Showing posts with label Caserta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Caserta. Show all posts

3 December 2019

Carlo Oriani - cyclist and soldier

Giro winner died in World War One


Carlo Oriani won the 1913 Giro d'Italia cycle race despite not winning a stage
Carlo Oriani won the 1913 Giro d'Italia
cycle race despite not winning a stage
The champion cyclist Carlo Oriani, winner of the 1913 Giro d’Italia, died on this day in 1917 in the aftermath of the Battle of Caporetto in the First World War.

The battle was a disastrous one for the Italian forces under the command of General Luigi Cadorna, with 13,000 soldiers killed, 30,000 wounded and 250,000 captured by the victorious army of Austria-Hungary. Countless other Italian troops fled as it became clear that defeat was inevitable.

Oriani, who had previously served his country in the Italo-Turkish War in 1912, was a member of the Bersaglieri, the highly mobile elite force traditionally used by the Italian army as a rapid response unit. He had joined the corps in part because of his skill on a bicycle, which had replaced horses as one of the means by which the Bersaglieri were able to get around quickly.

The Battle of Caporetto took place from October 24 to November 19, near the town of Kobarid on the Austro-Italian front, in what is now Slovenia.

Oriani survived the battle but it was during the retreat that Italian soldiers had to cross the Tagliamento, which links the Alps and the Adriatic and in the winter months is a fast-flowing river, with enemy forces in pursuit.

An Italian unit take up their positions in a trench during the month-long Battle of Caporetto in the First World War
An Italian unit take up their positions in a trench during
the month-long Battle of Caporetto in the First World War
The 29-year-old cycle racer was among the group ordered to take positions on the river bank to offer defensive protection as their comrades crossed the river, on makeshift rafts. Some records report that, as his attachment came under fire, Oriani jumped into the river’s icy waters. Other accounts suggest he had dived in to try to save a drowning comrade.

Either way, Oriani was himself almost swept away by the strong currents but eventually reached the western bank. But the consequence of having to remain in a wet uniform in bitter winter temperatures was that Oriani developed a fever.

When he was at last taken into the care of a hospital he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Doctors treated him as best they could but by early December it was clear that he would not recover. His wife was contacted and she arrived at his bedside shortly before he died.

Oriani was born in 1888 in what is now the town of Cinisello-Balsamo on the outskirts of Milan. He left school early and found work as a stonemason in nearby Sesto San Giovanni, a growing industrial town. He used to split his time between work and his passion for cycling.

The Maino squad for the 1913 Giro d'Italia. Carlo Oriani is second from the left
The Maino squad for the 1913 Giro d'Italia. Carlo Oriani
is second from the left
After racing at first as an independent, in 1909 he signed for Stucchi, one of the leading teams in Italian cycling, for whom he scored his first major win in the 1912 Giro di Lombardia, holding off his compatriot Enrico Verde and Frenchman Maurice Brocco in a sprint for the finish line in Milan.

After his service in the Italo-Turkish war, he entered the 1913 Giro d’Italia, this time for the Maino team. Oriani’s chances were improved when one of the pre-race favourites, Carlo Galetti, had to retire with a broken foot. Oriani did not claim a single stage win but his consistent point scoring meant that he took over the leadership of the race after the penultimate eighth stage.

The final stage to Milan was won by previous race leader Eberardo Paversi but by finishing second Oriani won the Giro by six points. This made him the first winner of a Grand Tour event to be crowned the champion without winning a stage. A crowd estimated at 100,000 turned out at Parco Trotter in Milan to witness his triumph.

After his death, Oriani’s body was laid to rest at the military cemetery in Caserta, north of Naples, which now contains the graves of more than 750 military personnel.

