The Grand Staircase is the visiting card of the entire Royal Palace of Caserta, and the place where the grandiose vision of the Vanvitelli. The Scalone and the two vestibules constitute a real jewel of architecture in which the genius of Vanvitelli expresses his utmost creativity. Perfect synthesis of classicism and Baroque theatrical scenography, it forms the fulcrum of the other parts of the Palace.
Vanvitelli, in order not to break the optical effect of the famous Cannocchiale, placed the Scalone in the center of the building on one side of the vestibule. Here stands the Farnese Hercules, which on one side hides from view the entrance to the foyer of the Court Theater, on the other it watches over the entrance to the Scalone d’Onore.
The Grand Staircase at a glance
The Grand Staircase of Honor of the Royal Palace of Caserta is such a masterpiece of architecture and scenography that it has become the model that inspired all the subsequent great world staircases.
Climbing the first steps, the Scalone immediately appears majestic and immersed in a tranquil light, accentuated by the subtle chiaroscuro of the marbles and decorations. Going up, the vision becomes more and more complex as you reach the upper gallery with two marble lions on the sides, a symbol of power and majesty, and in front of it an enormous wall dominated by the immense statues of Merit, Royal Majesty and Truth.
Now, turning around, you will notice that what you thought was the final part of the Grand Staircase suddenly expands into two enormous and spectacular parallel staircases ending in a structure with arches and columns recalling the shape of a temple. Only now will you be able to admire all the majesty of the Scalone and notice a huge dome above it, at a height of 42m.
Only now will you be able to admire all the majesty of the 32m high Grand Staircase with a volume of 11,664 m3, and which ends at the top with a dome that originally housed an invisible orchestra. This dome is actually "fake", as above there is another one suspended from the roof by means of wooden rods... an extraordinary masterpiece of fantasy.
While climbing up the side staircase you will admire all this, you will arrive in the large central vestibule, almost a temple, which gives access to the Chapel and the Royal Apartments.
The magnificence of the Scalone, with its marbles, the enormous statues, the elegant arches, the two enormous staircases, constitute the most spectacular scenography of the 18th century.
The visual impact is immediate and dazzling for anyone who passes through the telescope for the first time: the short initial staircase limited by two pillars of the vestibule, and dominated by a large arch (having the same inclination as the Grand Staircase) inevitably pushes us to climb.
Great world staircases inspired by that of the Reggia
The Grand 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.
The visual impact is immediate and dazzling for anyone who passes through the telescope for the first time: the short initial staircase limited by two pillars of the vestibule, and dominated by a large arch (having the same inclination as the staircase) inevitably pushes us to climb.
Now begins the perceptive game of Vanvitelli . Going up the staircase (steps 8m wide and made of a single piece of Lumachella stone from Trapani), we will notice the marble side walls which, illuminated by the reflection of the invisible upper windows, give light to the staircase and at the same time lead to looking only upwards and never sideways. Following the decorative motif of the side walls, one reaches the upper gallery.
Initially it should have had the same width as the other ramps and also two lateral balustrades, but Vanvitelli decided to widen it and remove the balustrades to increase its monumentality. In fact, the steps are formed by a single 8m wide slab, so that there are no joints to distract our attention.
The upper rectangular landing is dominated on the sides by two marble lions to signify, as can be seen from the “Declaration of the Drawings” by Vanvitelli, the strength of reason and weapons that ensure the king the “ownership of his kingdoms”. The lion on the right is by Tommaso Solari, while the one on the left is by Paolo Persico.
The first landing
The upper rectangular balcony is dominated on the sides by two marble lions to signify, as can be deduced from the “Declaration of drawings “by Vanvitelli, the strength of reason and weapons that assure the king the “possession of his kingdoms”. The right lion is the work of Tommaso Solari while the one on left is by Paolo Persico. In addition to having a symbolic and decorative function, the lions also have an extremely practical function for Vanvitelli: if they weren’t there, climbing the staircase, one would notice the angle at the junction between the wall and the upper balustrade of the second staircase, canceling the much sought-after surprise effect.
The three statues
At the end of the staircase we find the immense back wall. It is divided into three main sections dominated by three huge sculptures. The three enormous statues were commissioned by Vanvitelli to intimidate visitors during the ascent. They represent Merit, Royal Majesty and Truth.
QUI GRAVIS ES MERITO GRAVIOR MERCEDE REDIBIS
(greater is the merit, greater will be the reward)
AD MAJESTATEM ACCEDENS PERPENDE QUID AFFERS
(before approaching the Majesty think on what are you pretending)
VERA FERENS VENIAS LATURUS FALSA RECEDAS
(come forward the true, hide the fibs, go away the falsities)
The upper vestibule
Climbing the second ramp, you enter the vestibule, which looks almost like a temple and is structurally similar to that of the ground floor, but much more elegant and rich in ornaments.
It is difficult to establish where the Grand Staircase ends and the upper Vestibule begins, there are no doors or gates that clearly separate the external space (the Cannocchiale) from the interior of the Palace. the upper vestibule can therefore be considered as the last portion of external space before accessing the Royal Apartments or to the Palatine Chapel.
Here they also shot a famous scene from the film Star Wars episode II: attack of the clones
The light from the large side windows gathers in the immense vault which in turn reflects it downwards. The vault was painted by Gerolamo Starace and represents “Apollo’s palace”, and has a central oculus, as above it there is a space intended for the orchestra that played when the King climbed the Staircase.
The architectonic structure of the Grand Staircase
The original project in the Declaration of the Drawings of the Royal Palace of Caserta
How did Vanvitelli arrive at this architectural masterpiece? The references of his previous works in the Royal Palace of Caserta are evident, none had ever reached such high levels of imagination, art and construction technique, pictorial sensitivity and perspective virtuosity, audacity and mathematical calculation. But if you look at his sketches for set designs, and think of the pictorial style of his father, the famous landscape painter Gaspar van Wittel, you are no longer surprised: on the one hand, he inherits his father’s style made up of large spaces full of light and subtle variations of colour, and on the other hand, the Scalone d’Onore seems to be the physical realization of one of those architectural backdrops by the Bibienas which marveled the theaters of Europe, but with the fundamental difference that the constructional difficulties overcome by Vanvitelli were very different from those faced from the theatrical set designers, who only had to create a decorative effect and seen from a single point of view (the stalls), Vanvitelli had to create an enormous and real architectural structure, and with as many as six points of view (lower vestibule, staircase, balcony, upper stairways, dome and view from the upper vestibule).
The Grand Staircase of Honor of the Royal Palace of Caserta had a revolutionary effect in world architecture, so much so that today it is very easy to find its style in the countless entrance staircases of the most beautiful palaces and theaters in the world.
Vintage photos of the Grand Staircase
Some vintage photos of the Grand Staircase of Honor of the Royal Palace of Caserta.