Did you know that the largest royal palace in the world sits just 37 kilometres outside Naples?
In January 1752 Charles VII of Bourbon, King of Naples and Sicily, began construction on the largest palace in all of Europe, a palace to rival the beauty of Paris’ magnificent Versailles, and the Schonbrun palace in Vienna. Charles VII never ended up living at Caserta, instead he abdicated the throne in 1759 and became the king of Spain. His third son, Ferdinand IV became king of Naples and Sicily, and lived at Caserta. In 1768 Ferdinand married Maria Carolina of Austria, who had grown up in the Schonbrun Palace, and who’s sister MarieAntoinette would marry Louis XVI of France two years later and move to Versailles, the very palace that Caserta was designed to beat. Makes your head spin, non?
The Palace of Caserta is massive. It has more than 1200 rooms, stands 42 meters (45 yards) high and 250 meters (273 yards) long, taking up 44,000 square meters. In 1997 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site
The gardens are 3.5 kilometers long, with a central waterway and 6 fountains, surrounded by a tree filled park.
Statues enjoy a break from the sun, tucked away in the shade of the trees. Others line the walkways and the bridges.
You can rent bikes to ride around the gardens, take a horse and carriage or just walk.
The palace and the grounds are nothing short of spectacular. No matter how prepared you think you are, once you walk onto the palace grounds the sheer size of Caserta is staggering. In it’s day it must have been magnificent.
Oddly, hardly anyone bothers to come to Caserta. You would think the largest royal palace in all of Europe would get great tourist traffic, but Caserta gets around 500, 000 visitors per year compared to Versailles 5 million.
Unfortunately Caserta is sorely lacking in funds and as such is a little run down. The palace has been used as a training facility for the Italian Air Force, which along with the Carabinieri still has offices there. Movies including Star Wars, Mission Impossible and Angels and Demons have shot here. Palace security is apparently lacking, and despite the Air Force and the Carabinieri both being in residence there have been problems with theft, most notably recently $100, 000 worth of copper being stolen from a lightening conductor on the roof.
Because hardly anyone bothers to go visit Caserta it also feels like your best kept secret. Other than my friends who live in the area I don’t even know one person who has been there before.
If you are in the Amalfi Coast/Naples area Caserta is well worth a visit. The train station is right outside the palace, so you don’t need to rent a car.
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How is your quarantine coming along? Are you getting bored with Netflix yet? This might be the perfect time to learn a new language. We have endless free time and most of us are looking for something to occupy our minds. Plenty of us are out of work and can’t spend the money on expensive lessons, but if you are interested in learning Italian I have some great options for you.
When I started learning Italian I couldn’t afford to take classes. I was a single parent, working 7 days per week to keep a roof over our heads and there wasn’t any spare money, let alone spare money to spend on myself to take classes. Also I didn’t have time to commute across town to physically go to classes. But I really, really wanted to learn the language, so I had to get creative.
3 Ways To Learn Italian While We Are On Quarantine.
If you are planning a trip to Italy at some time in the future you might enjoy using some of this down time to learn some Italian. Now that I’m no longer flying to Italy next month I decided to use this time to improve my language skills, so this weekend I pulled out my Italian text books and am committing to spending a half hour per day learning Italian. (No matter how good you are at a language there is always room for improvement)
When I started learning Italian there really weren’t podcasts like there are now. I did manage to find a couple of lightweight, fun podcast-like audio programs on iTunes that I would listen to on my commute. There are some great podcasts to help you learn Italian available now. Although they aren’t enough by themselves they are still really helpful!
At home I played Radio Italia on my computer while I was working or writing my blog posts. Listening to easy voices talking about music and ordering coffee (rather than politics or anything heavy) got me used to the sing-song sounds of the language and the rhythms of conversation. Most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about, but as I started learning the language it started making sense.
2. Use Books
The cheapest way for me to start really learning the language was to buy some inexpensive workbooks and see A) if I could do it and B) if I was really interested in pursuing it or if it was just a phase I was going through.
I bought three Italian text books that became the backbone of me learning the language. Italian Now, Italian Verb Drills and Italian Grammar Drills. These were fantastic. I would always have one of them with me and work away on it during downtime on photoshoots, at my son’s music lessons, or anytime I had a free moment. The books are full of exercises and have a marking key in the back of the book, so you can check on your progress each day.
Italian Verb Drills in my opinion is an essential book for anyone learning the language. Italian is a very verb driven language, so it is important to learn the main verbs and how to conjugate them. The exercises in this book are very repetitive but you’ll find that in no time your brain just automatically conjugates the verbs without you even thinking about it.
Italian Grammar Drills is also really helpful and is full of exercises to do to get you in the habit of using good grammar. In my opinion as a traveler it doesn’t really matter if your grammar isn’t so good. No one is expecting you to speak grammatically perfect Italian on your vacation. If you have a decent understanding of verbs and know some vocabulary you will do just fine, but if you can start learning grammar from the beginning it will become automatic and is so much easier than trying to add it in later.
Once I realized that I was going to see this learning Italian thing through and not give up after a couple of weeks, I saved up and bought Rosetta Stone Italian. Initially I just bought the first level, but later bought the entire set.
I’ve done languages my whole life and I really think this is the best system I have ever seen or used. Rosetta makes your brain learn the language the same way a baby or a child learns. Most language programs have you learning by translation, memorizing vocabulary and translating from your language into the new language. This is a really difficult way of learning as you are perpetually translating, so in real life situations you are a couple of seconds behind as your brain moves words from English over to Italian.