The church of Sant'Ambrogio, on Piazza Gramsci, is one of the main sights of the town of Cinisello-Balsamo
The church of Sant'Ambrogio, on Piazza Gramsci, is
one of the main sights of the town of Cinisello-Balsamo
Travel tip:

Cinisello-Balsamo, where Oriani was born, falls within the Milan metropolitan area, between Sesto San Giovanni and Monza, about 10km (6 miles) northwest of the city centre.  It is a pleasant town of which the Piazza Gramsci is the central square, overlooked by the 17th century church of Sant'Ambrogio.  Cinisello's Villa Ghirlanda Silva Cipelletti has one of the oldest landscaped gardens in Italy. It now houses the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

The 1200-room Reggia di Caserta - the Royal Palace - seen from the Grande Cascata waterfall in its magnificent gardens
The 1200-room Reggia di Caserta - the Royal Palace - seen
from the Grande Cascata waterfall in its magnificent gardens
Travel tip:

Caserta’s is best known for its former Royal Palace - the Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. 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 and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.

Also on this day:

1596: The birth of violin maker Nicolò Amati

1911: The birth of film music composer Nino Rota

1937: The birth of actress Angela Luce

1947: The birth of controversial politician Mario Borghezio


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30 May 2019

General Giulio Douhet - military strategist

Army commander was one of first to see potential of air power


Giulio Douhet aroused opposition with his strident criticisms of Italy's army
Giulio Douhet aroused opposition with
his strident criticisms of Italy's army
The Italian Army general Giulio Douhet, who saw the military potential in aircraft long before others did, was born in Caserta, north of Naples, on this day in 1869.

With the arrival of airships and then fixed-wing aircraft in Italy, Douhet recognized the military potential of the new technology. He advocated the creation of a separate air arm commanded by airmen rather than by commanders on the ground. From 1912 to 1915 Douhet served as commander of the Aeronautical Battalion, Italy’s first aviation unit.

Largely because of Douhet, the three-engine Caproni bomber - designed by the young aircraft engineer Gianni Caproni - was ready for use by the time Italy entered the First World War.

His severe criticism of Italy’s conduct of the war, however, resulted in his court-martial and imprisonment. Only after a review of Italy’s catastrophic defeat in 1917 in the Battle of Caporetto was it decided that his criticisms had been justified and his conviction reversed.

Born into a family of Savoyard exiles who had migrated to Campania after the cession of Savoy to France, Douhet attended the Military Academy of Modena and was commissioned into the artillery of the Italian Army in 1882. He studied science and engineering at the Polytechnic of Turin.

In 1911, Italy went to war against the Ottoman Empire for control of Libya. It was the first conflict in which aircraft operated in reconnaissance, transport, spotting and limited bombing roles.

The wide-winged Caproni CA36 bomber was deployed as part of Douhet's strategy for winning control of the air
The wide-winged Caproni CA36 bomber was deployed as
part of Douhet's strategy for winning control of the air
In 1912 Douhet assumed command of the Italian aviation battalion at Turin, where he wrote a set of Rules for the Use of Airplanes in War (Regole per l'uso degli aeroplani in guerra).

But Douhet's preaching on air power made him enemies among his fellow senior officers, some of whom branded him too radical. After an incident in which he allegedly ordered the construction of Caproni bombers without authorization, he was stripped of his position and exiled to the infantry.

At the start of the First World War, Douhet called for Italy to focus on building their air power, telling military leaders and politicians that command of the air would render enemy troops harmless. When Italy did enter the war in 1915, he was outspoken in his criticisms of the army, branding them “incompetent and unprepared”. He proposed a force of 500 bombers, dropping 125 tons of bombs on the Austrian enemy every day.

However, his relentless criticisms provoked anger and resentment among his superiors and government officials. A court-martial found him guilty and he was imprisoned for one year.

Douhet's book, The Command of the Air, informed the strategy of the major powers
Douhet's book, The Command of the Air,
informed the strategy of the major powers
Douhet’s confinement did not deter him. He continued to write about air power from his cell, proposing a massive Allied fleet of aircraft. Soon after the disastrous Battle of Caporetto, which saw Italy’s 2nd Army routed by Austro-Hungarian forces with the loss of 40,000 troops dead or wounded and 265,000 captured, it was accepted that Douhet’s criticisms should not have been rejected. He was released, then recalled to service in 1918, when he was appointed head of the Italian Central Aeronautic Bureau.

