The Royal Palace of Caserta – Green Museum: an historical, artistic and environmental heritage for the sustainable development of society. By Tiziana Maffei

Tiziana Maffei, Director of the Royal Palace of Caserta

The Royal Palace of Caserta and its grounds are evidence of Charles of Bourbon’s determination to create the first monarchy in Italy with a truly European spirit, a newly founded court in Campania Felix, between Vesuvius and the River Volturno, not far from the capital of the Kingdom of Naples. The cultured King Charles, son of Philip V and Elisabetta Farnese, commissioned the famous architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, who was as well known for his learning and compositional rigour as for his brilliance and architectural pragmatism.
Although the property is no longer as extensive as it used to be, the Royal Palace of Caserta remains an enormous complex comprising the Palace itself, with a surface area of over 61,000 m², the Park of 123 hectares, the Wood of San Silvestro, covering 60 hectares, and the Caroline Aqueduct which runs for 38 km, collecting waters from the Fizzo springs and channeling them back to the Palace, with minimal variations of gradient and majestic infrastructures including the bridges spanning the Maddaloni Valley.
The Caserta estate as a whole, with its enormous number of rooms, its supplies, costs, workforce and its long-established agro-industrial ventures, is a social and economic resource for the entire area. A Unesco World Heritage site since 1997, this magnificent structure, together with the Enlightenment village of San Leucio, is central to the network of royal residences – each a garden of delights and a working, productive estate – which typified the Kingdom of the Bourbons.
Recognition of this cultural landscape as a first-tier state museum, together with the Commissarial Plan of 2014 – which ensured that the whole complex would be used exclusively for educational, training and museum purposes – has sanctioned Caserta’s unquestioned potential as a site for developing a museum intended to be at the service of society and conducive to its sustainable development.
These are the premises which underlie the management’s vision of a Green Museum: a unique complex, a key component of which is the Park with its fragile ecosystems to protect and enhance, in keeping with the Agenda 2030 targets to be achieved through the sustainable management of the site in recognition of its cultural and socio-economic role in the community.
The task, however, is arduous given the urgent need to foster awareness of the museum’s contemporary role, both in-house and among the wider community which is now accustomed to the idea of the Palace as as a repository and the Park as a substitute for the open spaces sacrificed to urban development.
The elements of the Green Museum are all integral to its totality. Its living principle is water, enabling the spectacular series of fountains and, most importantly, the ingenious hydro-system built so as to: ensure supplies of water for the various purposes required by the court; irrigate the land and render it suitable for agro-industrial ventures such as farming and the numerous mills and silk factories of San Leucio; introduce cascades to aerate the deep ponds where the various species of fish were bred for the king’s table and the surplus marketed, using the Royal House trademark. Later on, water would also be used to irrigate the English Garden. This is a landscaped garden, commissioned by Ferdinand and Caroline in the fashionable style introduced by the English ambassador, Sir William Hamilton, and laid out by the German-born gardener, John Andrew Graefer. There is an area of woodland to the east for pleasant walks among botanical rarities, picturesque views and romantic ruins; to the west is the area under cultivation, more utilitarian, given over to nursery production, display and acclimatization, and recognized at once as the ideal setting for developing botany as a modern science. The study and reproduction of plant species for the numerous royal estates and aristocratic residences of the Kingdom of Naples soon proved a commercial venture besides fostering scientific research through contacts with other botanical gardens in Europe.
To recognize the values which inspired the creators of the Royal Palace and grounds, and to incorporate them in our own mission, is to restore the identity of the complex for today’s visitors.
The five main functions of the museum are therefore extended and take the form of courses of action to be pursued over the coming years. Acquisition: both material and non-material, a fund of interdisciplinary knowledge about collections whose complex system of relations cannot be expressed in terms of a single disciplinary sector. Display: items exhibited both physically and digitally. Conservation: under art. 29 of the 2004 legislative decrees, the protection and upkeep of the heritage is the joint responsibility of the institution and the target community. Communication: a circular activity, based on participation, which can foster skills and increase the existential awareness of the individual. Research: aimed at the future recovery of an indivisible scientific and humanistic vision. Applied, experimental, innovative research as an essential support in developing this formidable cultural attraction, not least in terms of productivity and within a framework of healthy public-private partnership. The ambition of the Royal Palace of Caserta today is to recover its real value as a cultural landscape, part of the heritage of mankind, as a source of inspiration, direct and indirect, for the growth of every individual within the community.