King Charles, hungry to build a palace worthy of a Bourbon king and one that could best Versailles, gave Caserta its famed ‘Reggia di Caserta’. The palace has all the eccentricity one could expect from a royal residence. In fact, the opulent palace boasts 1,200 rooms spread over five imposing floors. There are two main sections to it, the representational spaces and the Royal Apartments, both equally lavishly ornate. Stroll through the endless corridors and descend the fairytale-like staircases. Admire vast frescoed ceilings, gilded decorations, crystal chandeliers, and classic baroque furniture. Furthermore, there is a gallery showcasing traditional landscapes and portraits as well as hosting contemporary art exhibitions. Other notable parts include the Palatine Chapel, Royal Court Theater and the incredible 120 hectares of lush gardens. Out of all the things to see in Caserta, the Royal Palace of Caserta is an absolute must!
Just short 10 km (6 miles) from the Royal Palace of Caserta resides the old town, Caserta Vecchia. Sitting at the foot of Mount Virgo, this lovely medieval and incredibly medieval hamlet was founded by Lombards in the 8th century. Looking in, the rustic simplicity and quiet that envelopes this old settlement will mesmerize you. Looking out, you will catch splendid views of the Caserta plains. The life in the village was never simple, but the people who lived here were resilient. Besides humble residences, you can admire a lovely cathedral boasting Arabic, Norman and Sicilian art as well as the ruins of the former castle. The best time to visit is towards the end of August, beginning of September. It's the time of Settembre al Borgo, a unique theatrical and musical event. When numerous artists flock here to perform to thousands of spectators, the magic of the place magnifies with every performance.
The imposing complex of San Leucio was created by Bourbon King Ferdinando IV as a “utopia” town. Instead of using the purchased land as a summer retreat and hunting grounds as his father intended, he decided to build a village. And not just any village! Bur a complete village complex called Ferdinandopoli representing the ideal city to rival, once again, Versailles as well as the Royal Palace of Madrid. It was to be a combined residential-workplace location dedicated to his silk manufacture. In other words, San Leucio was Ferdinand's vision for the social Enlightenment utopia. Today you can explore various facets of the village. There is the fascinating Silk Museum, Royal Apartments, lush gardens with sea views as well as the workers housing on both sides, designed to harmonize with the landscape. If unsure about what to do in Caserta, travel in time to San Leucio Complex and get a taste of the past.
However, before we get to the core of Caserta’s tourist appeal, let’s learn a bit about the history of this southern Italian town. Caserta, unlike other historic towns, did not grow around its historic city center. In fact, the old town, Caserta Vecchia (founded by the Lombards in the 8th century) sits on the hills 5 km (3 miles) north-northeast outside the modern city!
Modern Caserta grew around the old defensive tower built by Pando, Prince of Capua, in Lombard times. Actually, Pando destroyed the original city of Caserta around 863. Today, the tower forms part of the Palazzo della Prefettura (former royal residence as well as the seat of the counts of Caserta). The original population moved from the old site of Casertavecchia to the current place during the 16th century.
At the time, the city and its surroundings belonged to the aristocratic Acquaviva family. However, under the pressure of huge debts, they had to sell all their land to the royal family. Charles VII, the Bourbon King of Naples and Sicily in the mid 18th century enjoyed erecting illustrious buildings to cement his legacy in and around Naples. He purchased Caserta specifically to build a new palace. He wanted a palace that was more defensible than his old one fronting the Bay of Naples as well as larger and more opulent; a palace that could rival the French Versailles.
And so, the biggest Caserta attractions grew into the immense size we see today. To be honest, it’s probably the one and only reason why most people visit Caserta at all. In case you are wondering, it’s totally worth it.
Still, the royal residence is just one of the things to do in Caserta, even if the rest is not as glamorous. Browse the web page for more ideas on what to do in Caserta.