Royal Palace of Caserta

       
Royal Palace of Caserta

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The Royal Palace of Caserta (Italian: Reggia di Caserta) is a former royal residence in Caserta, southern Italy, constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples. It was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century. In 1997, the Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described in its nomination as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque, from which it adopted all the features needed to create the illusions of multidirectional space".

The construction of the palace was begun in 1752 for Charles VII of Naples, who worked closely with his architect Luigi Vanvitelli. When Charles saw Vanvitelli's grandly-scaled model for Caserta it filled him with emotion "fit to tear his heart from his breast". In the end, he never slept a night at the Reggia, as he abdicated in 1759 to become King of Spain, and the project was carried to completion for his third son and successor, Ferdinand IV of Naples.
The political and social model for Vanvitelli's palace was Versailles, which, though it is strikingly different in its variety and disposition, solves similar problems of assembling and providing for king, court and government in a massive building with the social structure of a small city, confronting a baroque view of a highly subordinated nature, la nature forcée. The Royal Palace of Madrid, where Charles had grown up, which had been devised by Filippo Juvarra for Charles' father, Philip V of Spain, and Charlottenburg Palace provided models. A spacious octagonal vestibule seems to have been inspired by Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, while the palatine chapel is most often compared to Robert de Cotte's royal chapel at Versailles.
The king's primary object was to have a magnificent new royal court and administrative center for the Kingdom in a location protected from sea attack.
Vanvitelli died in 1773: the construction was continued by his son Carlo and finished in 1780.
The palace has some 1,200 rooms, including two dozen state apartments, a large library, and a theatre modelled after the Teatro San Carlo of Naples.

The population of Caserta Vecchia was moved 10 kilometers to provide a work force closer to the palace. A silk manufactory at San Leucio resort was disguised as a pavilion in the immense parkland.

A monumental avenue that would run 20 kilometers between the Palace and Naples was planned but never realized.

At the end of World War II, the royal palace served as the seat of the Supreme Allied Commander. In April 1945 the palace was the site of the signing of terms of the unconditional German surrender of forces in Italy. The agreement covered between 600,000 and 900,000 soldiers along the Italian Front including troops in sections of Austria. The first Allied war trial took place in the palace in 1945; German general Anton Dostler was sentenced to death and executed nearby, in Aversa.

The palace has a rectangular plan, measuring 247 x 184 m. The four sides are connected by two orthogonal arms, forming four inner courts, each measuring more than 3,800 m2 (40,903 sq ft). Of all the Royal Palace in the World, Caserta Palace is by far the largest in term of volume, with more than 2 million m³ (70 million cu ft)
Behind the facades of its matching segmental ranges of outbuildings that flank the giant forecourt, a jumble of buildings arose to facilitate daily business. In the left hand arc was built as barracks. Here, later, during World War II the soldiers of the US Fifth Army recovered in a "rest centre". From 1923 to 1943 the palace was the location of the Accademia Aeronautica, the Italian Air Force Academy.
Of all the royal residences inspired by the Palace of Versailles, the Reggia of Caserta is the one that bears the greatest resemblance to the original model: the unbroken balustraded skyline, the slight break provided by pavilions within the long, somewhat monotonous facade. As at Versailles, a large aqueduct was required to bring water for the prodigious water displays. Like its French predecessor, the palace was intended to display the power and grandeur of an absolute Bourbon monarchy. A solecism at Caserta is that above the piano reale, the King's floor, is another floor of equal magnificence. The enfilades of Late Baroque saloni were the heart and seat of government, as well as displays of national wealth. Caserta provided a royal refuge from the dust and factions of the capital, just as Versailles had freed Louis XIV from Paris. The royal palace has more than 40 monumental rooms completely decorated with frescoes (for example, Versailles only counts 22 monumental rooms with frescoes). The inland location was more defensible than the old Royal Palace in Naples, which fronted the Bay of Naples and hence was vulnerable to attack from the sea. To provide the King with suitable protection, troop barracks were housed within the palace.
The wide central entrance carriageway has, today, been incorporated into the city's automobile circulation.

The garden, a typical example of the baroque extension of formal vistas, stretches for 120 ha, partly on hilly terrain. It is inspired by the park of Versailles, but it is commonly regarded as superior in beauty. The park starts from the back façade of the palace, flanking a long alley with artificial fountains and cascades. There is a botanical garden, called "The English Garden," in the upper part designed in the 1780s by Carlo Vanvitelli and the German-born botanist, nurseryman, plantsman-designer John Graefer, trained in London and recommended to Sir William Hamilton by Sir Joseph Banks. It is an early Continental example of an "English garden" in the svelte naturalistic taste of Capability Brown.
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