After visiting the gardens of the Royal Palace of Caserta I was interested to discover more about the stories behind their ornate fountains. I particularly liked the top three, and so I embarked on some research.
The first of these three that you reach when you walk up through the gardens is the Fountain of Ceres. Cupids, tritons and nymphs surround the beautiful goddess in the centre.
Ceres represents agriculture, grains, fertility and motherly relationships. In Ancient Roman religion, the Cerealia festival was celebrated in April to worship her. In fact, the word “cereal” derives from her name. She was the central deity in the Aventine Triad, a cult established by Rome’s plebs (ordinary citizens) on the Aventine hill to rival the Capitoline hill’s triad of Jupiter, Minerva and Juno. She could be viewed as the Roman equivalent to the Greek Demeter, and is the only one of Rome’s agricultural gods to be included in its list of twelve major deities.
In this depiction of her, by the sculptor Gaetano Salomone, she is holding a medallion of the Triskelion, the symbol of Sicily’s three promontories, Cape Peloro, Cape Pachino and Cape Lilibeo. Two statues representing Sicily’s rivers are placed to the right and left of the central group. These features fit in with how Caserta was envisaged as the new capital of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies- though this plan was never fulfulled. See my last post here.
A nice detail I learnt about this fountain is that the steps to the sides used to hold hidden jets that would spurt water at unsuspecting visitors. For this reason the fountain was also known as the Zampilliera or “Water Spout”. Originally the statue of Ceres was adorned with a wreath of ears of wheat made of bronze, referencing her connection to agriculture. The nymphs also held ears of wheat but according to the museum these were all removed under French occupation between 1806 and 1815, and used for other purposes.
Walking further up to the top of the gardens, the next group of sculptures you come to is the Fountain of Venus and Adonis, another work by Salomone.
In ancient mythology, Adonis is the god of beauty and desire. He was especially worshipped by women, perhaps not surprisingly, and the female writer Sappho wrote about him in her poetry around 600 BC. According to the legends, Adonis was killed by a wild boar. He died in Venus’ arms, who came to aid him when she heard his groans.
In the centre of this sculpture, you can see Venus begging Adonis not to go out hunting, as she attempts to prevent the fulfilment of his tragic fate. Joyful dogs around him prepare for the hunt, while the boars await his end. Nymphs share the pain felt by Venus.
The final fountain at the top of the gardens, and the most spectacular, portrays the Greek myth of Diana and Actaeon.
One part of these twin sculptures by Paolo Persico, Angelo Brunelli and Pietro Solari shows the moment the chaste Diana, goddess of hunting, realises that the mortal Actaeon has caught her bathing naked. Her helpers are shocked and quickly rush to cover her up. In her embarassed fury, she splashes Actaeon with water, turning him into a deer, setting his dogs against him and robbing him of his ability to speak– as portrayed in the other sculpture below.
In the middle of these twin masterpieces you find the Grand Cascade which originates from a grotto 80 metres up the hill, and makes a wonderful end to your walk up through these fabulous gardens.