The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Garden Design in Naples

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113. At Naples the gardens possess the same general character as those of Rome, though, with the exception of Caserta, they are less magnificent. They are more indebted to their architecture, and the luxuriance of vegetation, than to the gardener; and their greatest beauty is to be found in the combination of trellised vines, and piers, pillars, and arches of masonry. A villa on the steep bank on the coast of Pausillipo (fig. 24.) affords a fine example of this description of beauty. The royal gardens of Porlici, in 1819, were chiefly walled cultivated enclosures, abounding in oranges, figs, and grapes, with straight alleys and wooded quarters entirely for shade. There is one small de-partment of a few perches, devoted to the English taste; but it is too small to give any idea of that style. There is also a spot called La Favorita, in which, says Starke (Letters, vol.ii. p. 125.), the late king placed swings and wooden horses, or hurly-burlies (such as are to be seen at our fairs), for his own particular amusement, and that of his nobility. The approach to this garden is through the palace court, great part of which is occupied as a barrack by troops. The filth and stench of this court is incredible; and yet it is overlooked by the windows of the king's dining-room, where he was sitting at dinner, on his return from the chase, when we passed through the palace, on the 2d of August, 1819. We know no scene to which it could be compared, but that of the court of some of the large Russian inns in the suburbs of St. Petersburgh. Extensive gardens of pots and boxes are common on the roofs of the palaces and other houses in Naples. Viewed from the streets they have a singular effect, and, retaining their beauty and fragrance, from the fresh breezes in these elevated regions, and the comparative absence of that stench with which the lower atmosphere of Naples is almost continually charged, they are very agreeable to the possessors. The royal residence of Caserta is about seventeen miles from Naples. This palace, in which, as Forsyth observes, the late king sought grandeur from every dimension, is situated in an immense plain, and is a quadrangle, the front of which is upwards of seven hundred feet long. It was begun in 1752, roofed in 1757, but in 1819 was not, and probably never will be, finished. The park extends from the palace to a range of mountains at two miles' distance, some of which it includes. It may be said to consist of four parts; open pasture, almost without trees, near the palace; woody scenery, or thick groves and copses, partly near to, but chiefly at a considerable distance from, the palace; mountainous scenery, devoted to game and the chase, in the extreme distance; and an English garden on one side, skirting the mountains. There are, besides, St. Lucio, a large village, a silk-manufactory, a farm, &c.; all of which are described by different tourists, �minutely by Vasi, in his Guide to Naples and its Environs, and plans of the whole are given by L. Vanvitelli, in his Disegni del Reale Palazzo di Caserta. The cascade and canal of Caserta constitute its most remarkable feature, and that which renders this park, in our opinion, the most extraordinary in Europe. The water is begun to be collected above thirty miles' distance among the mountains, and, after being conducted to a valley about five miles from Caserta, is carried over it by an aqueduct consisting of three tiers of arches, nearly two hundred feet high, and two thousand feet long. The volume of water is four feet wide by three and a half feet deep, and moves, as near as we could estimate, at the rate of one foot in two seconds. Arrived at the back of the mountain Gazzano, a tunnel is cut through it, and the stream, bursting from a cave about half-way between the base and the summit, forms a cascade of fifty feet directly in front of the palace. The waters are now in a large basin, from which under-ground tunnels and pipes proceed on two sides, for the purpose of supplying the lakes or rivers in the English garden, the fish-ponds and various jets d'eau; also for irrigation, to maintain the verdure of the turf. From the centre of this basin proceeds a series of alternate canals and cascades of uniform breadth, in a direct line down the slope of the hill, and along the plain to within a furlong or little more of the palace. Here it terminates abruptly, the waters being conveyed away under ground for other purposes. The effect of this series of canals and cascades, viewed from the garden-front of the palace, or from the middle entrance arch, through that �long obscure portico