I 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 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.
Later 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:
Demanio di Calvi
palace is now counted among the so-called "Vesuvian Villas,"
a group of restored and protected monument buildings from the 1700s.
portal for architecture and urban planning
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