Palaces and Castles

View over Naples from Castel Sant'Elmo

This was my last day in Naples (very sad) and I had one more thing on my list.* The Royal Palace in Caserta was built in the late 18th century, has 1,200 rooms and was barely inhabited before the Napoleon/Italian unification thing of the 19th century made it essentially redundant. It’s nonetheless beautiful, and in Star Wars, and included on my artecard so it was basically a no brainer.

*I’d already come to accept that I wasn’t going to go to the islands. That’s for next time, I guess.

EU and Italian flags outside Caserta Palace

What I realised on my way back from Campi de Flegri is that Naples have largely misunderstood the deal with metro trains. In London, the tube is underground, specialised and only goes to places in London (I mean, sure, there’s the Metropolitan line which will take you practically to Reading but that’s an exception). In Naples, you can get on a train which looks, feels and acts like a tube train, but then it takes you to a totally different town over 40 minutes away. Which is fine, great in fact, because it’s all so easy.

Looking out of the main gates of Caserta Palace

As this map here shows, you simply get on the light blue line at Garibaldi and, after a while, you are right next to this sensational old palace. (Not that old – it was only finished in around 1800.) As with most of these places, you’ll need two tickets: one for the inside and one for the outside. Since I arrived in the morning, I opted for the outside first. Then, I went inside when the heat of the day really started to get going.

Looking down the gardens to Caserta Palace

If you’ve ever been to Schönbrunn in Vienna, you’ll know how it works: long house, long garden. The image above is taken about *half-way* down the garden at Caserta. There is also stuff on either side of this main walkway: greenhouses, children’s forts, grottos, fountains. It’s really beautiful but, as you can see, quite a walk. I would recommend going right to the back first and then looking at the fun stuff as you return.

Inside the house is also very impressive: dozens of beautiful, ornate, expensive rooms filled with beautiful, ornate, expensive furniture. I found it quite melancholy, because the house was never really lived in. In Schönbrunn I liked to imagine the generations of little children playing carelessly past these great artworks, or the carriages lining up down the drive for another extravagant party, all candles twinkling and silk dresses and thick music creeping from the windows and across the lawn, where young lovers hide in the hedges and run, laughing, down the tree lined avenues…

After all that, I went back into town and spent a few merry hours by the docks. It was exceptionally hot by now so took shelter in the beautiful Gallerie Umberto I. Knowing literally nothing about this, I was nonetheless knocked sideways by the beautiful ceiling. I was not the only one: if you search Instagram there are thousands of photos like this… and no wonder! It’s a shopping arcade and there were plenty of people eating ice cream and little pastries, so it’s the perfect place to hide from the sun.

After this, I circled back round to the Piazza del Plebiscito for by second palace of the day: the Royal Palace of Naples. This was being renovated so the outside was all scaffolding and hoardings. Instead, take a look at this lovely building opposite: the Basilica Reale Pontificia San Francesco di Paola.

Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples

Inside the Royal Palace was really very similar to Caserta (maybe not the best idea to do both on the same day, but I didn’t really have any plans for this particular afternoon). The palace is all caught up in the Napoleon/unification situation in Italy in the early to mid 19th century. It was the residence of Joachim Murat, one of Napoelon’s most favoured generals, and he is not well liked in Naples. I never really got to the bottom of why he is disliked, but he is. Following his departure, the palace was never really occupied and suffered from a fire and bomb damage. It’s getting much nicer now though, and since I was the only person there I had a very pleasant and relaxing stroll through the vast, opulent corridors.

After this, I went back up the funicular railway, this time to visit the Castel Sant’Elmo. Once again I got in just as it was about to close to the public. The castle itself it not much to look at, plus there was some sort of event going on and so I felt kind of awkward wandering around inside. The views from the top, however, are sensational. From this one spot I could see everywhere that I’d been over the past few days, from Sorrento all the way to Pozzouli. I could even see the islands, I think.

View over Naples from Castel Sant'Elmo

Of course, the views over Naples itself were just as incredible. You can even see my hostel in the photo above, as well as all the churches and chapels I’d wandered into on my first day. From this photo it’s clear how dense and small the historic centre of Naples is, as well as how beautiful.

View over Naples from Castel Sant'ElmoAfter this, I hopped back on the funicular and went back to the hostel. It was my last night but there were no fanfares: I shared my wisdom with some new arrivals, read my book and spoke to Giovanni about my adventures. I think it is very pleasant to have a home away from home to come back to after a long day of exploring, don’t you?

Until next time x

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