How Italy’s Reggia di Caserta is being restored to its former glory

The Royal Palace of Caserta, a long-neglected architectural jewel near Naples, is being revived by a vast restoration project partly financed by the EU recovery fund.

How Italy's Reggia di Caserta is being restored to its former glory
The Royal Palace of Caserta, the residence of the Bourbon dynasty near Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the background. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Nicknamed the “Italian Versailles”, after the royal palace near Paris, the Italian UNESCO site boasts 1,200 rooms and 123 hectares of lush gardens.

It was built on the orders of the King of Naples Charles of Bourbon, with work beginning in 1752 under the direction of architect Luigi Vanvitelli.

But it fell into neglect after Italy’s unification at the end of the 19th century, and was used only rarely after that, such as when it served as the Allied headquarters during the Second World War.

From restoring the facades to reviving the gardens and repairing the gates, remedying the ravages of time is proving a titanic task.

The ‘Throne Room’ at the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Efforts made so far were rewarded last week when the palace won a third star – the highest accolade – in the prestigious Michelin Green Guide to Southern Italy.

Philippe Orain, the Michelin Green Guides’ director, told AFP the restoration so far was “remarkable”.

The palace has also earned points for its collection of contemporary art, showcased in the royal apartments, as well as its decision to open to visitors in the evenings and at Christmas.

Tiziana Maffei, Director of the Royal Palace of Caserta, with the third star from Le Guide Vert Michelin, the highest award given to a tourist site. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The third star lifts the palace and its gardens, complete with reflecting pools and gushing waterfall, to the level of the Pompeii archaeological site.

“It is a recognition that we hope will make us known throughout Europe and the world,” said the palace’s director Tiziana Maffei.

‘Expression of power’

Once home to Queen Marie-Caroline, Marie-Antoinette’s sister, the palace was designed to be “an expression of power but also of cultural prestige”, Maffei said.

The restoration comes with a stiff price tag, but the project has received around 25 million euros from the European post-pandemic recovery fund.

Maffei said it was “very little” compared to the total costs, but it would help restore the aqueduct, which carries water to the palace’s fountains, canals and basins, over a distance of 40 kilometres.

The palace serves as a location for film shoots, from “Star Wars” to “Angels and Demons”, which help lift its profile – and can raise unexpected extra funds too.

Maffei cites Tom Cruise, who she says paid for the curtain in the palace theatre to be restored while he was there filming “Mission Impossible”.

The Court Theatre of the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Visitors to the royal apartments first climb a vast staircase, under the fierce gaze of marble lions.

Above them is an immensive dome, below which lies a hidden platform, where musicians were once housed out of sight, to play as distinguished guests arrived.

Beyond the palace lie the Old Woods and the English Garden, one of the few great European gardens still intact, boasting temples, lakes and some 200 or so different species of rare and exotic plants.

Tourists arrive at the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

UK tourist Terry Thompson, on holiday with her husband, says the revived royal palace now rivals even the imposing Vatican in Rome.

“I can honestly say that here it is as beautiful, if not more beautiful,” she said.

“It’s absolutely superb: the colours, the paintings, the ceilings, the gilding… it’s really worth a visit”.

The gardens of the Royal Palace of Caserta. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

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Eight events to look forward to in Italy this June

As the days lengthen and the weather warms, Italy's cultural calendar becomes filled with open-air events and festivities. From regattas to light shows to music festivals, here's what we can look forward to this June.

Eight events to look forward to in Italy this June

Whether you live full-time in Italy or are just passing through in the coming weeks, there’s a large number of events on this month that will satisfy sports enthusiasts and culture lovers alike.

Here are our eight top picks for things to do in Italy this June.

Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics, Venice – June 2nd-3rd

Kicking off June’s events is the Palio delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare, in which Italy’s four historic maritime republics of Venice, Amalfi, Genoa and Pisa compete in a close-fought rowing race.

The cities take it in turns to host the race; this year’s will take place on Venice’s north lagoon and Grand Canal, with the women’s teams competing on the Friday and the men’s on the Saturday.

Infiorata, Genzano and Spello – June 10th-12th

June sees more than one Italian town erupt in colour as its streets are carpeted with elaborate flower blossom formations stretching hundreds of metres long.

The title for the oldest infiorata belongs to the Roman town of Genzano, which this year will celebrate its 245th edition from June 10th-12th; the infiorata in Spello, Umbria will take place on the same weekend, to coincide with the Corpus Domini religious festival.

Caracalla Festival, Rome – May 30th-August 10thΒ 

Set among the atmospheric ruins of the ancient Roman Caracalla baths, Rome’s annual Caracalla Festival features a combination of opera, ballet, classical and pop music performances.

On Friday, June 23rd, attendees will be treated to a special screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, with a live orchestra playing Chaplin’s original score.

READ ALSO: What to expect when travelling to Italy in summer 2023

Arena di Verona Opera Festival – June 16th-Sept 9th

Italy’s city of love is holding a special 100th edition of its celebrated Arena di Verona Opera festival this year.

The city’s Roman amphitheatre will play host to operas including Aida, Carmen, the Barber of Seville, La Traviata and Tosca, among others.

The Arena di Verona will this year host the 100th edition of its opera festival.

The Arena di Verona will this year host the 100th edition of its opera festival. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

Luminara of San Ranieri, Pisa – June 16th

The Tuscan city of Pisa celebrates its patron saint’s day by lighting up the city’s buildings with a magical display made up of over 100,000 wax candles perched on wooden supports known as biancherie.

The evening is topped off with a fireworks show and is followed the next day with the Palio di San Ranieri, in which crews of rowers from the city’s four districts race down the Arno and must climb a 10-metre pole to claim the winner’s flag.

Festival of Two Worlds, Spoleto – June 23rd-July 9th

The 66th edition of the FestivalΒ deiΒ Due Mondi or Two Worlds Festival in Spoleto, Umbria will feature the usual mix of music, dance, operatic and theatre performances.

The festival was founded by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti in 1958 and was originally twinned with Charleston in South Carolina, with the intention of marrying the ‘two worlds’ of American and European culture.

The hilltop town of Spoleto in Umbria hosts the annual Festival of Two Worlds. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP)

Italia loves Romagna concert, Reggio Emilia – June 24th

The proceeds from this charity concert will go to residents of the northeastern Italian region of Emilia Romagna, after heavy flooding in May caused widespread devastation.

The concert will be held in the RCF Arena and will feature performances from singers including Giorgia, Gianni Morandi, Blanco and Laura Pausini.

Ocean Race Grand Finale, Genoa – June 24th-July 2nd

The final leg of the of the Ocean Race, a six-month round-the-world sailing competition, will finish for the first time in Genoa this year for its 50th edition.

To mark the occasion, the city will host a nine-day events programme, turning its Waterfront di Levante marina into the Ocean Live Park, featuring cultural events, educational workshops, sailing-themed exhibitions and experiences, and regional food and beverage stands.