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UNESCO World Heritage Site #247: 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

UNESCO World Heritage Site #247: 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

UNESCO World Heritage Site #247: 18th-Century Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex

From the World Heritage inscription:

The monumental complex at Caserta, while cast in the same mould as other 18th-century royal establishments, is exceptional for the broad sweep of its design, incorporating an imposing palace and park, and also much of the surrounding natural landscape and an ambitious new town laid out according to urban planning precepts of its time. The industrial complex of the Belvedere, designed to produce silk, is also of outstanding interest because of the idealistic principles underlying its original conception and management.

In 1734 Charles III, son of Philip V, became King of Naples, a self-governing kingdom that was no longer part of the Spanish realm. He decided in 1750 to build a new royal palace, to rival the Palace of Versailles. It was designed to be the centre of a new town that would compete with leading European cities. He employed architect Luigi Vanvitelli, then engaged in the restoration o St Peter’s in Rome. The Bosco di San Silvestro, on the two hills of Montemaiuolo and Montebriano, was covered with vineyards and orchards when in 1773 Ferdinand IV decided to enclose it and create a hunting park.

The hill of San Leucio takes its name from the Lombard church at its top. A hunting lodge, the Belvedere, had been built at its foot in the 16th century by the Princes of Caserta. The fief had been purchased by Charles Ill, and in 1773 Ferdinand IV initiated work on the Old Hunting Lodge, to be abandoned after the death of his son. In 1778 the king decided to begin the production of silk. His architect, Collecini, converted the building for this purpose, as the centre of a large industrial complex, including a school, accommodation for teachers, silkworm rooms, and facilities for spinning and dyeing the silk. He issued a series of laws in 1789 to regulate the San Leucio Royal Colony: this laid down piecework rates of pay, abolished dowries, and prescribed similar clothing for all the workers, in a form of proto-socialism. During the next decade plans were made for enlargement of the village, and Collecini produced designs for a town, to be known as ‘Ferdinandopolis’, but this dream was not realized because of the French occupation.

The fishponds in the gardens of the Royal Palace, the Royal Silk Factory and the planned new town all required large amounts of water, and so the Carolino Aqueduct was built (completed in 1769) to bring water from the Fizo spring over a distance of 38 km to the top of Montebriano. In 1744 Charles III acquired the rich Carditello estate. The hunting lodge there was built in 1784, as part of a complex of rural houses and roads radiating fanwise from the main building. This had the royal apartments in the centre and rooms for agricultural and stock-rearing activities on either side.

I was very impressed with Caserta.

I knew nothing about this site before I visited and I came away wondering why I haven’t heard more about it. Caserta is easily on the same level as Versailles and Schönbrunn. Not only had I never heard of it, but most of the people who were visiting were Italians, not foreigners, which is the exact opposite of what you see at almost every other Italian monument or attraction.

The real highlight of Casearta is the enormous waterworks which extends out several kilometers from the palace itself. As can be seen in the image, it extends up a mountain with waterfalls bringing the water down to the fountains and pools on the level of the garden. To experience the entire garden will take several hours of walking.

Despite being 30km from Naples, I had a very difficulty time visiting Caserta. I made the mistake of visiting on a Sunday, when many of the buses and trains were canceled. If you visit any other day (other then Tuesday when it is closed) getting there from Naples should be quite easy as there are regular trains and buses. The palace is short walking distance from the train station can can’t be missed.

I highly recommend visiting Caserta to anyone who visits Naples. This site is very overlooked and should be better known.

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