The Royal Palace of Caserta (Italian: Reggia di Caserta) is a former royal residence in Caserta, southern Italy, constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples. It was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century. In 1997, the Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described in its nomination as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque, from which it adopted all the features needed to create the illusions of multidirectional space".
The palace has a rectangular plan, measuring 247 x 184 m. The four sides are connected by two orthogonal arms, forming four inner courts, each measuring more than 3,800 m2 (40,903 sq ft).
Behind the facades of its matching segmental ranges of outbuildings that flank the giant forecourt, a jumble of buildings arose to facilitate daily business. In the left hand arc was built as barracks. Here, later, during World War II the soldiers of the US Fifth Army recovered in a "rest centre".
Of all the royal residences inspired by the Palace of Versailles, the Reggia of Caserta is the one that bears the greatest resemblance to the original model: the unbroken balustraded skyline, the slight break provided by pavilions within the long, somewhat monotonous facade. As at Versailles, a large aqueduct was required to bring water for the prodigious water displays. Like its French predecessor, the palace was intended to display the power and grandeur of an absolute Bourbon monarchy. A solecism at Caserta is that above the piano reale, the King's floor, is another floor of equal magnificence. The enfilades of Late Baroque saloni were the heart and seat of government, as well as displays of national wealth. Caserta provided a royal refuge from the dust and factions of the capital, just as Versailles had freed Louis XIV from Paris. The inland location was more defensible than the old Royal Palace in Naples, which fronted the Bay of Naples and hence was vulnerable to attack from the sea. To provide the King with suitable protection, troop barracks were housed within the palace.
The wide central entrance carriageway has, today, been incorporated into the city's automobile circulation.
The garden, a typical example of the baroque extension of formal vistas, stretch for 120 ha, partly on hilly terrain. It is inspired by the park of Versailles, but it is commonly regarded as superior in beauty. The park starts from the back façade of the palace, flanking a long alley with artificial fountains and cascades. There is a botanical garden, called "The English Garden," in the upper part designed in the 1780s by Carlo Vanvitelli and the London-trained plantsman-designer John Graefer, recommended to Sir William Hamilton by Sir Joseph Banks. It is an early Continental example of an "English garden" in the svelte naturalistic taste of Capability Brown.
The fountains and cascades, each filling a vasca ("basin"), with architecture and hydraulics by Luigi Vanvitelli at intervals along a wide straight canal that runs to the horizon, rivalled those at Peterhof outside St. Petersburg. These include:
The Fountain of Diana and Actaeon (sculptures by Paolo Persico, Brunelli, Pietro Solari);
The Fountain of Venus and Adonis (1770–80);
The Fountain of the Dolphins (1773–80);
The Fountain of Aeolus;
The Fountain of Ceres.
A large population of figures from classical Antiquity were modelled by Gaetano Salomone for the gardens of the Reggia, and executed by large workshops.