He was fully exonerated by a 1920 enquiry and promoted to general in 1921. He retired from military service soon afterwards, however.

Douhet’s most noted book is Il dominio dell’aria - The Command of the Air - which led to strategic air power becoming an accepted part of military thinking. The US Army Air Corps had a translation of Il dominio dell’aria made by the mid-1920s and controversial though his ideas originally seemed to be, many were adopted by the major powers during the Second World War.

Some of his arguments have not been borne out. He 1928 he claimed that dropping 300 tons of bombs on the most important cities would end a war in less than a month, yet during the Second World War, the Allies dropped more than 2.5 million tons of bombs on Europe without bringing the conflict to an end.

More than 70 years on, however, some of his concepts continue to underpin air power.

A supporter of Mussolini, Douhet was appointed commissioner of aviation when the Fascists assumed power but what was essentially a bureaucrat's job did not suit him and he soon quit to continue writing. He died from a heart attack in Rome in 1930.

The incredible two-mile long watercourse that stretches down towards the northern facade of the Royal Palace
The incredible two-mile long watercourse that stretches down
towards the northern facade of the Royal Palace
Travel tip:

Caserta’s is best known for its former Royal Palace - the Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. 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 and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.


Turin's Royal Military Academy, which was destroyed in the Second World War, was near the Royal Palace (above)
Turin's Royal Military Academy, which was destroyed in the
Second World War, was near the Royal Palace (above)
Travel tip:

Turin has a strong military tradition. The Royal Military Academy in Turin was the oldest military academy in the world, dating back to the 17th century. It was created by Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy, who had the idea of creating an institute to train members of the ruling class and army officers in military strategy.  It was inaugurated on January 1, 1678, which predates the Royal Academy at Woolwich in Britain by 42 years and the Russian Academy in Petersburg, by 45 years. The court architect Amedeo di Castellamonte designed the building, work on which began in 1675. Unfortunately, the building was almost totally destroyed in 1943, during Allied air attacks.

More reading:

Why Luigi Cadorna was blamed for Caporetto defeat

The Neapolitan general who led Italian troops to decisive World War One victory

Pietro Badoglio, the controversial general who turned against Mussolini

Also on this day: 

1811: The birth of neurologist Andrea Verga, one of first to study mental illness

1875: The birth of Fascist intellectual Giovanni Gentile

1924: The murder of socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti


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22 September 2018

Roberto Saviano - writer and journalist

Author of ‘Gomorrah’ who lives under police protection


Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since
writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
The author and journalist Roberto Saviano, whose 2006 book Gomorrah exposed the inner workings of the Camorra organised crime syndicate in his home city of Naples, was born on this day in 1979.

Gomorrah was an international bestseller that was turned into a film and inspired a TV series, bringing Saviano fame and wealth.

However, within six months of the book’s publication, Saviano had received so many threats to his life from within the Camorra that the decision was taken on the advice of former prime minister Giuliano Amato to place him under police protection.

Some 12 years later, he remains under 24-hour police guard.  He travels only in one of two bullet-proof cars, lives either in police barracks or obscure hotels and is encouraged never to remain in the same place for more than a few days. His protection team includes seven bodyguards.

Saviano has written three more books including a collection of his essays and Zero, Zero, Zero - an exposé of the cocaine trade. His latest, published this week, is called The Piranhas. Whereas Gomorrah and Zero, Zero, Zero were non-fiction, The Piranhas is a novel, though one set in Naples with the Camorra at the centre of the story.


Yet Saviano has complained that, although he has so far avoided being killed, he has no real life. In an interview with an English newspaper, he said that since he was placed under guard he has not boarded a train, ridden a Vespa, taken a stroll or gone out for a beer.  He has admitted that if he had known the consequences, he probably would not have written Gomorrah.

