If you mentioned the subject of sumptuous royal palaces, most people would immediately think of the Palace of Versailles or possibly the Royal Palace of Madrid. However, the Royal Palace of Caserta, built in the 18th century by the Bourbon kings of Naples rivals the splendour of both Versailles and Madrid.
Caserta is by far the largest palace in the world, occupying 70 million cubic feet over an area of 11 acres set in a stunning landscaped park of nearly 300 acres.
Construction began in 1752 in the reign of Charles VII of Naples under the direction of architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, also famous for his work on the restoration of St Peters. The king never saw the palace finished as he abdicated in 1759 to become the king of Spain. Work continued under the direction of his third son, Ferdinand IV, and was finally completed in 1780.
The Palace at Caserta is one of the finest examples of late Baroque architecture and was intended to display to the world the power and grandeur of the Bourbon monarchy. It contains 1,200 rooms, including 24 state apartments, 34 stairways, a magnificent library and its own theatre.
There are 40 monumental rooms, all decorated with frescoes, nearly twice as many to be found in Versailles. UNESCO awarded the palace and park 'World Heritage' status in 1997, refering to them as "treasures of truly incomparable splendor".
As well as the many state rooms and theatre, visitors to the palace can also see the magnificent 'Throne Room', the royal apartments, the Palantine chapel, the Pinacoteca, or art gallery, and the world famous 'Bourbon' presepe.
The beauty of the palace is enhanced by its wonderful parkland setting. The park is designed around a typical 'Italian Garden', but modelled on a vast scale. It also features an 'English Garden', introduced by Maria Carolina of Austria, one of the earliest examples of the style of garden inspired by Capability Brown.
The central avenue features pools, fountains and waterfalls, decorated with sculpures of classical figures leading down to the 'Great Fountain', where water cascades for 150 metres into an ornate basin that depicts the Roman goddess, Diana, bathing on one side while on the other, Actaeon, a hunter from Greek mythology, meets his gruesome end.
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