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Sunday, April 29, 2012

You know that, from time to time, I like and need to escape to survive to my rather stressful life style. I'm lucky enough to have quite grown-up children, an understanding husband and very special girlfriends who make that possible. This time we left from Rome by train and went  to Caserta for a couple of days, guests at one of our friends'.  She,  her lovely mother and her sister were our impeccable, generous host ladies and we had a great time! 

First of all, we visited Caserta 18th Century Royal Palace and its park,  roaming around the crowded fields and gardens for hours.

The sunny spring day was warm and slightly windy so perfect for trips and picnics. In Italy it was a national holiday (we celebrate the liberation from Fascism  every year on 25 April), so the place was full of joyful groups of friends and families.

Created by the Bourbon king Charles III in the mid-18th century to rival Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid, the complex is exceptional for the way in which it brings together a magnificent palace with its park and gardens, as well as natural woodland, hunting lodges and a silk factory. It is an eloquent expression of the Enlightenment in material form, integrated into, rather than imposed on, its natural setting.

The Palace as film location
Out of curiosity and of ... "my one weakness",  can you believe that the Palace was used as the location for Queen Amidala's Royal Palace on Naboo in the 1999 film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace?   In that movie the TDH Brit actor (my one weakness, in fact) we often mention here at FLY HIGH! was a fighter pilot. Does that mean  he was there while shooting the movie? Nobody knows for sure but he may have been there. If he actually did,  I hope he liked it as much as I did.
This scene of The Phantom Menace was shot at Caserta Palace
The Palace was then used again in the 2002 film Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones as Queen Jamilla's palace. The same room was also used in Mission: Impossible III as Vatican City. In fact, the square where the Lamborghini is blown up is actually the square inside the Palace. The main staircase is also used in Angels & Demons as the Vatican's staircase. 
These are the international productions shot here you may have seen, but many other films, especially Italian ones have Caserta as their location. For instance, Ferdinando and Carolina (1999) or Il resto di niente (2004).

Historical Description

In 1734 Charles III (Carlo Borbone), son of Philip V, became King of Naples, a self-governing kingdom that was no longer part of the Spanish realm. He decided in 1750 to build a new royal palace, to rival, and perhaps outdo, the palace of Versailles, as the symbol of the new kingdom. It was designed to be the centre of a new town that would also compete with the leading European cities. He employed the famous architect Luigi Vanvitelli, at that time engaged in the restoration of the Basilica of St Peter's in Rome. The tist stone was laid in 1752 and continued throughout the reign of Ferdinand IV, Charles's successor, until Vanvitelli's death in 1773.

The Bosco di San Silvestro (Wood of St Sylvester), on the two neighbouring hills of Montemaiuolo and Montebriano, was covered with vineyards and orchards when in 1773 Ferdinand IV decided to enclose it, together with some adjacent land, and create a hunting park. The building there served as a hunting lodge on the upper floor, the lower being used for agricultural purposes.
The hill of San Leucio takes its name from the Lombard church at its top. A hunting lodge, known as the Belvedere, had been built at its foot in the 16th century by the Acquaviva family, Princes of Caserta. The fief had been purchased by Charles Ill, and in 1773 Ferdinand IV initiated work on the socalled Old Hunting Lodge, to be abandoned after the death of his son. Between 1776 and 1778 the Belvedere was restored, the main hall being converted to a church.

In 1778 the King decided to begin the production of silk. His architect, Collecini, converted the building for this purpose, as the centre of a large industrial complex, including a school, accommodation for teachers, silkworm rooms, and facilities for spinning and dyeing the silk. He issued a series of laws in 1789 to regulate the San Leucio Royal Colony: this laid down piecework rates of pay, abolished dowries, and prescribed similar clothing for all the workers, in what has been described as a form of protosocialism. During the decade that followed, plans were made for enlargement of the village, and Collecini produced designs for a town, to be known as "Ferdinandopolis," but this dream was not realized because of the French occupation.
The fishponds in the gardens of the Royal Palace, the Royal silk factory, and the planned new town all required large amounts of water, and so the Carolino Aqueduct was built (completed in 1769) to bring water from the Fizo spring over a distance of 38km to the top of Montebriano. The final stretch runs through the Tifatini hills, where the medieval village of Casertavecchia, with its Romanesque cathedral, forms part of the panorama visible from the Royal estate.

Up the hills: Casertavecchia
And could we resist the charm of that little medieval village up there on the Tifatini hills? We couldn't and we didn't, of course.  So, though a bit tired for wandering for kilometres around the park and the huge halls of the Palace, we decided to travel even farther back in time, to Casertavecchia and to the Middle Ages!
Pictures from Casertavecchia


How did we end the long but pleasant walking trip? In a typical pizzeria where I ate one of the most delicious pizzas in my life, accompanied by our nostalgic chats about drama and period drama we used to watch on TV when we were younger (sigh!) and finally discussing our proposals on what to watch from our "portable archives" before sleeping. Gorgeous, flawed action hero on a mission in Africa? Yes!!!

The next day, in the morning, we visited a wonderful site,  S. Angelo in Formis , the amazing Benedectine Abbey at 4 km from  Capua. The place was incredibly solitary, silent and ... impressive. Among the  ancient frescoes of the Abbey and the incredible  remains of Frederick II's great empire in town , our morning flew away in a while. Some shopping,  a delicious lunch - our diets had to be interrupted for ... irresistible temptation - and it was time to get on the train back to Rome,  proudly carrying the new addition to our luggage,  a tasty souvenir: mozzarella di bufala campana. Yummy!

Pictures from S. Angelo in Formis

Many thanks to my friend K/V for granting me the permission of using the pictures she took
My gratitude to E. and her family  for the generous hospitality  &  for the great time we had together.
Till next meeting, trip or journey!


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