Born the son of a Naples doctor and a mother originally from Liguria, Saviano attended the University of Naples Federico II, where he obtained a degree in psychology.  He began his career in journalism in 2002, writing for numerous magazines and daily papers, including the Camorra monitoring unit of the Corriere del Mezzogiorno.

His inspiration for writing Gomorrah came from his own experiences in the province of Caserta, where he grew up, which witnessed a gang war as rival Camorra groups battled for control of territory.  Violence on the streets became an almost daily occurrence in full view of ordinary citizens, some of whom became victims themselves when, occasionally, an innocent person was mistaken for a target.

Saviano’s journalism meant that he became acquainted with workers in businesses run by the Camorra, and in time with messengers and look-outs who worked for the clan. He pored over court records, news reports and trial transcripts, eventually pulling together all his knowledge to write Gomorrah.

Roberto Saviano signing a copy of  one of his books
Roberto Saviano signing a copy of
one of his books
Its focus is city of Naples and the towns of Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and the territory around Aversa known as the agro aversano.  It describes how criminal bosses lived in sumptuous villas while burying toxic waste in the surrounding countryside with no regard for the health of the local population, many of whom were protective of Camorra activities not only out of fear but of distrust of legitimate authorities.

Saviano revealed details of the System - as the Camorra refer to themselves - never before brought to the public domain. It is written in the style of dramatic fiction but describes events that, Saviano says, actually happened.

This is supported by the reaction of the Camorra, who felt the book revealed details that compromised their activities. The last straw was probably an anti-Mafia demonstration in Casal di Principe in September 2006, when Saviano publicly denounced the bosses of the Casalese clan, Francesco Bidognetti and Francesco Schiavone, both of whom were in prison, as well as the the two ruling bosses at the time, Antonio Iovine and Michele Zagaria, insulting them and calling on them to leave Italy.

After threats to Saviano and members of his family were investigated by the Naples police, Amato, then Minister for Interior Affairs, assigned Saviano a personal bodyguard and moved him from Naples to a secret location.

Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,  campaigning against organised crime
Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,
campaigning against organised crime
Two years later, after the informant Carmine Schiavone, cousin of Francesco Schiavone, revealed to the authorities that the clan had planned to eliminate Saviano and his police escort with a bomb under the motorway between Rome and Naples, Saviano announced his intention to leave Italy.

For obvious reasons, no one outside his immediate circle knows where he now lives. However, he makes public appearances at speaking engagements and is still writing regularly for many newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, including l'Espresso, la Repubblica in Italy, The Washington Post and The New York Times in the United States, Die Zeit and Der Spiegel in Germany, and The Times and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.

In 2008, six Nobel Prize winners  - Dario Fo, Mikhail Gorbachev, Günter Grass, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Orhan Pamuk and Desmond Tutu - launched a joint appeal to the Italian government to do more to defeat the Camorra and to support citizens such as Saviano in speaking out against them.

The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features of the Royal Palace in Caserta
The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features
of the Royal Palace in Caserta
Travel tip:

The biggest attraction for visitors to Caserta is the former Royal Palace - Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. 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 and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.

A typical street scene in the Quartieri Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
A typical street scene in the Quartieri
Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
Travel tip:

The area that used to be seen as a notorious Camorra stronghold, the Quartieri Spagnoli - Spanish Quarters - to the north of Via Toledo, is now much less threatening. The area consists of a grid of around narrow 18 streets running south to north by 12 going east to west towards the harbour. It represents a flavour of old Naples, with lines of washing strung across the narrow streets and lively neighbourhood shops catering for the residents, who number about 14,000. Although it is a poor area blighted by high unemployment, the Camorra are less visible here now than in some of the city’s run-down suburbs. The area takes its name from its original purpose in the 16th century, which was to house Spanish garrisons, whose role was to quell revolts from the Neapolitan population.

