Caserta was badly damaged by World War II bombing, and the modern town is not particularly interesting. It does, however, have several truly splendid attractions. In addition to those highlighted below, we recommend a visit to the 15th-century Complex of Sant'Agostino, which includes a convent, church, and cloister, as well as several museums. There is a Museum of Contemporary Art, a Museum of Traditions, and the newly created Le Muse. Taking inspiration from Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London, this museum offers a unique insight into local history, presenting the main protagonists in authentic costumes and settings. Note: Young children might be disturbed by the lifelike wax figures. You'll find the complex on Largo San Sebastiano, off Via Mazzini (tel. 0823-273843; admission 7€ adults, 5€ children; summer Wed-Mon 9:30am-7:30pm, winter 10am-6pm).
The Reggia (Royal Palace)
One of the most magnificent royal palaces in the world, the Reggia is a masterpiece of harmonious architecture and decorative arts. (If you experience déjà vu during your visit, it may be because the Reggia was used as a location for Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace). When King Carlo III Bourbon decided to leave Naples, which he considered to be too open to attacks from the sea, he asked his architect Luigi Vanvitelli to build him a palace that would rival the courts of Paris, London, and Madrid. Vanvitelli dedicated the last 20 years of his life to the construction, for which he used the best materials and workmanship available in the country. The Reggia was finished a year after the architect's death in 1774, but its interior was not fully completed until 1847. The grandiose palace measures over 45,000 sq. m (484,376 sq. ft.), and is divided into four wings, each surrounding a separate courtyard.
Official guided tours, led by art historians and lasting about 90 minutes, are offered on weekends and holidays in winter and daily in summer (tel. 0823-448084; www.arethusa.net; admission 5.80€, reservations required). On weekend nights, June through October, Percorsi di Luce nella Reggia (Paths of Light in the Reggia) (tel. 0823-462078; www.percorsidiluce.it) helps visitors discover the palace, its famous gardens, and the kings who inhabited it. These tours are also led by art historians and accompanied by light effects, 18th-century music, short performances, and multimedia presentations. Started in 2003, these events are scheduled only a year at a time and cancellation is always possible due to lack of funds. Make reservations well in advance (18€ adults; free for children 5 and under).
The horse-carriage tour of the gardens is relatively short, but very romantic (round-trip 10€ per person). Don't expect it to take you all the way to the top, as the climb is too steep for the horses; the carriages U-turn by the Fountain of Eolus.
Note: A visit to the palace (and even more so the park) involves extensive walking. A shuttle bus is provided between the palace and the entrance to the English Gardens; pay and sign up for the bus at the ticket booth. The palace is wheelchair accessible through a private elevator in back of the ticket booth, and golf carts are available for visits to the gardens; call in advance.
You will find a cafeteria inside the Reggia, at the end of the main gallery just before the exit to the gardens; it is open during all visiting hours. In summer, you'll find a temporary snack bar at the entrance to the English Gardens.
Overlooking modern Caserta, this medieval borgo is one of the best preserved in Italy. It is the original town of Caserta, abandoned when King Carlo III Bourbon built his palace in the valley below and enrolled a large part of the local population to its service. Dominated by a castle that is now in ruins, the village is built around the cathedral, Piazza Vescovado (tel. 0823-371318; free admission; daily 9am-1pm and 3:30-6pm, till 7:30pm in summer), a fine example of Arabo-Norman architectural style. Dedicated to St. Michael, it was built by the Normans in the 12th century using paleochristian elements as well as material from a nearby temple to Jupiter. The church is built of tufa stone -- like the rest of the town -- with delicate highlights in white marble: the three portals, the window frames, the decorative columns, and a number of zoomorphic sculptures. The dome is covered by a beautiful tiburio -- roofed tower -- where the Arab influence is readily visible. The octagonal structure has geometric designs in alternate yellow and gray tufa stone, with an ornate intertwining of arches supported by little white columns. Inside you can admire the altar encrusted in mosaic, and the baptismal font from the 4th century. The handsome facade is completed by a 13th-century bell tower, under which passes the main street of the town; it is topped by an octagonal roof and decorated in similar fashion to the cathedral.
Behind the Duomo, on the main street, is the Chiesetta dell'Annunziata (daily 9am-1pm and 3:30-6pm; until 7:30pm in summer), a Gothic church built at the end of the 13th century; the portico was added in the 18th century, but behind it you can admire the original facade with the beautiful marble portal. Farther on is the 11th-century Norman Castle; most of its original structure -- a central core with six towers -- is in ruins, but the powerful main tower remains. Do take the time to stroll through the borgo's narrow medieval streets, admiring their original paving and the well-preserved medieval decorative details of the buildings and stone archways. Not surprisingly, the town is a favorite dinner destination for locals, who come to enjoy the food, the view, and the atmosphere, especially during warm weather and on weekends.
This hill to the northwest of the Royal Palace is where King Ferdinando IV had his hunting preserve, and where he created a self-sufficient colony as a societal experiment. To make the colony economically independent, the king established a silkworm farm and a weaving factory. Following principles that are quite radical even by today's standards, Ferdinando and his liberal minister Bernardo Tanucci endowed the colony with completely innovative laws and organization. Education was obligatory and free from the age of 6 up, and only those skilled in their jobs were allowed to marry and have children. There was no distinction between sexes, and every manufacturer had to contribute a portion of its gains to the common fund for people who were unable to work due to poor health or old age. The factory became famous for its precious fabrics, exporting its products far and wide. Today it operates privately, under the Stabilimento Serico De Negri, in which expert artisans keep the tradition alive by weaving damasks, brocades, and other fine fabrics.
Opening onto Piazza della Seta, the original colony is very scenic, with ordered rows of houses offering beautiful views over the Reggia and the surroundings. The small church pre-dates the hamlet and is probably of Longobard origin. The road that leads toward the left from below the steps of the original silk factory on Piazza della Seta climbs to the Hunting Lodge of the Aquaviva princes, the original owners of the estate; nearby is the Vaccheria, the stables where Ferdinand established the colony's first weaving activity before he built the village.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.