Reggia

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.

View of the Gardens of the Reggia di Caserta

View of the Gardens of the Reggia di Caserta on a hot and hazy day

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.

Fountain in the Gardens of the Reggia di Caserta, the garden front of the Palace visible in the distance

Fountain in the Gardens of the Reggia di Caserta, the garden front of the Palace visible in the distance

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.

Luigi Vanvittelli, Garden front, Reggia di Caserta

Luigi Vanvitelli, Garden front, Reggia di Caserta, begun 1752

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.

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2 responses to “Reggia

  1. This style of architecture is seen to be rather dull, but it needs to be seen in the context of the colours and movement of the gardens, and, as you say, from different angles and distances. The palace is an integral part of the garden, just as the reverse is true, as it was viewed from the palace. At a distance any architectural details would have been lost; it was the size of the place that mattered. Good post.

    • Yes, you’re right- they need to be considered together. The way the palace exists now, that’s hard to do, unless you enter it or the gardens. The area around the complex is rather neglected, though recent work aimed to improve it. But once inside the gardens, it’s possible to get a glimpse of its former glory.

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