Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, was born in Vienna. In 1768 she married Bourbon King Ferdinand IV and cried all the way down to Naples because she insisted that Neapolitan Kings were unlucky. She was sixteen years old. The first time she laid eyes on Ferdinand, she thought him very ugly. King Ferdinand, in turn, said that Maria Carolina slept like she’d been killed and sweated like a pig. Together they lived at Caserta Palace and produced seven children.
Ferdinand spoke in Neapolitan slang, loved nothing better than hunting, and often sold his fresh caught fish on the streets among the lazzaroni. Since he was a practical joker and absolutely positively impervious to higher learning, Maria Carolina took over the reigns of day-to-day ruling with ease. She built up the navy, established a silk factory in San Leucio, brought the Farnese collection to Naples, patronized artists such as Angelica Kaufmann, and supported the Freemasons for a time.
Then, in 1793 her sister, Marie Antoinette, was executed. Horrified, Maria Carolina turned Naples into a police state in the hope of avoiding a revolution in the kingdom. The army was kept perpetually mobilized, which had the effect of increasing taxation. She set up a spy network as well as a secret police force and sub-divided Naples into twelve police wards controlled by government appointed commissioners, replacing the popular elected system. Becoming paranoid, she employed food-testers and switched the royal family apartments daily. The Queen, however, couldn’t stem the tide of revolution. By 1812 Ferdinand abdicated and the very next year Maria Carolina was exiled to Austria where she died in 1814.
Places To See: In downtown Naples, visit the Palazzo Reale (in Piazza del Plebiscito) where you can see the Teatrino di Corte built in 1768 for Maria Carolina’s wedding to Ferdinand IV as well as Maria Carolina’s Revolving Lectern in the royal apartments.
Today, the Reggia di Caserta or Royal Palace of Caserta at (Via Douhet 22, Caserta) still pays tribute to Maria Carolina whose portrait hangs in the Art Gallery. She occupied four rooms in the 18th century apartments, which can also be visited today. Ask for a map at the ticket office and you can roam her opulent world.
The park surrounding this mansion is particularly opulent, designed by the famous Luigi Vanvitelli. You may also explore the tranquil English Garden designed by John Andrew Graefer at the suggestion of Sir William Hamilton, Special Envoy of His Britannic Majesty to the Two Kingdoms.
After visiting here, Caserta Vecchia isn’t far with its medieval town center full of lovely restaurants and the Cathedral of San Michele at Piazza del Vescovado 1, Caserta. Capua is also close by.