The Grand Staircase of Honour

The role model of all the most beautiful staircases

 

 

The Staircase of the Royal Palace of Caserta is such a masterpiece of architecture and scenography, which became the role model of all the main following world staircases. As you climbing up in the large entry staircase, while you looking at the great marble lions, you will be impressed by the immensity of the great background wall with its three big statues of the Royal Majesty, Merit and Truth. Turn back and suddenly you will see the Staircase expanding into two huge and spectacular parallel staircases ending with a structure of arches and columns that resembles a temple. Only now you can admire the majesty of the Staircase, 32m high and 11,664m3 volume, that ends up with a dome that originally housed an invisible orchestra. This dome is "fake" indeed, because above it there is another one suspended from the roof truss via wooden tie rods. This dome is an extraordinary masterpiece of fantasy, art, technique and constructive audacity, and we can only imagine all the difficulties encountered and masterfully overcome by Vanvitelli.

While you will climb up via the side staircase you can admire all this, and so you will get into the large central vestibule, almost a temple, from which you can enter the Chapel and the Royal Apartments.
The magnificence of the Staircase, with its marbles, huge statues, elegant arches, the two huge stairs, is the most spectacular scenography of the 18th century.

Introduction

The Staircase is the core and the symbol of the Royal Palace of Caserta, and the place where the great vision of Vanvitelli is clear. The Staircase and the two vestibule are a real architectural gem where the vanvitellian genius expresses its utmost creativity. Perfect synthesis of classicism and of baroque theatrical scenery, they are the fulcrum of other areas of the Palace.

Vanvitelli, to don't break the optical effect of the celebrated Telescope, placed the Staircase in the center of the palace on one of the sides of the vestibule. Here dominate the Hercules Farnese, which on one side hides the view of the entrance to the foyer of the Court Theater, on the other side it guards the entrance of the Staircase.

Walking up to the first steps, the Staircase appears immediately majestic and immersed in a quiet light, accentuated by the subtle ligh and shades effect of marbles and decorations. As you walk up the immense staircase, the vision becomes more and more complicated as you reach the upper landing with two marble lions, symbols of power and majesty, and in front of a large wall dominated by the immense statues of Merith, Royal Majesty and Truth. Turn yourself and you will notice that, what you thought was the end of the staircase, suddenly expands into other two huge and spectacular parallel stairs ending with a arched structure and columns resembling the shape of a temple. Only now you can admire all the majesty of the Staircase and notice above, at 42m high, a huge dome that overlooks it.

As you walk up you will be immersed in the light coming from the huge side windows (invisible before), and you will notice that the upper vestibule is very different from what you imagined, and when you enter it you will feel like being in a temple. Turn back and you will see the statue of Royal Majesty dominating the Staircase, of which you will never be able to perceive the exact size, and by looking up you will see the dome and its very special structure that once hosted the orchestra.

Now from the upper vestibule you will finally be able to enter to the Royal Apartments, and the Palatine Chapel.

See it in the movies

caserta-palace-star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menaceDiscover all the movies shooted at the Palace: the palace in the movies

The architectural structure

How Vanvitelli succeed to make this masterpiece of architecture? In the Royal Palace of Caserta there are obvious references to his previous work, but no one ever came to such high levels of imagination, art and building technique, pictorial sensitivity, prospect virtuosity, boldness, and mathematical calculus. But if you look at his sketches for scenographies, and think about his father's pictorial style, the famous painter Gaspar van Wittel, you no longer wonder about: on the one hand inherited his father's style of large landscapes full of light and subtle color shades, and on the other hand, the Staircase seems to be the physical version of one of the Bibiena's backdrops that marveled the theaters of Europe, but with the basic difference that the construction difficulties overtaken by Vanvitelli were very different from those faced from the theatrical scenographers, who had just to make a decorative effect viewed from a single point of view (the stalls), Vanvitelli had to create a huge and real architectural structure and with six points of view (lower vestibule, staircase, upper stairs, dome and view from the upper vestibule).

The Staircase of Honor of the Royal Palace of Caserta had a revolutionary influence on world architecture, so that today it is very easy to find its style in the innumerable entry stairs of the most beautiful world palaces and theaters.

 

Dimensions of the staircase (Intended as a minimum):

  • 18x24m (lxp windows depth excluded);
  • Height at the first dome level: 27m;
  • Height at the second dome level: 32m;
  • Height at the dome strctures:: 38m;
  • Staircases width: the central one 8m, side ones 5m each;
  • Total volume excluding the upper vestibule at the first dome level: 11.664m3;
  • Upper vestibule: 27x27m.

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The staricase relief

scalone-modello-rosz-reggia-di-casertaThe original wood model made by Antonio Rosz.

The central Staircase

The visual impact is immediate and flamboyant for anyone who, for the first time, walk through the telescope: the short starting staircase limited by two pillars of the vestibule, and overlaid by a large arch (which has the same slope of the staircase) inevitably induce you to walk up.

