Musement takes a look at some curiosities surrounding the majestic Royal Palace of Caserta near Naples.
In 1751, Charles III, ruler of the Kingdom of Naples and future king of Spain, decided to build himself a royal residence. Naples, the capital of his kingdom, was too vulnerable to attack, but the well-protected plains around Caserta were vast enough to accommodate a truly majestic palace. Thus, he began the construction of the Royal Palace of Caserta, which is still the largest residence in the world by volume and is in no way inferior to the Palace of Versailles (which Charles III took as a model, wanting to emulate and surpass its magnificence).
Here’s a look at some interesting tidbits about the Royal Palace of Caserta that you probably didn’t know, and which will make your visit to this landmark piece of history even more interesting.
1. A pharaonic undertaking
The astonishing numbers involved in the construction of the Royal Palace just might be higher than you might expect: the first stones were laid in 1752, but it took several decades to complete. It covers an area of 47,000 square meters (over 500,000 square feet) and has more than 1,200 rooms and 1,742 windows. Not only did its construction take many years, but it also had an outrageously high cost: almost 8,800,000 ducats to be precise, which would be worth no less than 300 billion euros ($335 billion) in today’s currency.
2. An unidentified object
We Italians are very fond of our traditions, and there is one dear object that we miss most when we travel abroad: the bidet. After the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1861 to form the brand-new Kingdom of Italy, some Piedmontese officials proceeded to make a record of the objects in the Royal Palace of Caserta, among which they found a mysterious unidentified object—which was not a UFO, but a bidet. The official from the House of Savoy wrote down in his notes: “Strange unknown object shaped like a guitar.”
3. An ambiguous object
The bidet is not the only interesting object in the Palace. At the center of the Summer Room, one can see a beautiful table that seems to have no particular distinguishing features except that it is made of particularly fine marble. But if you look closer, you’ll notice that it’s not made from marble, but from wood: the table is a cross-section of a tree trunk, which naturalist Girolamo Segato took and used a special technique—which remains mysterious to this day—to make it clear, solid and shining like marble.
4. An intergalactic movie set
The Royal Palace is a place of otherworldly beauty, which is most likely why it was chosen as a location for two films from the Star Wars saga, “The Phantom Menace” (1999) and “Attack of the Clones” (2002). The palace’s interior and gardens became the Queen’s Palace on Naboo.
5. Heavenly music
The Grand Staircase of Honor became a model for later architecture due to its beauty and splendor, but it also hides a small secret. Here, the King would enter the palace, and heavenly music would fill the air as he made his entrance. Where did the sounds come from, since there was no string quartet in sight? Was it perhaps from Heaven itself? Well, almost! Up in the frescoed dome depicting the Temple of Apollo, musicians would “hide” in a secret space in order to welcome the King with their heavenly music.
6. A royal reader
Queen Maria Carolina of Habsburg-Lorraine was a voracious reader. When she moved into the Royal Palace, she could not go without her books. Just as we do nowadays with our favorite tomes, she took them with her into her new home, bringing a selection from her personal library which took up no less than six rooms of the Palace.
7. Freemasonry at the court
The Queen was not only a bookworm but also an adept of Freemasonry. The palace garden’s Bath of Venus is evidence of this: the statue of Venus emerges from the dense vegetation in a secluded corner of the gardens, a place that looks like an enchanted oasis. Scholars believe this was meant to be the final, cathartic step of an esoteric initiation journey, along which we find a pyramid, a maze, a neo-Gothic tomb and a small “tholos” temple near the statue itself.