More reading:

How the capture of Camorra boss Paolo di Lauro struck at the heart of crime in Naples

The Camorra bride who became a mob chieftain after avenging the death of her husband

Dario Fo - the playright who sought out corruption in high places

Also on this day:

1929: The birth of motorcycle world champion Carlo Ubbiati

1958: The birth of singer Andrea Bocelli


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12 January 2018

Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies

Despotic ruler presided over chaos in southern Italy


Ferdinand IV of Naples as a boy, painted by the German painter Anton Raphel Mengs
Ferdinand IV of Naples as a boy, painted by
the German painter Anton Raphel Mengs
The Bourbon prince who would become the first monarch of a revived Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was born in Naples on this day in 1751.

Ferdinando, third son of King Carlos (Charles) III of Spain, was handed the separate thrones of Naples and Sicily when he was only eight years old after his father’s accession to the Spanish throne required him to abdicate his titles in Spanish-ruled southern Italy.

In a 65-year reign, he would preside over one of the most turbulent periods in the history of a region that was never far from upheaval, which would see Spanish rule repeatedly challenged by France before eventually being handed to Austria.

Too young, obviously, to take charge in his own right when his reign began officially in 1759, he continued to enjoy his privileged upbringing, alternating between the palaces his father had built at Caserta, Portici and Capodimonte.

Government was placed in the hands of Bernardo Tanucci, a Tuscan statesman from Stia, near Arezzo, in whom King Charles had complete trust.  Tanucci, who fully embraced the enlightened ideas that were gaining popularity with the educated classes across Europe, had his own ideas about running the two territories, and did little to prepare the boy for the responsibilities he would eventually inherit as Ferdinand IV of Naples and Ferdinand III of Sicily.

Indeed, Tanucci was more than happy to encourage him to pursue the frivolous activities of youth for as long as he wished while he continued the liberal reforms King Charles had set in motion. Ferdinand reached the age of majority in 1767 but was prepared to allow Tanucci to continue to call the shots.

Bernardo Tanucci, the trusted statesman who governed Naples and Sicily as regent
Bernardo Tanucci, the trusted statesman who
governed Naples and Sicily as regent
It all changed, however, in 1768 when Ferdinand married Archduchess Maria Carolina, daughter of the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa and sister of the ill-fated French queen Marie Antoinette.

The marriage was part of a treaty between Spain and Austria, by the terms of which Maria Theresa would be given a place on Tanucci’s governing council once she had produced a male heir to her husband’s crowns.

The new Queen considered herself to be enlightened too but did not care for Tanucci and had her own long-term agenda for Austrian rule over the territory.  She had to wait until 1775 to give birth to a son, following two daughters, but by 1777 had found a reason to dismiss Tanucci.

Maria Carolina dominated Ferdinand, but herself was heavily influenced by Sir John Acton, the English former commander of the naval forces of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, whom she hired to reorganise the Neapolitan navy.

Acton, promising to support Maria Carolina’s wish to free Naples from Spanish rule, was soon appointed commander-in-chief of both the army and the navy and eventually prime minister, much to the disapproval of the Spanish monarchy, who were about to go to war against Britain alongside France.

In the meantime, thanks to Ferdinand’s incompetence and Acton’s manoeuvring for power, Naples was so poorly governed it became clear that something similar to the French Revolution, which had famously toppled the French monarchy, could be about to be repeated in Naples.

Ferdinand aged 22 or 23, again painted by Anton Raphael Mengs
Ferdinand aged 22 or 23, again painted by
Anton Raphael Mengs
Not surprisingly, the execution of Marie Antoinette in Paris in 1793 had a profound effect on Maria Carolina. Abandoning all pretence to enlightenment, she persuaded Ferdinand to pledge the Kingdom of Naples to the War of the First Coalition against republican France, while at the same time summarily rounding up anyone in southern Italy suspected of revolutionary intentions.

For the next 23 years, Ferdinand’s forces fought the French in one conflict after another. Obliged the make peace in 1796 when faced with the young commander Napoleon Bonaparte’s march into central Italy, the Bourbon king then enlisted the help of Nelson’s British fleet in the Mediterranean to support a counter march on Rome in 1798.

