staircase at the Royal Palace of Caserta
Italy | Culture | Europe | Museums

18th-century Royal Palace of Caserta, a magnificent palazzo near Naples

When Charles III became the King of Naples, he hired the famed Italian architect Luigi Vanvitelli to design the Royal Palace of Caserta. He wanted the palace to rival Versailles and symbolize the new kingdom, fit for the Bourbon kings. The Bourbons were Spanish monarchs that ruled Italy in the 18th century. The complex was to become a centre of the government that competed with the leading European cities.

He wanted the palace to rival Versailles and symbolize the new kingdom, fit for the Bourbon kings. The Bourbons were Spanish monarchs that ruled Italy in the 18th century. The complex was to become a centre of the government that competed with the leading European cities.

As the largest royal residence in the world, the Royal Palace of Caserta (Reggia di Caserta in Italian) is spectacular and delivers on every level.  In 1997 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its “unique creation of the spirit of the Enlightenment, which built buildings of great architectural value, well set in a natural landscape, according to a broad scale development plan.”

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Royal Palace of Caserta: what you need to know

You will find the Royal Palace of Caserta about 32 km (20 miles) north of Naples in a charming town of the same name. From the outside, this might look like another fancy building from another time. Don’t let the seemingly plain grass field in front fool you.

King Charles, filled with grandeur visions, set on creating a new seat for the rulers of the Kingdom of Naples. The Royal Palace of Caserta was going to house official government offices, barracks, a university, a national theatre and a library.

Royal Palace of Caserta exterior
Exterior view of the Royal Palace of Caserta

To fulfill his dream, he hired one of the most celebrated architects of the time. Luigi Vanvitelli had already made a name for himself by working on the Trevi Fountain and by stabilizing the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. His appointment to lead this project was a logical choice.

If you’re enjoying the Royal Palace of Caserta, you might like a trip to Rundale Palace.

The construction of the palace started in 1752 on Charles’ 36th birthday. It was smooth sailing until 1759, when Charles abdicated his throne to become the King of Spain. The project slowed down and was not fully completed when Luigi died in 1773. His son Carlo and numerous other architects saw to its completion in 1780.  

Royal Palace of Caserta architecture

The Royal Palace of Caserta is a superb example of Baroque architecture, and even if you’re not an architecture buff, it will awe you. Designed to impress, the palace’s 500,000 square feet (47,000 m2) are spread over five floors. There are also four internal courtyards incorporated into the design. There are 1,200 rooms, 1,742 windows, 1,026 fireplaces and 34 staircases.

courtyard of Caserta Royal Palace
One of the courtyards of the Caserta Palace

Inside, you can view the Palatine Chapel, historical apartments, court theatre and the Picture Gallery. To me, the most impressive is the Grand Staircase that splits into two parallel staircases at the landing. Decorated in marble with elegant arches, statues and marble lions, the staircase is a masterpiece of architecture and scenography. It also became an inspiration for future staircase design.

The private apartments house an impressive collection of furniture, art and décor in neo-classical style. Throughout the palace, you can admire the spectacular ceilings, chandeliers, marble floors and opulent chandeliers. As most residences of this kind, there are paintings by renowned artists, elaborate frescos and silk wallpaper made in a nearby silk factory. If you like gold, you will feel at home here as pretty much everything is covered in gold leaf.

The Palatine Library is also a must-see. Queen Maria Carolina of Habsburg-Lorraine commissioned it at the end of the 18th century. She was the wife of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, who inherited the Royal Palace of Caserta from his father, King Charles. The library consists of five rooms, two antechambers and additional three rooms that house the extensive book collection of over 14,000 volumes.

library sitting room Reggia di Caserta
Sitting room by the library of the Royal Palace of Caserta

While we couldn’t see those rooms, we got a taste of the library in the reading rooms that are open to the public. Here you’ll find some of the volumes and a couple of globes, a brass telescope and two barometers.

Caserta Palace gardens

Behind the spectacular Royal Palace of Caserta, you’ll find the equally magnificent gardens. There is an Italian-style garden with an artificial lake, grottos and a building that resembles a small castle. Then there is the English-style garden with rare botanical species of plants, creeks and sculptures.

