A Tale of Two Cities in Campania
A Tale of Two Cities in Campania

Caserta Cathedral

Finding spots to visit and explore in Italy is not that difficult.  What makes travelling here so simple is not only is there so much to see in so many parts of the country, but it is usually an unproblematic effort.  With rail and state highways throughout the country, a trip to your destination of choice, for the most part, becomes fairly effortless.  You are generally not too far from the ever popular rail line, or if you have decided to try your hand at navigating the roads, the state highways and roads provide a great mode of transportation.  Even with traversing the various mountain ranges, you have a pretty good time finding what you want.



One favorite pastime for anyone who travels is to try and get the most of their time in a particular area.  Italy is no different.  If you are looking for much to see and do here, you might want to make Caserta your choice destination.  Caserta is located only about 15 miles from Naples, and about 30 miles from Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi.  It is located in the Campania region of the country and is the capital of the province of Caserta.  It is an important agricultural, commercial and industrial municipality and city.  It sits at the base of the Subapennine mountain range that stretches into Campania.


To take from the classic Dickens tale, Caserta really is a story of two cities - Caserta Vecchia (Old Caserta) and the city of Caserta itself.  Caserta Vecchia sits atop Mount Virgo and is about five miles from present day Caserta.  The site of Caserta Vecchia lasted just about until the mid 1700's.  It was at that time that Charles III commissioned an Italian architect to build a castle at the foot of Mount Virgo.  He wanted this Royal Palace to rival that of Versailles in France.  Luigi Vanvitelli was the architect he chose for the job.  As many Italian stories go, the irony surrounding the building of the Palace was that neither Vanvitelli nor Charles was around to see its completion.  After the architect died, his son completed the work.  Charles III never lived here as he was crowned King of Spain before the doors of the Palace officially opened.

The park at "La Reggia", Caserta, Italy.

As time went on, the Palace was a magnet for the people of this area.  Soon settlement around the Palace grew and became present day Caserta.  Hence came forth Caserta and Caserta Vecchia.


The famed Reggia di Caserta

Remains of the Old city, however, still remain on top of the hill.  The most notable is a cylindrical tower of an ancient castle that at its time had six towers.  The Cattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo attracts most visitors to this site.


However, down from Old Caserta, through the narrow streets leading down into the valley, you will find one of the most impressive ancient structures in all of Italy, the Palazzo Reale, or Royal Palace.  The palace houses 1200 furnished rooms, two dozen state apartments, and a royal theatre.  Many of the rooms are decorated from works and statues from the excavations in Pompeii, which is also credited to Charles III.  Called the "Verailles of Naples", the palace sits in an impeccably maintained park, with lavish gardens and fully equipped, of course, with waterfalls and fountains.  The water structures were built with the creation of a 30 mile long aqueduct.  The park itself is about two miles long, complete with a beautiful English garden.  When you are there see if you can take a peak at Vesuvius on your walk in the park.


The Royal Palace is actually listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, is a place of cultural or physical significance.  Italy ranks toward the top of World Heritage sites in the world.   It is one of the most visited monuments in the country and is easily the top attraction here.


Garden of the Reggia di Caserta

Want to be part of the movies?  Well, while here, try taking a few snapshots of yourself in the Palace.  You can tell your friends that you were at the sight of the filming of a scene from Star Wars Episode I:  The Phantom Menace and Star Wars II:  Attack of the Clones.  A scene out of Mission Impossible III was filmed here and the steps of the palace, carved out of one huge block of stone, is where scenes form Angels and Demons was also shot.


As part of the visit to the city and the Palace, the Aqueduct of Vanvitelli is another spectacular engineering stop on your stay.  The aqueduct was built to supply the palace with water.  It was supplied by water arising from Monte Taburno.   Part of the structure is still perfectly preserved.  There is a 529 meter long section still erect in great condition.  This section, which was also made a World Heritage site, is made of three rows of arches, 55.8 meters at its highest point.

Wonderful Caserta Palace - Naples Italy.

There is much more history in and around Caserta including the San Leucio resort, once site of the Royal silk workshops.  San Leucio is another Caserta spot that is included on the World Heritage List.  Try stopping by and seeing Piedimonte di Casolla which has an ancient Benedictine abbey, built over a Roman temple dedicated to Diana.


Don't think that Caserta simply dwells on its past.  There is also a higher education presence here.  The Second University of Naples, which was founded as recently as 1991, has a branch in Caserta as well as in other areas of the province.


Interestingly, there are more Italians that visit here then visitors from across the Atlantic, which means that this locale is still relatively unknown to many.  However, it is truly worth the effort to pay Caserta a visit. The natural scenery, ancient structures and, of course, wonderful shopping and traditional regional cooking will make memories to last a lifetime.

By Mike Mancini