Instead of translating, Rosetta teaches your brain to recognize pictures and identify them in the new language. You see a picture of a house and your brain immediately says Casa rather than house = casa. In each learning block they teach you visually then give you an audio section where you keep repeating the words in that lesson until your pronunciation is correct. Then it takes you into reading and writing the words and phrases.
It’s the same way you learn your own language growing up. You go at your own pace, so there’s no pressure, and the program keeps giving you tests along the way so everything stays current in your brain.
It’s easy to see why international businesses and government agencies like the CIA use Rosetta Stone to teach their people languages. I’m a huge fan!
Rosetta Stone teaches lots of different languages, so if you want to learn French or German or Spanish or any other language during this quarantine break, you really can take your pick.
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Rome is full of secrets. Secrets hiding in plain sight, right under your nose. This one is a secret that everyone who lives in Rome knows, but I never meet non-Romans who do. Now of course I cannot possibly be the only one, but I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t run into anyone who knows this story.
Pasquino, The Talking Statue
In 1501 while renovations were being done on Rome’s Palazzo Braschi, an Hellenic statue from the 3rd century B.C was discovered. He was very damaged but also very noteworthy as he was one of the original statues from Domitians’ Stadium. Domitian’s Stadium was built in 85 A.D, centuries later Piazza Navona was built over its ruins. (You can read more about it in this blog post or in detail in my book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome.) The statue known as Pasquino was kept in place and the tiny piazza where he stands, adjacent to Piazza Navona, was renamed Piazza Pasquino.
There are several stories about who the statue is. When I have researched him I’ve read that he is a Greek hero, possibly Menelaus, Ajax or Achilles. When the story of the statue was first told to me it was a story of Achilles, so despite the statue resembling a series of Menelaus carrying the body of Patroclus, that was then argued to be Ajax carrying Achilles, I stick with the first story I was told:
The Story Behind The Statue Of Pasquino
If you really look into the face of the statue there is something quite haunting about it. In fact with this story you can sense the anguish in every aspect of the body.
Achilles and Patroclus were both lovers and comrades fighting against the Trojans. On this day Achilles who feels slighted by Agamemnon decides not to fight, and Patroclus convinces him to let him go in his place, leading the Mirmidon army wearing Achilles armor.
Patrolcus wins the battle but is killed by Hector. The statue tells the moment when the distraught and agonized Achilles has run out to the battlefield and scooped up the body of his beloved.
There are lots of missing body parts, such as Achilles right arm, but if you follow through you can see his splayed right hand holding onto the torso of Patroclus, whose dead body arches back from us. Were the statue intact we would see Achilles’ left arm supporting the upper body as the deadweight of Patroclus falls away. It was explained to me that Achilles is turning his head away, howling in anguish. So, of course that’s what I see when I look at him.
There is a statue very similar to this in Florence’s Loggia di Lanzi, of Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus. If you look at it, or at pictures of it, you can follow the bodies in this statue. The Florence Menelaus is thought to be one of 15 statues is the Pasquino Group.
In this statue King Menelaus’ helmet is wrong, the angles on the bodies aren’t quite the same as Pasquino’s, but you get the idea, and Patroclus’ replacement left arm is all out of whack.
The origins of the statue being named Pasquino are also varied. He could be named for a character in one of Boccaccio’s short stories, I’ve heard he was named for a school principal back in the 1500s who looked like him, and I’ve been told he was named for a local artisan who wrote funny verses. Regardless, our Achilles is known as Pasquino and the piazza is named after him.
In the 16th century and no doubt long before that Romans would show their displeasure and outrage at the corruption of the church and its officials by leaving notes hanging on the statues in the night. These became known as Rome’s Talking Statues. Pasquino wasn’t the first, but he became the most celebrated. Signs with scathing yet satirical verses would be hung around his neck in the night so the working people could see them on their way to work in the morning before the guards could take them down. The notes became known as Pasquinate.
Pasquinate became a way of winning elections too. One side would pay the authors to write about their enemies on the other side. The practice actually spread out all over Italy.
Prominent figures began to despise Pasquino. The popes were the main targets and they thought up ways to get rid of him. One of my favorite themes is Popes Behaving Badly, which coincides beautifully with one of Pasquino’s most prevalent themes, criticism of the Popes’ “prostitution luxury”. Pope Hadrian VI wanted Pasquino thrown in the Tiber River, Popes Sixtus V and Clement VIII also tried to get rid of him, and Benedict XIII even had a night watchman stand guard with punishments for those caught including branding, incarceration and death.
The more they tried to silence Pasquino, the more Pasquinate appeared on other statues throughout Rome.
Today Achilles/Pasquino still gets signs hung around his neck. Locals are allowed to fix signs to his pedestal but not to his or Patroclus’ bodies.
This sign is written in Romanesco, which is a local dialect. It rhymes both in Romanesco and in Italian, but not in English. Translated it says:
It is no longer the moment to obey. Defend your destiny with verve (fight for your destiny) Even if it’s at the expense of dying, don’t let yourself be treated like a puppet.
Every day he has a different sign. It is placed there in the night or the very early morning and tends to be gone by afternoon.
Piazza Pasquino is next to Piazza Navona on the other side of the Museo di Roma.
If you are part of my Private Members Newsletter check your inbox for my favorite restaurant here by Pasquino. It is a cult favorite and is just fantastic! Also my private members will be getting stories about Rome’s other 5 “Talking Statues”. They are quite fabulous. You can join the Private Members Newletter here