Natural environment of the garden
The Park of the Royal Palace of Caserta and the English Garden preserve a natural heritage of great native and exotic botanic value. Numerous botanic species have been introduced between the end of the ‘700s and the beginning of the following century in the English Garden. Some of these vegetable individuals have been studied and classified for the first time with the binomial system by illustrious Neapolitan naturalists and botanists such as Michele Tenore, who described and classified as thypus the Taxodium mucronatum present in the English Garden and still alive. To be noted, because they arrived for the first time in continental Europe right in the English Garden, are the camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), the eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp) and camelia (Camellia japonica).
Moreover, in the Park and in the English Garden dwell native plants of great development and age, such as the holm oak (Quercus ilex), the Turkey oak (Quercus cerris), the local large-leaved linden (Tilia plathyphyllos), the stone pine (Pinus pinea) and other plants considered spectacular for the acquired shape like the Lebanon cedar tree (Cedrus libani), the yew (Taxus baccata), the magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), the Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa), the bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii), the sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens), the plane tree (Platanus acerifolia and Platanus orientalis).
Numerous are the palms (Phoenix canariensis, dactyliferous Phoenix, Trachycarpus fortunei, Brahea armata, Butia capitata, Washingtonia robusta), the Cycas (Cycas revoluta), the agaves (Agave sp), the ferns (Osmunda regalis, Pteris sp and more) and the collections of pot plants guarded in the greenhouse like begonias and geraniums.
Historical background of the garden
The large Royal Palace and Park, designed and presented by Luigi Vanvitelli and finished by his son Carlo, were inspired by the European residences of the 18th century as, for example, the French Versailles and the Spanish Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso.
The construction works, with the delimitation of the area and the planting of the first plants, began in 1753, at the same time as those for the construction of the Caroline Aqueduct, whose waters from the slopes of Mount Taburno would have fed the fountains of the royal gardens. The present Royal Park is only in part the realization of the project of Luigi Vanvitelli, as the work was completed by his son Carlo, who, due to a lack of funds, had to reduce the paternal design.
The English Garden was assigned, starting from 1786, to botanist and gardener John Andrew Graefer in cooperation with the architect Carlo Vanvitelli himself. However, from 1788 the Garden was continued by Ferdinand IV, who did not succeed in finishing it because of the military emergencies at the end of the century.
Description of the Garden
The large Royal Park, designed by Luigi Vanvitelli and finished by his son Carlo, helps to make the Royal Palace of Caserta a one-of-a-kind place. It covers approximately 120 hectares and extends on a length of over 3 kilometers. Its structure can be divided into three main parts, which are: the geometric one of the Giardino all’Italiana, with large lawns and square flowerbeds that are alternated with alleys and water jets; the Bosco Vecchio, which is the oldest part of the garden; and the luxuriant English Garden commissioned by Queen Maria Carolina.
Starting from the Palace, the central alley is characterized by the famous Via d’acqua. From the circular Margherita fountain, decorated with simple floral patterns, two main side paths branch off. Along the route, following the slopes of the hill, it is possible to see a scenografic series of fountains ornamented with statues that are mainly inspired by the themes of classical mythology, together with many declining basins that form just as many waterfalls. To feed the water shows of the Palace, Charles of Bourbon promoted the construction of a new aqueduct, which took from him the name of Caroline Aqueduct (Acquedotto Carolino). He commissioned the project to Luigi Vanvitelli, who created an impressive hydraulic engineering endeavor, which at the time aroused the attention throughout Europe, and that provided the Palace and the Garden of the water they needed for their fountains and basins.
The first fountain along this route is the one known as the “Fountain of the dolphins”, dominated by two dolphins and a sea monster, where the water comes out of the mouths of the three big stone fishes. Next there is the unfinished “Fountain of Aeolus”, made of Montegrande marble. According to the original project, this fountain should have had more than 50 statues depicting the winds, as it took inspiration from the “Aeneid” by Virgil, in which Aeolus unleashes the winds against Aeneas upon the request of Juno.
After a series of copious sloping basins, the route reaches the “Fountain of Ceres”, that represents the symbol of Sicily’s fertility, with the statues of the goddess and of the two rivers of the island. At last, at the end of this succession of fountains is the basin below the artificial waterfall of Mount Briano, the so-called “Bath of Diana”, where the scene depicted is divided into two important marble groups, with the waterfall flowing in between. The first part depicts Diana who, surrounded by nymphs, is surprised while leaving from her bath; the second one shows Actaeon who, having spied on the naked goddess, and having been turned into a stag by Diana herself, is going to be eaten by his own hounds.
On the left side of the Via d’acqua, there is the so-called Bosco Vecchio, which is the oldest part of the Royal Park. It used to be the Renaissance garden of the Acquaviva family before the Royal Palace and Garden existed. It is here that it is possible to find both the Castelluccia and the Peschiera. The Castelluccia used to be a sixteenth-century tower, but was then transformed, when it was rebuilt in 1769, in a miniature fortress planned for simulated military drills. Going north, a short distance away from the Castelluccia, lies the Peschiera Grande, a vast artificial lake that should have hosted the naval battle drills of Ferdinand IV. At the centre of the lake lies a small island, embellished with a circular temple.
