History and legend at the Royal Palace of Capodimonte
The Royal Palace of Capodimonte (in Italian, Reggia di Capodimonte) was built in 1738 by will of Charles VII king of Naples and Sicily, who made it his hunting lodge near Naples. It served as royal palace for the House of Bourbon as well as for French sovereigns Joseph Bonaparte and Joachim Murat, and finally for the Savoy family, who lived here until 1948. Once the war was over, it was turned into a museum. Its royal apartments, on the first floor, are in part original and in part rebuilt; all of them are decorated with precious and luxurious furniture from past centuries.
Its walls protect masterpieces by some of the greatest artists in history: Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Goya, Van Dyck, Mantegna, Parmigianino and dozens more. The museum inside offers visitors a unique experience, through an interesting synthesis of art from the 1200s to the 20th century. The initial collection was brought to the Reggia in 1735 by Charles VII, who had inherited it from his mother, but grew thanks to the royal families’ acquisitions and private donations. Between the 1700s and the 1800s, the palace became so important for Europe’s intellectuals and aristocrats that it was considered a “must-see” stop along the Grand Tour of Italy.
Outside the Reggia, the vast park was designed by architect Ferdinando Sanfelice. Visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, it was crowned “Most Beautiful Park in Italy” in 2014. Its Royal Woods extends over 134 hectares and is home to 400 plant species – some with exotic origins like Australian eucalypti and Asian camellias. Its boulevards run between orchards, houses, churches, fountains, statues and workshops. The latter used to churn out silk, porcelain, tapestries and other beautiful objects destined to be showcased at the Reggia. The latter has luxurious and lavish rooms with unique decor details, such as the Hall of the Crib, the Grand Party Hall, the Pompeian Alcove and the wonderful Ceramic Sitting Room designed for Queen Amalia: a little boudoir built in 1757-1759, with walls covered in porcelain made by the Royal factory.
We can only imagine the dances, double-dealings and legendary stories that took place in these rooms and corridors. Some say they continue to this day – according to the legends about a noblewoman who lived here her last days: Maria Carolina of Austria, sister to French queen Marie Antoinette, who married Ferdinand IV of Napes in 1768. With her husband so uninterested in politics that he was nicknamed “Re Lazzarone”, Maria Carolina began taking care of political and social issues, fostering the city’s great flourishing. Her receptions, dance parties and lavish dinners at the court of the Archduchess went down in history, and legend has it that at night, in the silence of these empty rooms, sometimes lights turn on and she comes back, to dance to the music of the harpsichord until everything vanishes at the dawn. Some say, she returns to be the queen of this wonderful palace, if only for a few hours.