Stars and Kings in Caserta: what do they share?

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I am an amateur astronomer. As such I attended the annual meeting of the Italian Association of Amateur Astronomers (“Unione Astrofili Italiani”, or UAI). This year it was held in Maddaloni, a little town near Caserta, so what a better chance to visit those places again after quite a few years?

Caserta's Royal Palace
Caserta’s Royal Palace

Caserta is about 30 km north of Naples, but there is no visible separation between the two metropolitan areas: a single continuum of buildings and streets, arranged in a number of cities. Caserta holds a real gem: the Royal Palace (“Reggia”), built by Luigi Vanvitelli in 18th century. Starting to get the hint in title? Well, there is more to say. We’ll get there.

Caserta Palace: the breathtaking stair
Caserta Palace: the breathtaking stair

If you have not visited the Reggia, you are missing a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a masterpiece. It is a huge (247m x 184m) baroque building with 1200 rooms. It rivals Versailles, specially when it comes to the garden: it’s schema of fountains and cascades, stretching from the facade up to far away hills, is a landscape marvel. To supply water for this system an aqueduct was built with no other purpose by the same Vanvitelli; near Maddaloni (about 8 km from the palace) there is a stunning bridge that Vanvitelli built for the aqueduct following the example of ancient Roman aqueducts; in fact it resembles the one you can visit in Provence, “Pont du Gard”. This palace and its garden is worth a trip to Italy alone.

 

Caserta Palace: ceiling with constellations
Caserta Palace: ceiling with constellations

Now back to the title. The UAI meeting was arranged by the local amateur astronomers association in Maddaloni (UMAC). This same association has identified some very relevant astronomy-related items in the Reggia. There is a beautiful clock with sculptures and inscriptions that summarize the history of the time measure techniques from the beginning through 19th century. There is a ceiling beautifully decorated with frescoes representing the known constellation, a telescope, globes representing the sky. What I liked most was a sundial built on a windowsill, extremely precise, with a bronze cover; it was used to adjust all the mechanical clocks of the palace, at a time when the sun was far more precise that human built clocks. This set of findings have been arranged in an “astronomy visit itinerary” proposed to the administration of the Reggia, that has been accepted and will be included among the official visit itineraries. I think this is a nice contribution of the amateur astronomers community to the public knowledge.

One more reason to visit this incredible place, if you needed one!

Maddaloni: Vanvitelli's bridge
Maddaloni: Vanvitelli’s bridge

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