The “Royal Palace at Quisisana” is practically unknown even to those who know the area; yet it lays claim to being the first such royal residence in the north of the ancient Kingdom of Naples, older even than the Angevin fortress at the port (from 1300).
Quisisana is now part of
the town of Castellammare di Stabia, at the beginning of
the Sorrentine peninsula. The name apparently derives
(“Here you get healthy”), for here is where the Swabian
dynasty, the Hohenstaufens (Frederick
II), way back in the 1200s decided to build a
royal residence on a hillside at about 400 feet above
the sea so they could look out over the bay and get
healthy. The other story is that the residence was built
by Robert of Anjou in 1310
after a miraculous cure happened in the area. In any
case, here is where you get well again.
Over the centuries there
have been various villas built on the grounds. In one
form or another, they were a popular stop for artists
and writers (even Boccaccio set parts of his Decamerone here).
In the 1500s the property came into possession of the Farnese family. Elizabeth
Farnese, the Queen Consort of Spain was the mother of Charles III of Bourbon, who
then inherited the property. In the 1730s he became the
first king of Bourbon Naples. The villa was then remade
into a typically sumptuous Bourbon estate. The recently
restored building that you see today (photo, below) is
that Bourbon villa from the late 1700s. Thus, Quisisana
was inhabited by various members of the dynasties that
ruled the kingdom of Naples, right up to when Giuseppe Garibaldi used the
Bourbon villa as a hospital for his men during his
conquest of the kingdom in 1861, leading to the
unification of Italy.
The property was
appropriated by the new Italian state and then sold to
the town of Castellammare in 1879. The premises were
about 12 acres; they contained the two-story main
mansion with 100 rooms and typical royal trappings:
workshops for making candles and saddles, riding
grounds, two stables, a farm house, a church, various
quarters for servants, and a five-acre park.
Quisisana became the Hotel Margherita
in 1898, but remained little used for a number of
years. It was a hospital in WWI, converted to a luxury
hotel in the early 1930s, became a hospital again in
WWII and was abandoned in the 1960s; the 1980
earthquake pretty much finished off what was left.
Plans for restoration were drawn up in 1994 and work
started in 2002.
Quisisana is now
restored, but to what end nobody seems to know.
Proposals have been made to turn it into (1) an archaeological
museum,* or (2) a school for the
restoration of art and antiques, or (3) a deluxe hotel,
or (4) a gambling casino. The point of all these
proposals is to help turn Castellammare around
economically. Compared to nearby Pompeii and Sorrento,
the town of Castellammare has never really been much of
a tourist attraction to begin with. For centuries, the
town worked for a living at the shipbuilder’s
trade; the town was the site of very successful
shipyards for centuries. That trade, too, has fallen
upon hard times.
Since the Royal
Palace of Quisisana was restored two years ago it has
been the venue for occasional classical music
concerts, classes in art restoration and exhibits of
some of the considerable archaeological treasures in
the area, but the premises are really just sitting
there, waiting for a decision. [etching here]
*[added Oct.2020: and the winner is .... archaeological museum! In September, 2020, the town of Castellammare announced the opening of the Archaeological Museum of Castellammare di Stabia on the premises of the Quisiana palace. It took a few years, but it's well worth it.
Castellammare was one of the three prominent Roman sites destroyed in the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The other two are Pompeii and Herculaneum, both of which have gone absolutely crazy promoting themselves into places that tourists want to visit. Now Castellammare will get in on the act and there will be a lot to see. There was an earlier museum in the center of town, but they closed in 1997. It has now reopened.
My understanding is that the new museum is part of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, so you will get a mammoth Tourist Two-fer. Many of the items on display -- frescoes, opus sectile pavements, sculptures, terracotta pottery, dishes, and objects in bronze and iron -- have been hosted before at smaller venues in Castellammare and are now drawn together into this single venue.
|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