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Portici  (Royal Palace)

This ornate porcelain drawing room was designed
by Giuseppe and Stefano Gricci and Luigi Restile.
It was completed in 1757 within the Royal Palace
at Portici. It was transferred to the National Galleries
at Capodimonte in 1866. There is a separate item
on Capodimonte here.

porcellain salonI remember sailing across the Bay of Naples many years ago and noticing a broad swath of green on the south slope of Vesuvius. This wooded area spread inland almost from the sea to a spot a good distance up the slope and was separated at the midpoint by a building so large that some of the details of the architecture stood out even to an observer out at sea. The greenery lay isolated in the midst of what is now the most densely populated area in western Europe, surrounded on both sides by chaotic urban sprawl. 

Subsequently I learned that the property was the old Bourbon Royal Palace and grounds at Portici, built in the 1730s and 40s at the behest of Charles III, recently arrived from Spain to run the newly independent Kingdom of Naples. It is one of four Bourbon Palaces, all from roughly the same period. The other three are the Royal Palace in downtown Naples, the Palace on the Capodimonte hill, and the great Palace in Caserta, the so-called "Versailles of Italy". In the course of more than two centuries, the Palace at Portici has served, obviously, as a royal residence, but also as an archaeological museum for artifacts from nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum. Also, in 1839, it had the distinction of being one terminus of Italy's first railway, a track that started in town and wended its way out to Portici largely for the purposes of making it easier for the royal family to "get away from it all". 

For most of the 20th–century, the premises housed the Agricultural Department of the University of Naples, which accounts for the abundance of the greenery I noticed from a distance. There is a wide variety of vegetation on the grounds, much of it from elsewhere in the world, all neatly labelled and available for study. The Palace, itself, is remarkable. I was there in the 1980s when they tore up some of the flooring to inspect the integrity of the large tree-trunks that served as beams that cross-braced the entire building and held the floors in place. After two centuries, they were still solid and very little of the structure had to be reinforced. (Given the denuded look of the area after centuries of chopping down trees, I found it hard to believe—and I still find it hard to believe—that those tree trunks originally came from around here, but that's what they tell me.)

This site was one of the 22 Royal Bourbon properties in the Kingdom of Naples. They range from the large Royal palaces to smaller residences and hunting lodges. This is the complete list with links to entries:
Palace Naples
Palace Capodimonte
Palace Portici

Palace Caserta
villa d'Elboeuf 
Villa Favorita
Palazzo d'Avalos
Lake Agnano
Astroni
Torcino
Cardito
 
Carditello
Persano
Maddaloni
Caiazzo
Sant'Arcangelo
Licola
San Leucio
Fusaro
Palace Quisisana
Falciano
Demanio di Calvi

There is now a plan to move the Agricultural Department out of the Palace to another facility nearby and to convert the Palace to a museum focusing on the archaeological and geological features of the area, which are considerable: Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Mt. Vesuvius. The university will still have access to some of the building for classes and, of course, will continue to use the large garden—a forest, really. The 20 million euros allocated for the restoration will go into removing the signs of decades of use by the university, including chemical traces from laboratories; then, the trappings and furnishings of the original 18th–century building will be restored. The project is expected to take three years. 

The old palace is now counted among the so-called "Vesuvian Villas," a group of restored and protected monument buildings from the 1700s.



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