The Province of Caserta in located the Campania region of Italy. Its capital city, Caserta, is just 22 miles by road north of Naples. The Romans referred to the area as Campania Felix – the happy country and undoubtedly appreciated the orchards, vineyards and olive groves of this beautiful land. It is bordered by mountains to the north and northeast and to the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea, which brings travelers to fine-sand beaches and the coastal landscape that overlooks the Gulf of Gaeta. In the southern part of province is the Roveto Valley.
History seems to greet visitors in every town with medieval villages, churches and cathedrals, as well as architecture from the Roman era. The mild climate makes any stay enjoyable all year round.
In the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Caserta was one of the most important areas in southern Italy and the capital city exhibits its art both in the town center and in the beautiful surrounding area. The city has long been synonymous with the royal palace. The opulent estate matches the splendor of Versailles. The former royal residence was constructed for the Bourbon Kings of Naples. It was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century.
Surrounded by over 120 acres of park, the Reggia di Caserta covers and astounding 11 acres, containing 1,200 rooms, 34 staircases and 1,742 windows. It was famously used as the palace in two of the Star Wars films (Episodes I and II). The palace’s grandeur immediately strikes the eye. A walk in the marvelous park, along the boulevard lined by sculptures, ponds and waterfalls, always makes visitors appreciate the magnificent architectural lines of the building’s massive façade. The sensation is enhanced when one enters the Palace. Wherever you look, there are works of art in the form of priceless paintings, bas-reliefs, frescoes and sculptures. The elaborately decorated floors look too polished and grand to be walked on. In 1997, the palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Take a moment to visit the monument dedicated to Luigi Vanvitelli, the painter-turned-architect whose grand masterpiece was the Reggia Royal Palace. The innovative artisan also designed the massive aqueduct Aquedotto Carolino and contributed to St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, as well as many churches and buildings in the Marche region. The marble statue rests on a base inlaid with bronze panels embossed in bas relief depicting Vanvitelli’s most important works. The monument is in the tree-lined Piazza Vanvitelli, a nice spot to relax.
The Complesso Monumentale Belvedere di San Leucio is another example of the grand development commissioned by the House of Bourbon. Originally a hunting and vacation residence, the complex was designed and developed by Ferdinand IV.
Although the manufacture of silk in Italy is normally associated with the area around Milan, Ferdinand had his own innovations in mind. He wanted to build a palace that would be surrounded by a small town. The town would be self-sufficient and devoted to the manufacture of silk, which at one time was worth its weight in gold.
The silk trade established during the Bourbon rule has evolved over time and still continues in the province, which has been highly respected for it silk products for centuries and are often selected by interior designers for luxurious room decoration.
Today visitors can admire the Bourbon’s royal apartments, the Museo della Seta (Silk Museum) and a collection of restored tools, still in working condition. From the Belvedere terraces, a spectacular view spanning all the way to the Gulf of Naples awaits. The annual Palio della Seta festival takes place here in the early fall.
San Leucio is also well known for its summertime festival – Sagra delle Pallottole (the Festival of Bullets). Instituted by Ferdinand IV, it was held for the first time in 1805. The Bourbons wanted to provide a showcase for the locally made products and crafts. As was the case even 200 years ago, there needed to be an easily prepared festival food that could be consumed while walking around. From such origins, the festival has long since adopted the name of its signature food. The bullets are made from potatoes, formed into the shape of cannon balls. Prepared and fried by the thousands, enough ‘bullets’ are made for the entire village and the assembled visitors. There are also dozens of vendors selling traditional crafts and handmade items from the province, just as the Bourbons had intended.
In the hills above Caserta sits the town of Casertavecchia, literally meaning ‘Old Caserta.’ It was established during the Middle Ages, but as the Bourbons focused on the development of the lowlands, the town lost its importance. Narrow alleys and stone buildings surround the town’s cathedral, with its Romanesque lantern and tall bell tower. The enchanting village is a mere six miles from the Royal Palace and offers a great view of the plains of Caserta. The name derives from “Casahirta,” which translates as hard to reach. The town’s castle was built with four towers, positioned in each direction of the compass. Today the ruins of the castle provide an interesting backdrop to the lovely town, which lost its importance once the Royal Palace was built. The early fall is the best time of the year to visit Casertavecchia when the free six day festival “Settembre al Borgo” brings music and theater from around the world to the ancient town.
An interesting stop for history buffs is the town of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, just outside Caserta. In this area were several settlements of the Villanovan culture dating to prehistoric times that were enlarged by the Etruscans. What most do not realize is that in the 4th century BC, Capuae was the largest city in Italy after Rome. It was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times following the decline of the Empire. Modern Capua was founded following the destruction of the city by the Saracens in 841 AD.
The most impressive ancient structure in the town is the Roman Anfiteatro Campano, which calls to mind the shape and design of the Colosseum, but on a smaller scale. The Antica Capua Archeological Museum contains an extensive and fascinating collection of antiquities. While in the town, visit the Duomo di Santa Maria Maggiore. The Basilica’s interior was renovated numerous times over the centuries and the Baroque treatment of the chapels is breathtaking.
Since Naples is such a popular spot to visit in Italy, those who travel to the area should allow time in their itineraries to visit Caserta and marvel at the history, innovations and opulence of this remarkable province.