We went to the gardens of the Reggia di Caserta one hot summer day, thinking that we might feel cooler in a shady place. It was a mistake we’ll never make again. I think the plain on which the city stands must be the hottest place in all the province.
While the gardens gave us no respite from the heat, our visit that day provided me with an opportunity to rethink, at least in part, my judgment of the architecture of the palace.
Immense in scale and built on a grid plan according to a precise geometry, the palace dominates a landscape that for miles all around has been forced into a rigid scheme of formal gardening. Like Versailles, which inspired it, it is a paradigm of hegemonic architecture.
I had always thought of the style of the Reggia as overbearing, in part due to its supremely regimented main façade. But catching glimpses of the garden front from diverse vistas as we explored the park made me aware that it has a vitality that its counterpart on the other side of the palace lacks. While it is just as rationally ordered, its tall Composite order of pilasters extends over the whole length of the façade, creating a quick rhythm of narrow bays amplified at the center and two ends by projecting pavilions. This sense of movement, controlled as it is, lightens the structure and makes it seem slightly less oppressive.