Born by the Spaniards, raised by the Bourbons, and adopted by the Savoy Kings of Italy, Palazzo Reale is home to an impressive 30 room “Royal House Museum” and the largest state library in Southern Italy, the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III. Spanning the entire eastern end of Piazza del Plebiscito, it is was built in 1600 by Domenico Fontana to host King Phillip III of Spain.
The King never came but the palace remained becoming the Royal Residence of the Austrians first and the Bourbons who followed. During the Bourbon reign, damage from a fire in 1837 led to a major restoration and enlargement (1838 – 1858) by Gaetano Genovese. It was during this time that Francesco Antonio Picchiatti’s (1651) Scalone d’onore was refaced in pink and white marble. Considered one of the finest monumental staircases in Europe, it now leads to the Museum of Palazzo Reale on the piano nobile.
Known as the Appartamento Storico, Historic Apartment, the museum was opened to the public in 1919. Severely damaged during WWII, it was carefully restored and now features a rich collection of Neoclassical and Baroque furnishings, paintings, tapestries, and decorative arts objects and porcelain. Among the museum’s treasures are Ferdinando Fuga’s Court Theater (1768), home to twelve original paper mâché statues that survived the air raids of WWII, Apollo, Minerva, Mercurio and the nine muses. The Presepio del Banco di Napoli in Cosimo Fanzago’s Royal Chapel includes over 200 18th and 19th century presepe figurines.
An upstairs roof garden overlooking the Molo Beverello Port to the south and Piazza del Plebiscito to the west is rarely open to the public. The Giardino Romantico on the eastern end of the main level however is worth a visit. With beautiful views of Castel Nuovo, the garden is home to Mimmo Paladino’s controversial work, a series of large stone horses that were erected above the San Carlo Theater’s practice room and is known as Prova d’Orchestra. Adjacent to the palace and the Giardino Romantico, the east door of the grand lobby of the theater leads to the garden. Entrance to the theater’s new museum, the Museum and Historic Archives, MeMus is just beyond the Scalone d’Onore on the main level.