The Royal Palace of Caserta (Italian: Reggia di Caserta, Italian pronunciation: [ˌrɛddʒa di kaˈzɛrta]) is a former royal residence in Caserta, southern Italy, constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples. It was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century. In 1997, the palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described in its nomination as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque, from which it adopted all the features needed to create the illusions of multidirectional space".
The construction of the palace was begun in 1752 for Charles VII of Naples, who worked closely with his architect, Luigi Vanvitelli. When Charles saw Vanvitelli's grandly scaled model for Caserta, it filled him with emotion "fit to tear his heart from his breast". In the end, he never slept a night at the Reggia, as he abdicated in 1759 to become King of Spain, and the project was carried to only partial completion for his third son and successor, Ferdinand IV of Naples.
The political and social model for Vanvitelli's palace was Versailles, which, though it is strikingly different in its variety and disposition, solves similar problems of assembling and providing for king, court and government in a massive building with the social structure of a small city, confronting a baroque view of a highly subordinated nature, la nature forcée. The population of Caserta Vecchia was moved 10 kilometers to provide a work force closer to the palace. A silk manufactory at San Leucio resort was disguised as a pavilion in the immense parkland.
Another of the king's primary objects was to have a magnificent new royal court and administrative center for the kingdom in a location protected from sea attack, and distant from the revolt-prone and congested city of Naples. To provide the king with suitable protection, troop barracks were housed within the palace.
The Royal Palace of Madrid, where Charles had grown up, which had been devised by Filippo Juvarra for Charles' father, Philip V of Spain, and Charlottenburg Palace provided models. A spacious octagonal vestibule seems to have been inspired by Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, while the palatine chapel is most often compared to Robert de Cotte's royal chapel at Versailles. Vanvitelli died in 1773: the construction was continued by his son Carlo and then by other architects; but the elder Vanvitelli's original project, which included a vast pair of frontal wings similar to Bernini's wings at St. Peter's, was never finished.
From 1923 to 1943 and during World War II the palace was the location of the Accademia Aeronautica, the Italian Air Force Academy. From 1943, during the allied invasion the royal palace served as the seat of the Supreme Allied Commander; Sir Henry Maitland Wilson and later Sir Harold Alexander. In April 1945 the palace was the site of the signing of terms of the unconditional German surrender of forces in Italy. The agreement covered between 600,000 and 900,000 soldiers along the Italian Front, including troops in sections of Austria. The first Allied war crimes trial took place in the palace in 1945; German general Anton Dostler was sentenced to death and executed nearby, in Aversa. In the left hand arc behind the façade, a set of barracks were built. During World War II the soldiers of the US Fifth Army recovered here in a "rest centre".