The fascinating history of the Belvedere of San Leucio (part of the municipality of Caserta) is closely linked to that of the Bourbon dynasty that in this place realized something truly unique, not so much from the architectural point of view as from the working and social one
Ferdinand IV of Bourbon became sovereign at the age of eight in 1758, following the abdication of his father he ascended the throne of Spain. King Ferdinand's utopia of creating an autonomous community leaves the Belvedere of San Leucio in Caserta, its royal apartments, the Italian garden and the adjoining Silk Museum, where it is possible to visit the machinery of the eighteenth century with which silk was made famous all over the world to the point of furnishing the White House, Buckingham Palace and the Quirinale Palace. As a first act in 1773 he decided to fence off the entire property to avoid the dispersion of the large game, starting a series of significant works to expand the existing building. It will become a much more ambitious project that the sovereign entrusted to the architect Francesco Collecini ( one of the closest collaborators of Vanvitelli who, after his death, had inherited many unfinished projects by the creator of the Royal Palace of Caserta), consisting in the creation of a real industrial city: the utopian Ferdinandopoli.
In the same Belvedere of San Leucio, in fact, not only the sumptuous rooms of the royal residence were housed, including the marvelous Bath of Maria Carolina, but also and mainly the spaces of the silk factory. This coexistence of environments so different by destination, undoubtedly represented one of the most singular novelties of the whole Belvedere, at the same time a manufacturing building but also a hunting lodge.
Behind this incredible project, there is certainly the influence of the Enlightenment theories, primarily those of the Neapolitan Antonio Genovesi.
Ferdinandopoli, a utopian project, was the creation of a real city of silk, which was immediately called Colonia di San Leucio and of the Real Manifattura della seta.
It was not just a simple factory but a real city of silk. The entire chain of processing the precious good, from the cultivation of silkworms to the creation of the finished fabric, took place in that place which, in addition to containing the best processing plants, also included the presence of workers' quarters, built according to the best building techniques , so much so that some are still inhabited today, as well as several other spaces in common, enjoyed by the workers but also by all the employees of the factory.
The silkworm breeding was practiced by the peasants who lived near San Leucio, mainly women, who dedicated themselves to intensive breeding of silkworms in April and May, using the most advanced techniques of the time. For the feeding of the precious silkworms not only the traditional black mulberries were grown, but also the white ones, coming from Bologna.
To make even more surprising the project of Ferdinandopoli, which actually began in 1778, after a partial experiment carried out in a nearby place called Vaccheria (from the breeding of Sardinian cows), was the emanation in 1789 of the famous Leucian Code, true statute of this singular community. Inspired by the highest Enlightenment dictates, this code foresaw the total equality of all workers, who had the same rights and duties and this regardless of gender. In the Colony of San Leucio, in fact, there were no differences between men and women. Same pay, identical working hours (11 hours total against the European average of 14), identical obligations inside and outside the factory. The code, moreover, abolished private property, guaranteed special assistance for the elderly and infirm, prohibited arranged marriages, a widespread plague in all social strata, and the sad reality of child labor. In San Leucio the minors could not work. For them, up until the age of sixteen, there was a compulsory education, to be fulfilled first through a primary course of study, consisting of learning reading, writing, mathematics and catechism, and then with professional courses, mostly focused on the knowledge of all stages of silk processing. To teach young people but also adults, mostly peasants from the surrounding area to which later masses of workers from various Italian states joined, the best professionals were called, especially French and English.
The important investments made brought considerable results, to the point that the silks produced in San Leucio were immediately sought after by the most important sovereigns of Europe, but also by the rich businessmen who wished to possess those precious fabrics in their sumptuous homes.
During the months of the Neapolitan Republic, the factory was the object of acts of vandalism and various robberies but with the return of the king the fate of San Leucio returned to shine. In 1801 began the construction of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Vaccheria, which will be inaugurated in 1805. Built according to the usual Collecini design, the building, inspired by the neo-Gothic style, was completed in a decidedly unique way by the architect Patturelli, becoming the fulcrum of the whole village.
With the conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by the French in 1806, the San Leucio factory saw new and important investments, especially in the "Murattiano" period which involved the expansion of the structure and the transformation of San Leucio into an autonomous municipality. With the fall of Murat and with the Restoration, San Leucio returned to the Bourbons but this did not mean at all the loss of importance of the industrial site which continued to churn out valuable products, specializing, in particular, in the realization of large wallpapers that went to decorate the rooms of the English and Russian palaces and of several Italian states.
The first signs of crisis are glimpsed with the Unity of Italy, also because of the numerous administrative disputes concerning the ownership of the factory, initially state-owned and then municipal. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the following century, the textile site was taken over by private individuals who, however, were unable to manage it better, so much so that in 1910 the entire structure, following the bankruptcy, closed its doors. In 1920, however, thanks to the acquisition of the factory by a Leucian family, the De Negri, textile production resumed but no longer with the previous levels.
The final closure of the factory took place at the end of the Seventies, when the industrial activity was moved to a new location and the saddest period began for the Belvedere of San Leucio. The abandonment of the whole complex, the lack of adequate protection of the building and all the other rooms, caused theft, degradation, collapses that affected almost the entire area, especially the royal halls frescoed by Fedele Fischietti, the famous bathroom of Maria Carolina, an admirable example of decoration executed with the ancient technique of encausto, as well as of the many frames present in the structure. Only the small quadrangular interior church, which had been dedicated to Saint Ferdinand of Castile and which continued to be active as a parish throughout the twentieth century, was saved from this general abandonment.
In 1985, fortunately, the farsightedness of the local administrators and the willingness to invest in private individuals, opened a long season of restorations that allowed the reopening of the Leucian complex to the public. Today the monumental complex of the Belvedere of San Leucio can be visited every day, except for Tuesday.