Caserta is a "modern agricultural town" (translation: post 1950s and not very exciting) north of Naples and inland. We had read about the Palace however, that was built in the 18th century by the Bourbon king, Charles II who was jealous of Versailles and wanted to create his own version of it here in Italy. We thought perhaps my sister might be interested in seeing this royal extravaganza and the reportedly lovely gardens, and wanted to at least find it before she gets here, which we did.
Traffic came to a complete standstill as we exited the freeway in Caserta and degenerated into what we like to call "traffic anarchy" that we experience here in Italy. No traffic signals, no police presence, no lane markings or turn arrows, no adherence to any laws of the road that a civilized society would reasonably expect at any rate! Totally an "every man for himself" attitude that is really nerve-wracking to say the least and downright life-threatening in its extreme. Cars turning left in front of each other, squeezing in front of you and creating another lane where there really is only room for one, passing each other on blind curves, motor scooters (or, as I like to call them "suicidal maniacs"). I am constantly amazed that we don't witness an accident every time we are out in these types of situations! Dealing with traffic, I am sorry to say especially in the south of Italy, has not been the most endearing part of being here. I have a total and new admiration for my husband who can navigate through this insanity and continue to get back in the car! It is really pazzo.
But! Casertavecchia! A complete dream! Climbing up above the new city we left the noise and chaos and found ourselves above it all, in the most lovely, green and bucolic area! And suddenly, around a bend in the road Casertavecchia came into view! This small hilltop town, complete with the ruins of a 13th century caste and its 30-meter turret, was founded in the 8th century by the Lombards and it is remarkably well preserved. Walking through its quiet cobbled streets was like traveling into another time. The cathedral was built in 1153. Everything was constructed of the same rough cut, golden brown stone with white marble trim and red tile roofs, charming architectural details and flowerpots.
It was a cold day however and most of the shops were closed, we wondered if it was off-season or just the wrong time of day when we came upon a lovely little shop called "Casa delle Bifore" (which means "mullioned windows" and has nothing to do with the word "before" in English) that describes the house the German-born artist Ursula Edith Pannwitz built in a previously dilapidated building in the centro. We were drawn into this little shop like children following the pied piper, as the sound of music and the sight of little objects made of wood hung everywhere and every corner we looked into there was some interesting bit of art she had made with her own hands. Wooden rocking horses, the little "spirit jars" she has made part of this town's legacy, paintings on wood with the flowers literally growing out of the picture.
We struck up a conversation with her and I guess she liked us and invited us to see the house she had made for herself and her Italian husband across the street from the shop. She began in the 1970s and she showed us some photos of the restoration. Amazing! The place seemed to be in quite a shambles and she turned it into a lovely jumble of rooms that were as cozy as you might expect to find in the Shire, where the hobbits live. Not a computer or a TV to be found! Just wonderful handmade objects everywhere and paintings and other art pieces that were gifts from artists who had visited her here and been so impressed with what she was doing. Her sparkling eyes revealed her joy for living and creating what surely comes right from her heart and soul.
We bought one of the hanging pieces - a little girl with her face down inside a book sitting on a crescent moon with a ladder hanging down from the moon as if she had climbed up there to read! We will be sending this to our granddaughter and hope she likes seeing it there in her room at her Daddy's house.
We had lunch in one of the restaurants in town (and there are several that looked promising) that had a display of foods we couldn't resist. We tried a little of this and a little of that - stuffed peppers, roasted artichokes, fried zucchini, eggplant parmesan, and more - a feast of only appetizers! Then another round of desserts! Yumm. Everything was delicious. We ate until we were stuffed!
We hope to return to this little town, on a warmer day perhaps when the other shops are open but also to visit Ursula again and see what she is up to.
And maybe go back and sample a few more of those goodies at Ristorante "da Theresa".
We'd love to take Suzanne and the girls here, just to show them what a medieval town looks like. It is quite different from everything they will see on the Amalfi Coast, or in Rome. We'd like to give them a little taste of what Italy has to offer and leave them wanting to come back for more!
Rosemary e Robert