Driven back rapidly, Ferdinand took flight, leaving Naples in a state of anarchy as he took refuge in Sicily. Bonaparte’s troops soon marched into Naples and in January 1799 established the Parthenopaean Republic.

Ferdinand now turned his attention to rooting out and executing suspected republicans in Palermo, but when Napoleon was forced to send most of his soldiers back to northern Italy, Ferdinand despatched an army led by the ruthless commander Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo to crush the Parthenopaean Republic and reclaim Naples.

Yet Ferdinand was driven out again six years later when Napoleon’s victories against Austrian and Russian forces in the north allowed him to send another army to Naples, led by his brother Joseph, whom he proclaimed king of Naples and Sicily.

Mengs painted Queen Maria Carolina in 1768, around the time they were married
Mengs painted Queen Maria Carolina in
1768, around the time they were married
In fact, Ferdinand remained ruler of Sicily, with British protection, although protection that came at a price that included granting the island a constitutional government and sending Maria Carolina into exile in Austria, where she died in 1814.

Ferdinand made another triumphant return to Naples in 1815 after Joseph Bonaparte’s successor, Joachim Murat, was defeated by the Austrians and Ferdinand was reinstated as King of Naples and Sicily.

Now completely beholden to the Austrians, he abolished Sicily’s constitutional government and declared himself Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, bringing the two kingdoms together as one, as they had been for a brief period in the 15th century.

But for all Ferdinand’s attempts to eliminate revolutionary elements in Naples and Palermo, the mood for change would not go away, if anything gaining momentum through resentment of the Austrians. After Ferdinand’s death in 1825 the new Kingdom of the Two Sicilies lasted only until 1860, when it was conquered by Giuseppe Garibaldi’s volunteer army to complete Italian Unification.

The facade of the Royal Palace at Portici
The facade of the Royal Palace at Portici
Travel tip:

The vast wealth of King Charles enabled him to build lavish palaces around Naples.  Portici, close to the Roman ruins at Ercolano (Herculaneum), was constructed between 1738 and 1742 as a private residence where he could entertain foreign visitors. Today it has a botanical garden that belongs to the University of Naples Federico II and houses the Accademia Ercolanese museum.  The palace at Capodimonte, in the hills above the city, was originally to be a hunting lodge but turned into a much bigger project when Charles realised the Portici palace would not be big enough to house the Farnese art collection be inherited from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese. Today it is home to the Galleria Nazionale (National Gallery), with paintings by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Masaccio, Lotto, Bellini, Vasari and many more.  Charles never actually slept in the spectacular Royal Palace at Caserta, modelled on the French royal family’s Palace of Versailles and containing 1,200 rooms, having abdicated before it was completed.

The Piazza Tanucci in the village of Stia
The Piazza Tanucci in the village of Stia
Travel tip:

Stia, the Tuscan village of Bernardo Tanucci’s birth, is the first large community in the path of the Arno, the source of which is in the nearby Monte Falterona. Florence lies some 40km (25 miles) downstream. Situated in the beautiful Casentino valley area around Arezzo, Stia is a charming village in which the unusual triangular main square, which slopes sharply at one end, is named Piazza Tanucci in honour of the statesman. In the square, which has covered arcades of shops and restaurants along each side, can be found the church of Santa Maria della Assunta, which has a 19th century Baroque façade concealing a well-preserved Romanesque interior that possibly dates back to the late 12th century.





1 March 2016

Luigi Vanvitelli – architect

Neapolitan genius drew up a grand design for his royal client


Giacinto Diano's portrait of Luigi Vanvitelli, which is housed at the Royal Palace in Caserta
Giacinto Diano's portrait of Luigi Vanvitelli,
which is housed at the Royal Palace in Caserta
The most famous Italian architect of the 18th century, Luigi Vanvitelli, died on this day in 1773 in Caserta in Campania.