When you leave the palace, you’ll face a path before you that stretches for over 3 km (2 miles). As the park grounds cover over 121 hectares (300 acres), that is a lot of space to cover. You can wander down the path and admire the fountains and water features. You can also rent a bike if you don’t want to walk. I would recommend taking the shuttle from the palace to the end of the gardens and then walking back. That way, you can fully take in the space and the design.

Along the long path are five fountains and cascades that surround the canal. Each fountain fills out a basin, some of which have fish in them. The five fountains include 1) the Fountain of Diana and Actaeon, 2) the Fountain of Venus and Adonis, 3) the Fountain of the Dolphins, 4) the Fountain of Aeolus, and 5) the Fountain of Ceres. All are adorned with sculptures and are definitely worth admiring

Also worth checking out

When you’re visiting the Royal Palace of Caserta, make sure to also stop by the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli or Caroline Aqueduct (Acquedotto Carolino in Italian). It’s about a 20-minute drive from the palace. The aqueduct was constructed to bring water to Caserta and the palazzo’s gardens along a 38 km (over 23 miles) long route. The construction took about nine years (1753-1762), and the design was modelled on the ancient Roman aqueduct system. It’s made up of three rows of arches measuring 55.8 meters (183 ft) high at its highest point.

Another great spot to check out is the Monumental Complex Belvedere San Leucio, about a 10-minute drive from the palace.  When King Charles envisioned Caserta as the new centre of his kingdom, he also planned to conduct a social experiment centred around silk making. The former hunting lodge was turned into a silk mill with workers living in the complex surrounding it. Workers were guaranteed homes, access to schools, medical care and all services. It was operating on the concept of the value of work and equality, an idea unheard of before in Europe.

Read more about The Utopian Colony of San Leucio

After Charles abdicated in favour of the Spanish crown in 1759, he left the project to his son, King Ferdinand IV. As Ferdinando was a minor at the time, the project took some time to develop. The Royal Colony of San Leucio finally came to fruition in 1776. The project didn’t last long due to the political climate in Europe. Today you can visit the silk factory museum and check out the machines preserved almost intact.

Royal Palace of Caserta in cultural context

Over the years, the Royal Palace of Caserta has served as a filming location for famous Hollywood movies. From Mission Impossible III, Angels and Demons, and Star Wars’ Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

Check out what other movies have been filmed at the Royal Palace of Caserta.

Grand staircase at the Royal Palace of Caserta
Grans Staircase of the Royal Palace of Caserta

While it was originally built for Spain’s Bourbon kings, the palace became home to numerous royal families. During the war, it suffered damage from bombings and occupation by the US troops. In 1945, the German troops surrendered to the Allies in Italy by signing the Surrender of Caserta. The document was signed at the Royal Palace of Caserta in April and became formalized in May, signifying the end of WWII.

How to get here and info

The Royal Palace of Caserta is open every day, except Tuesdays, December 25 and January 1. The Royal Apartments open at 9:30 a.m. with the last admission at 7 p.m. The park and gardens opening hours change seasonally.

  • Royal Apartments, Royal Park and English Garden Ticket – € 14.00
  • Only Royal Apartments (available for purchase when the Park is closed) – € 10.00
  • Only Royal Apartments (available for purchase after 5 p.m.) – € 3.00
  • Parcoday (available for purchase at the Corso Giannone ticket office – access to the Royal Park and the English Garden) – € 9.00

Always check the official site for up-to-date opening hours and prices. For detailed directions on how to get here by public transit, check out this site.

Final thoughts on the Royal Palace of Caserta

If you are in Italy’s Campania region, I highly recommend a trip to the Royal Palace of Caserta. It’s a stunning building with even more breathtaking décor that will blow your socks off. The staircase alone is worthy of admiration. The garden is also a beautiful feature that only adds to the charm of the place. I think Charles would have approved.

room with arches and vaulted ceiling
the architecture at Caserta Palace is stunning

You can easily drive to Caserta in about 30 minutes, depending on the traffic. It’s a perfect day trip, or if you want to make it longer, a great weekend adventure. The town of Caserta is a cute town with many bars and restaurants. If you have time to stay overnight, it’s worth exploring. Also, don’t forget to check out the aqueduct and the town of San Leucio to get a full picture of what Charles’ vision involved. While he didn’t get to enjoy it, you certainly can.

If you like this article, you might like to read Why people visit museums.

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