Thursday, September 30, 2010

Royal Palace and Medieval Town

Last Sunday, we drove to a nearby town, Caserta, to visit the Royal Palace - Reggia di Caserta. It was modeled after Versailles, has the most amazing fountains, and was built from 1752-1774. Due to some constructions problems (things never change), the palace is minus it's intended corner towers and central dome. It was used as a summer palace for the Bourbon kings, and was intended to be a center of political and social life, safe from attack by sea.
Royal Palace at Caserta

There is a very interesting description, written by an English guest (Lady Anne Miller), of one the dinner receptions at the palace. The description is too long to include, but in summary, there were no tables, only rows of chairs. Good looking soldiers did all the serving, with one spreading a napkin across the guests' laps, another placed a silver plate on each person's lap, and the food was..."a great pate, composed of macaroni, cheese, and butter...drinkables are served between the arrival of each eatable." Who knew that today's college students are eating the dinner of royals!

The apartments were filled with frescoed ceilings, frieze covered walls, and gilded furniture. One room is taken up with a huge presepe (nativity). How many times have I heard the story of the birth of Christ and “no room at the inn,” while not really thinking about the atmosphere of the town. This presepe, though, gives a wonderful, visual image of what Bethlehem must have really been like. Teeming masses of people who are cooking, eating, chatting, doing laundry – just living their lives. It’s a wonderful picture of the old, old story.

As impressive as the palace is, the gardens are even more so. A 1.8 mile walk stretches along incredible fountains, cascading into one another. The crowning glory is the Great Cascade, which has a waterfall coming out of the side of the mountain out of a temple like structure and falling 250 feet into the pool below, then flowing down the terraced pools.

Aeolo Fountain
Beside this long promenade is an English garden, filled with statues from Pompeii and Ercolano, reproduction ruins, a Bath of Venus pool, Beekeeping area (which actually looks like a theatre, complete with marble statues), rose garden, Gardener’s house, numerous lawns, a temple, an orchard…the list goes on and on. We got quite lost in the English Garden, but kept making our way downhill, thinking the exit would be at the bottom – and found that the only exit is at the entrance, way back up top.

Following our exploration of the Royal Palace, we headed up the mountain to Caserta Vecchia, founded in the 9th century, and is today, a preserved example of a medieval town. It’s a small, hilltop town with narrow, stone alleys and lots of pizzerias. We’d planned to have a little dinner, but it was only 5pm. None of the restaurants open for real food until 7:30pm. And while the food here is great, I’m so tired of takeaway panini sandwiches. That or a tiny, folded pizza are the only two lunch items around. Yes, the bread is fresh, the sauce is homemade, the buffalo mozzarella is creamy, and the prosciutto is perfecto…but eating the same two foods for lunch every single day does actually get old. The caffe does not get old. Soooooo delicious. Anyway, we left Caserta Vecchia still hungry, but with our “home” (in the hotel) only a 20 minute drive away, we decided to save a nice dinner in Caserta Vecchia for another time.
Beautiful Caserta Vecchia

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