Caserta Royal Palace: Exuding the opulence of a Bourbon king

A lion stands regally at the main stairway leading to the royal apartments of the Caserta Royal Palace.


By JASON CHUDY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 2, 2004

Obi Wan Kenobi, meet the Bourbon kings.

The Reggia di Caserta, or Royal Palace, near Naples has a long history of hosting royalty, generals and, more recently, space aliens.

It was home to Charles III of Bourbon, who wanted a palace of his own to rival his great-grandfather’s Versailles palace in France. Construction started in 1752, and within a few years more than 2,650 people were working on it.

Construction eventually slowed, and the palace wasn’t completed until 1845, long after Charles’ death and near the end of the Bourbon dynasty.

Other rulers have since called the palace home.

During World War II, German forces occupied it after Italy’s 1943 surrender.

A year later, 5th Army commander Gen. Mark Clark used part of the large palace as his headquarters, sharing it with Allied troops who visited it as an Army rest-and-recreation center. He also accepted the surrender of German forces in Italy at the palace on April 29, 1945.

More recently, it was host to another type of royal visitor, although her kingdom is fictitious. Parts of the interior were used as the Theed Palace of Queen Amidala in “Star Wars” episodes I and II.

After touring the palace, it seems no wonder that real kings and fake queens would want to call it home. Even the entrance to the royal apartments, the only area open to the public, is grand, as visitors ascend a large marble staircase decorated with marble lions and statues.

The palace is about 650 feet wide at its face and some 830 feet deep. Visitors are allowed on only one floor at the front of the palace, which is just a small part of the building.

But with ceilings rising to nearly 65 feet in some of the rooms, it’s not hard to imagine even a king feeling small in the place.

All of the descriptive signs are in Italian, but English guidebooks are available for 5.20 euros in the gift store, next to the ticket booth. It’s a worthy investment, because the book also has information on and photos of areas not accessible to the public.

The first dozen or so rooms are ornate, but pretty much barren of furniture. The farther visitors move into the apartments, the more ornate and decorated the rooms get. It almost seems as if curators wanted to ease visitors into the palace’s overwhelming beauty.

Likewise, the farther visitors walk down the passage, the more impressive it gets. From Charles’ gold-encrusted throne room to numerous bedrooms, visitors are able to get a look at the opulence of the ordinary life of a Bourbon king.

As the hallway ends, visitors make a left turn into the palace’s library complex. Books on the shelves date to the 13th century. Only panes of glass on the bookshelf doors separate these historical treasures from visitors.

One of the final exhibits is the “royal Christmas crib,” which Americans would refer to as a nativity scene. Naples is famous for its cribs, and every Christmas the royals displayed one here. They were created not only by artisans but also by the Bourbon princesses, who helped make the silk costumes.

In addition to the palace, the grounds include a 250-acre park and formal English garden, both of which are open to the public.

On the QT ...

DIRECTIONS: The Reggia di Caserta is in downtown Caserta. From either Capodichino or Gricignano, take the A1 autostrada north to Caserta Sud (south) exit. After a one-euro toll, take the main road into the city. The palace is at the end of this road, about three miles away. Just before the palace, an exit ramp on the right leads to an underground parking garage.

HOURS: The palace is open 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The park is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and the garden is open 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 2 to 3 p.m.

FOOD: There is a cafeteria in the palace and dozens of restaurants or snack bars in nearby downtown Caserta.

COST: Entrance costs 4.20 euros for the palace, and 6 euros for the palace, park and English garden. Parking in the underground garage ranges from one euro for two hours to three euros for the day.

INFORMATION: The palace has a Web site, at www.reggiadicaserta.org. Although the site has a link to an English version, it only links to a picture of the palace’s staircase, and has no English text..

— Jason Chudy

The Caserta Royal Palace’s main entrance as approached from the underground parking garage. The palace is situated facing Naples, and the old highway to the city, which is still in use, started at the palace’s front door.

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