand. Now Caserta is incongruously surrounded by a sprawl of industrial complexes and warehouses that has reached out from Naples.
The Palace of Caserta was designated a Heritage Site in 1996
- G: Royal Palace at Caserta (http://www.google.com/search?q=Royal+Palace+at+Caserta)
- George Hersey,Architecture, Poetry, and Number in the Royal Palace at Caserta, 1983.