The Royal Palace of Caserta, or Reggia di Caserta, is one of the must-see gems in Campania. An easy 45 minute train ride from Naples, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was built to rival Versailles and the Royal Palace of Madrid – and its relative obscurity means it’s much less crowded than both. Set across 11 acres, it is one of the largest royal residences in the world and includes a landscaped park with ornamental fountains and pools fed by a nearby aqueduct.
The Reggia was designed by Luigi Vanvitelli, one of the most prominent Italian architects and engineers of the 18th century, at the request of the Bourbon King Charles III, who oversaw the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies at the time. The palace is considered Vanvitelli’s masterpiece, though he also worked on the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Royal Palace of Naples.
The Royal Palace of Caserta is impressive for the grandeur of its halls, staircases and dining rooms: it boasts 1,200 opulent rooms with intricate ceiling frescoes, inlaid marble detailing and gold-leaf decorations. Some of the highlights include the Grand Staircase of Honor, the Royal Palatine Chapel and the Royal Court Theatre. With robin-egg blue details, this small horseshoe theatre was modeled after the Teatro dell’Opera di Napoli, the oldest opera house in the world. It’s a true gem and has been recently opened to the public through Italy’s Touring Club (see more details here).
Though it is adorned with rich marble, gold and priceless details, the palace has a truly harmonious feel to it: it was built according to the Vitruvian principles of firmatis (durability), utilitas (utility) and venustatis (beauty), is an excellent example of urban planning and integrating architecture into its surroundings. It also combines multiple styles of architecture, including Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical styles in its layout and decorative details. You may even recognize the palace from some famous films – it has been used to represent the Vatican in movies like Angels and Demons and The Two Popes, and was also featured in multiple Star Wars movies.
The royal gardens are one of the most arresting aspects of the property and well worth a visit after touring the palace. There are multiple fountains that help direct your gaze towards the Reggia, creating a sort of “telescope effect” as you gaze off in the distance. You can easily walk, hop on a little bus or rent bicycles to explore the park and wooded gardens at your own pace. A local liquor called AmaRé (a word play for amaro and re, which means king) has also been recently produced by Distilleria Petrone: it is made with herbs and plants grown in the English Garden of the palace and makes a unique gift.
The Royal Palace of Caserta is open daily, except for Tuesdays. You can book tickets or arrange a guided tour on the official website. You can reach Caserta by train from the Stazione Centrale di Napoli (45 minutes).