The huge Royal Palace he designed for the Bourbon kings of Naples in Caserta is considered one of the greatest triumphs of the Baroque style of architecture in Italy.

Vanvitelli was born Lodewijk van Wittel in Naples in 1700, the son of a Dutch painter of landscapes, Caspar van Wittel. His father later also took up the Italian surname Vanvitelli.

Luigi Vanvitelli was trained as an architect by Nicola Salvi and worked with him on lengthening the façade of Gian Lorenzo Berninis Palazzo Chigi-Odelscalchi in Rome and on the construction of the Trevi Fountain.

Following his notable successes with the facade of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (1732) and the facade of Palazzo Poli, behind the Trevi Fountain, Pope Clement XII sent Vanvitelli to the Marche to build some papal projects. 


Vanvitelli worked with Nicola Salvi on the construction of the Trevi Fountain and designed the facade of the Palazzo Poli
Vanvitelli worked with Nicola Salvi on the construction of the
Trevi Fountain and designed the facade of the Palazzo Poli 
At Ancona in 1732, he directed construction of the Lazzaretto, a large pentagonal building built as an isolation unit to protect against contagious diseases arriving on ships. Later it was used as a military hospital or as barracks.

Back in Rome, Vanvitelli stabilised the dome of St. Peter's Basilica when it developed cracks and painted frescoes in a chapel at St Cecilia in Trastevere. 


In partnership, he and Salvi worked on an extraordinary project that involved the construction in Rome of a chapel for King John V of Portugal, which was then disassembled and shipped to Lisbon to be rebuilt there.

Vanvitelli was eventually commissioned by Charles III, King of Naples, to build a summer palace for the royal family in Caserta and he modelled his design on the Palace of Versailles in France.

Vanvitelli designed both the 1200-room Royal Palace and the spectacular gardens
The imposing 1200-room Royal Palace seen from
the Grande Cascata waterfall
He drew up plans for a quadrilateral building, enclosing four courtyards, with 1200 rooms, a chapel, a theatre and the largest staircase in Italy.


Vanvitelli also devised an aqueduct system to bring in the volume of water needed to run the cascades and the fountains in the gardens.

The architect worked on the Royal Palace until his death in 1773, while also building a church and a monastery in Naples and designing the huge aqueduct that supplied the city with water.


Vanvitelli's Grande Cascata waterfall is a feature of the Royal Palace's vast gardens
Vanvitelli's Grande Cascata waterfall is a feature of the
Royal Palace's vast gardens
Travel tip:

The Royal Palace, one of the largest palaces erected in Europe during the 18th century, was in 1997 designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vanvitelli wrote in his memoirs that it was the King who designed the palace. This may have been to flatter him or because Charles III knew was actually quite explicit in what he wanted. The celebrated staircase, 18th century royal apartments and court theatre are among the star features of the palace. The architect also designed the famous park, with its Grande Cascata waterfall.


Vanvitelli's pentagonal building was also known as Mole Vanvitelliana
Vanvitelli's unusual Lazzaretto di Ancona, a
pentagonal building on an artificial island

Travel tip:

Vanvitelli designed the unusual Lazzaretto di Ancona for Pope Clement XII, which is also sometimes known as the Mole Vanvitelliana. It is a pentagonal building built on an artificial island, which served as a quarantine station for the port town of Ancona in the 18th century.



More reading:

Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Italy's last universal genius

Nicola Salvi - creator of Rome's iconic Trevi Fountain

Carlo Maderno - one of the fathers of Italian Baroque

Also on this day:

1869: The birth of sculptor Pietro Canonica

1926: The birth of movie actor Cesare Danova

1930: The birth of cycling champion Gastone Nencini

Selected books:

Italian Baroque and Rococo Architecture, by John Varriano

Italian Splendour: Palaces, Castles and Villas, by Jack Basehart

(Picture credits: Trevi Fountain by Diliff; Royal Palace by Reame;  Lazzaretto by Claudio.stanco; via Wikimedia Commons)

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