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Now starts the perception game by Vanvitelli. Walking up to the staircase (steps 8m wide and made of a single piece of Lumachella stone from Trapani), you will notice the marble side walls that, illuminated by the reflection of the invisible upper windows, give light to the staircase and at the same time bring us to look only upwards and never sideways. Following the decorative pattern of the side walls, you get the upper landing.

Initially it should be of the same width as like as other ramps, and also two lateral balustrades, but Vanvitelli decided to enlarge it and to remove the balustrade to increase monumentality. In fact, the steps are made of a single 8m wide slab, so there are no junctions to distract our attention.

scalone-progetto-2A relief

The first landing

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The upper rectangular landing is dominated on the sides by two marble lions meaning that, as deduced from Vanvitelli's "Declaration of Drawings", the strength of reason and weapons that assure the king of "ownership of his kingdoms". The right lion is by Tommaso Solari, while the one on the left is by Paolo Persico. The lions besides having a symbolic and decorative function, they also have an extremely practical function for Vanvitelli: without them, walking up the stair, you can see the junction angle between the wall and the upper balustrade of the second staircase, ruining the surpriss effect so much sought.

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A relief

The facade

 

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At the end of the stairs there is the immense background wall. It is divided into three main sections dominated by three huge sculptures bordered by frames, and above three arched elements, two of them with false windows, and in the center a coffered semi-dome. Below the central statue there is a large door with on the sides two semi-pillars decorated with bas-relief trophies. Observing the central statue, you can notice behind an hall from which, through a circular ramp, the musicians climbed to the top of the staircase.

This is the only time that Vanvitelli gives to your sight to move freely, while usually in the Staircase every single movement of our sight is not spontaneous, but cleverly calculated by the Architect. This does not happen in other large European stairs such as the Palazzo Bianco in Genoa and the Würzburg Palace, where decorative abundance and the shape of the ramps disperse our attention.

It could also be added that Vanvitelli, probably, put the space behind Royal Majesty to distract us a moment, because this further increases the surprise effect when you turn back.

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A relief

The statues

The three huge statues were added by Vanvitelli to intimidate the visitors.

Excerpt taken from his Declaration of Drawings for the Royal Palace of Caserta:

Among the many subjects that could adapt to this project, these three were chosen because they seemed the most suitable.
There are two reasons why people usually ask for an audience with the King: one is to ask for protection, the other is to claim assignments. But since among those who go to complain sometimes there are also the slanderers, as those who have cheeky claims, so to keep them away from the ears of the Prince, since the beginning of the staircase they are warned to don't come here to defame anyone, nor come to expect nothing if he himself has no merit, because the Majesty of the King, the fair discerner of the truth,and of the merit, will not let itself be enchanted by them.

The Vanvitelli's original project required an inscription below each statue, but they were never added.

On the left: “The Merit”

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QUI GRAVIS ES MERITO GRAVIOR MERCEDE REDIBIS

(greater is the merit, greater will be the reward)

 

Artist: Andrea Violani.

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At the center: "The Royal Majesty".

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AD MAJESTATEM ACCEDENS PERPENDE QUID AFFERS

(before approaching the Majesty think on what are you pretending)

 

Artist: Tommaso Solari

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On the right: “The Truth”

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VERA FERENS VENIAS LATURUS FALSA RECEDAS

(come forward the true, hide the fibs, go away the falsities) 

 

Artist: Gaetano Salomone.

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The lateral staircases

The arallel ramps are 5m wide, and narrower than the central staircase (8m). They lead us from the landing to the upper octagonal vestibulus (27x27m).

The ramps, despite their length, have a slope of just 15°, achieved by Vanvitelli via adding stopping elements  (small landings and short steps), to facilitate climbing and also to don't get used to it reducing the attention, all this to increase the spectacularity of the Staricase of Honor. Moreover, the primary function of this structure is to show the grandeur and wealth of the sovereign, certainly not just to be a "simple" stair, for which purpose there are other 56 internal stairs, even two lift (the Flying Chair, one of the first lift in the world) and the never built helical stair behind the Chapel

The dome

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scalone-cupola-1The Vanvitelli's dome seen by night

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scalone-progetto-14-cupolaThe dome's project scheme

scalone-vestibolo-2-reggia-di-casertaThe dome seen from the upper vestibule

scalone-cupola-2The area for choir and orchestra under the false dome.

scalone-cupola-strutturaDetail of the structure that supports the dome

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Video

Concert performed in the space provided for the orchestra

The upper vestibule

After the second staircase youenter into the vestibule, of similar appearance as like as a temple, and structurally similar to the one at the ground floor, but much more elegant and rich in ornaments.

 

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The structure

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The columns

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scalone-capitello-2The modern Ionic capital. Taken from the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert

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scalone-progetto-10bThe analysis of the proportions

The control of the lights

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Comparison between the original project and the modern relief

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Great world staircases inspired by the one at Caserta

The Staircase of the Royal Palace, as mentioned earlier, has influenced the structure of the most beautiful staircases of the world. Is easy to find its style (a central staircase splitting into two lateral staircases ending in a large tripartite wall). A simple web search with Google proves it.

 

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