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