A singular glimpse inside Caserta's Royal Theater
A walk through the Palace at Caserta near Naples is rare enough – most tourists ignore this gilded royal folly, even though it is the largest royal palace in the world. Rarer still is a tour through Caserta’s royal court theater.
The theater is closed to the public, so when a guide suggested he could finagle an entry, of course the answer was yes.
Palace at Caserta's Royal Theater
Caserta, built for the Bourbon kings of Naples, was launched in 1752 and finished in 1780. Architect Luigi Vanvitelli’s decidedly gilded goal was to outclass Versailles, and in many ways he did just that. Caserta’s two mile stretch of gardens and fountains are far grander and more ingeniously designed. And Caserta has nearly double the room real estate of Versailles, clocking in at a majestic 1,200 apartments.
But it was the royal court theater that most intrigued me. Inspired by the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, the smallish theater has five stories wreathed with private viewing boxes. The royal box is topped by an immense golden crown framed by blue plaster draperies emblazoned with golden stars. An angel grasping a trumpet and golden ring floats immediately below the crown.
It is here, perhaps, that the term “royal folly” is most deserved – still the intimate space is a wonder of opulence.
The New York Times termed Caserta a “weirdly overlooked treasure” that attracts about 500,000 visitors a year while five million a year flock to Versailles. Aspects of the palace, grounds and five fountains are also thought to outshine Saint Petersburg’s Peterhof.
The palace is really more city than building with its distinct and orderly social structure. The imperial city includes a state library, theater, administrative center, hunting lodges, silk factory, light-infused octagonal vestibule, royal chapel, woodlands and of course – endless gardens with fabulous fountains.
Caserta was termed “the swan song” of Baroque architecture when it was nominated for a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 (it deservedly won a ranking).
The Italian Air Force training school that for many decades occupied parts of the palace has recently vacated, opening up even more space for tourists.
You may recognize the grand sweeping staircase – it doubled for the Vatican in several films, including Mission: Impossible III as well as Angels & Demons. So overdone, the palace was also an optimal, otherworldly choice of the planet of Naboo in Star Wars Episode I and II.
The miles of gardens are so extensive as to render them nearly un-walkable. Best to rent one of the horse and buggies (50 Euro for up to five people), or even better – bikes (some motorized) that go for 4 Euro an hour.
Entrance to Caserta is 4.50 Euros. Tickets cab be bought online.
Meridiana Airlines offers non-stop service from New York’s JFK airport to either Naples or Palermo.
Palace at Caserta's throne room
One of Caserta's many rooms and hallways