A leading Naples showpiece created as an expression of Bourbon power and values, the Palazzo Reale dates to 1600. Renovated and redecorated by successive rulers, once lorded over by a dim-witted king who liked to shoot his hunting guns at the birds in his tapestries, it is filled with salons designed in the most lavish 18th-century Neapolitan style. The Spanish viceroys originally commissioned the palace, ordering the Swiss architect Domenico Fontana to build a suitable
new residence for King Philip III, should he chance to visit Naples. He died in 1621 before ever doing so. The palace saw its greatest moment of splendor in the 18th century, when Charles III of Bourbon became the first permanent resident; the flamboyant Naples-born architect Luigi Vanvitelli redesigned the facade, and Ferdinando Fuga, under Ferdinand IV, created the Royal Apartments, sumptuously furnished and full of precious paintings, tapestries, porcelains, and other objets d'art.
To access these 30 rooms, climb the monumental Scalone d'Onore (Staircase). On the right is the Court Theater, built by Fuga for Charles III and his private opera company. Damaged during World War II, it was restored in the 1950s; note the resplendent royal box. Antechambers lead to Room VI, the Throne Room, the ponderous titular object dating to sometime after 1850.
Decoration picks up in the Ambassadors’ Room, choice Gobelin tapestries gracing the light-green walls. The ceiling painting honoring Spanish military victories is by local artist Belisario Corenzio (1610–20). Room IX was bedroom to Charles's queen, Maria Amalia. The brilliantly gold private oratory has beautiful paintings by Francesco Liani (1760).
The Great Captain's Room has ceiling frescoes by Battistello Caracciolo (1610–16). All velvet, fire, and smoke, they reveal the influence of Caravaggio’s visit to the city; a jolly series by Federico Zuccari depicts 12 proverbs. More majestic is Titian’s portrait (circa 1543) of Pier Luigi Farnese.
Room XIII was Joachim Murat's writing room when he was king of Naples; brought with him from France, some of the furniture is courtesy of Adam Weisweiler, cabinetmaker to Marie Antoinette. Room XVIII is notable for Guercino’s depiction of Joseph’s dream. The huge Room XXII, painted in green and gold with kitschy faux tapestries, is known as the Hercules Hall, because it once housed the Farnese Hercules, an epic sculpture of the mythological Greek hero. Pride of place now goes to the Sèvres porcelain.
The Palatine Chapel, redone by Gaetano Genovese in the 1830s, is gussied up with an excess of gold, although it has a stunning Technicolor marble intarsia altar from the previous chapel (Dionisio Lazzari, 1678). Also here is a Nativity scene with pieces sculpted by Giuseppe Sammartino and others. Pleasant 19th-century landscapes grace the next few rooms; then there is Queen Maria Carolina's Ferris wheel–like reading lectern (once enabling her to do a 19th-century reader's version of channel surfing). Speaking of reading, another wing holds the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III. Starting out from Farnese bits and pieces, it was enriched with the papyri from Herculaneum found in 1752 and opened to the public in 1804. The sumptuous rooms can still be viewed, and there's a tasteful garden that looks onto Castel Nuovo.