At last, to the right of the monumental Fountain of Diana and Actaeon, lies the large English Garden, requested by Queen Maria Carolina, convinced by the English Minister in Naples, Lord Hamilton, to compete with her sister Marie Antoinette of France in order to overshadow the Petit Trianon at Versailles. It was realized by the botanist Andrew Graefer who, in 1782, started the work in the area near the Grand Cascade, where the sloping land towards the South lends itself to the cultivation of exotic species. The English Garden covers in total an area of more than 24 hectares and can be considered a variant of the orderly and geometric Italian Style Garden. The garden offers a series of suggestive places with strong references to the models of the time, as for example: the Cryptoporticus, which is a mock semi-circular nymphaeum decorated with the statues coming from the excavations of Pompeii and from the Farnese collection; the small pond in the Bath of Venus, that gets its name from the statue that, sculpted by Tommaso Solari in Carrara marbles, portrayed Venus while getting out of the water. At the center of the pond there is a small island dominated by a mock classical temple, made with false Pompeian ruins; the English Mansion, home of the gardener Graefer, built on two floors, with a base and Doric pillars supporting a cornice decorated with medallions; and, lastly, the Aperìa, an area used as a water tank by Vanvitelli, that was later used for the breeding of bees and finally transformed into a greenhouse in 1826. Nearby, there are four greenhouses in which Graefer planted the plants he was looking for in Capri, in the Salentino area or in Palermo. Close to them are the Aquarium, intended for aquatic plants, the Rose Garden and the Botanic School.
1750 – Charles of Bourbon bought the feud of Caserta, where he wanted to create the new “administrative capital” of the Kingdom.
1752 – The construction of the Royal Palace begins.
1753 – Begin the works of delimitation of the area for the Royal Park and the planting of the first plants.
1756 – Begins the construction of the Theatre.
1759 – Charles of Bourbon leaves Naples and the construction of the complex slows down.
1769 – The Castelluccia tower is rebuilt and the Theatre is inaugurated.
1773 – Luigi Vanvitelli dies, and the building is still far from being finished.
1786 – The English Garden is assigned to gardener and botanist John Andrew Graefer in cooperation with the architect Carlo Vanvitelli, son of Luigi.
1788 – The works are taken over by Ferdinand IV.
1826 – The Aperia is transformed into a greenhouse.
1845 – The Royal residence, inhabited since 1780, is finished under Ferdinand II.
1919 – The Royal Palace is disposed of by the Crown of the Royal House of Savoy and becomes part of the heritage of the State of Italy.
1945 – The unconditional surrender of the Nazi Germany to the Anglo-American Allied forces is signed in the royal apartments.
1994 – The exhibition Terrae Motus is exposed permanently in the Royal Palace.
1997 – The Royal Palace at Caserta with the Park, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli, and the San Leucio Complex is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Brief description of the Interpretation Centre/Museum
The Royal Garden is annexed to the Royal Palace of Caserta, the fulcrum of the monumental complex of Caserta. Commissioned by Charles of Bourbon, it was designed by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli following the example of the Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles.
The building occupies a surface of about 47,000 square metres and has 1,200 rooms lit by over 1,700 windows. It is rectangular on plan with four courtyards, divided by two blocks of the central building. The original project also included two semi-circular wings, embracing the enormous square overlooking the main facade, nowadays isolated.
The entrance hall of the Palace leads to a long three-aisles gallery with a “telescopic perspective” on the four courtyards, which open the view to the park and to the Via d’acqua. The spectacular Stairway of Honour (Scalone d’Onore), with a large central ramp, followed by two parallel lateral ramps, conducts to the upper vestibule, which is octagonal on plan and illuminated by large windows. From the upper vestibule the tour leads to the Palatine Chapel, rectangular on plan with a semi-circular apse, decorated by polychrome marbles. The entire project was clearly modelled on the one at Versailles, as it is possible to see by its barrel vault, adorned with ceiling coffers and golden rose windows.
On the left of the Chapel, on the first floor, are the Royal Apartments of the House of Bourbon, which include the Throne Room (Sala del Trono), preceded by Antechambers, the King’s apartment and the one of the Queen.
Together with the numerous rooms in the Apartments, particularly interesting is the Palatine Library (Biblioteca Palatina). It contains more than 14,000 books representing the European culture and works. The elliptical Room, the last room of the library, contains a reconstruction of the Royal Nativity Scene: this is the way to the Picture Gallery, a collection of works which are distributed in various rooms, and some of them, as the so-called Quadreria, expose the Royal’s portraits of the Bourbon dynasty.
The back rooms of the Historic Apartments contain the contemporary art exhibition “Terrae Motus”, assembled by the gallery owner Lucio Amelio after the 1980 earthquake. It includes works of the greatest contemporary artists, such as Warhol, Haring, Schifano, Beuys, and Pistoletto.
Lastly, the Theatre is extremely important: situated in the west side of the Palace, it is the small-scale replica of the San Carlo Theatre of Naples and has five orders of boxes with a sumptuous Royal Box. Inaugurated in 1769, this is the only room completed by Vanvitelli after ten years of work.