or arcade which pierces the whole depth of the quadrangle, and acts like the tube of a telescope to the waters,� is that of one continued sheet of smooth or stagnant water resting on a slope; or of a fountain which had suddenly burst forth and threatened to inundate the plain; but for this idea the course of the water is too tame, tranquil, and regular, and it looks more like some artificial imitation of water than water itself. In short, the effect is still more unnatural than it is extraordinary; for though jets and fountains are also unnatural, yet they present nothing repugnant to our ideas of the nature of things; but a body of water seemingly reposing on a slope, and accommodating itself to the inclination of the surface, is a sight at variance with the laws of gravity. Unquestionably the cascade at the extremity is a grand object of itself; but the other cascades are so trifling, and so numerous, as in perspective, and viewed at a distance, to produce this strange effect of continuity of surface. As a proof that our opinion is correct, we refer to the views of Caserta, which are got up by the Neapolitan artists for sale: had these artists been able to avoid the appearance in question, even by some departures from truth, there can be no doubt they would not have hesitated to do so. A bird's-eye view of this canal, in Vanvitelli's work (fig. 25.), gives but a very imperfect idea of the reality as seen from the surface of the ground, and especially from the palace and lower parts of the park. A sketch showing the palace on the right side and part of the canal on the left, which a friend sent us in 1828 (fig. 26.), is not very correct as to the lines of the canal; but it shows its position on the side of a hill, and the immensity of the palace, doubtless the largest habitation of the kind in Europe. Forsyth seems to have paid little attention to this water, having been chiefly struck with the palace. Eustace says, �the palace is one of the noblest edifices of the kind in Europe; the gardens extensive, regular, but, except a part in the English style, uninteresting. From a reservoir on the mountain Gazzano, the water is precipitated down the declivity to the plain, where, collected in a long straight canal, it loses its rapidity and beauty, and assumes the appearance of an old-fashioned stagnant pool.� (Tour in Italy, vol. i. p. 602.) Wilson says, the cascade of Caserta might have been made the finest of its kind in the world; but it has been spoiled by a love of formality, which has led the copious stream drizzling over regular gradations of steps into a long stagnant canal. (Tours, &c., vol. ii. p. 217.) Wood says, �the aqueduct of Ponte delle Maddalena conveys water across a deep valley to the foolish cascade at Caserta, and renders no further service, notwithstanding its great elevation. The palace of Caserta is an enormous pile of building, but with no effect externally corresponding to its vast size. The gardens are not beautiful; and a feeling of dissatisfaction is produced when we see the enormous expense of the aqueduct employed to produce an ugly and ill-placed cascade. The palace is placed too low, for though the ground rises gradually towards it for a great distance, the slope is not of itself perceptible; and if it had been erected on part of the still gentle, but sensible ascent, behind the present edifice, the situation would have been admirable, both for the appearance of the building, and the pleasantness of the views from it.� (Letters, &c., vol. ii. p. 120.) Spence says, Caserta is among the few old gardens, which one would not regret to see converted into an English garden. There are, he says (writing in 1832), no trees of the luxuriant growth of those which adorn the Boboli garden at Florence, or that of the Villa Borghese at Rome; and the rows of evergreen oaks on each side of the great canal, being kept clipped to the height of only about 15 ft., have a very stunted and paltry look. The English garden of Caserta is as perfect a specimen of English pleasure-ground as any we have seen on the Continent. The verdure of the turf is maintained in summer by a partially concealed system of irrigation; and part of the walks were originally laid with Kensington gravel. Every exotic which at that time could be furnished by the Hammersmith nursery, was planted; and many of them formed, when we saw them, in 1819, very fine specimens. Among these the camellias, banksias, proteas, magnolias, pines, &c., had attained a large size, and ripened their seeds. There is a good kitchen and botanic garden, and extensive hot-houses, chiefly in the English form; but, in 1819, they were much out of repair. Indeed, this remark will apply to the whole place excepting the palace.