The Criptoportico – Bagno di Venere is a one-of-a-kind environment within the English Garden of the Reggia di Caserta. Built at the end of the eighteenth century, this area exemplifies the complex relationship between architecture and vegetation, which represents the main challenge in the conservation of historic gardens. Carlo Vanvitelli conceived the Criptoportico in order to deceive the guests of the rulers that they were in an area of archaeological excavations, on the site of an ancient Roman nymphaeum. In fact, this suggestive gallery space overlooks the Bagno di Venere, giving life to one of the most fascinating views of the English Garden.
Due to its complexity and the historical events that accompanied it, this area had long needed a restoration intervention, in order to guarantee its safety and allow everyone to enjoy its beauty. Therefore, with the aim of implementing a targeted and careful intervention on the botanical heritage, a preliminary historical investigation was fundamental, with the aim of building a cognitive framework of the historical, botanical and typological characteristics of the site. This was accomplished by making use of bibliographic and iconographic material, as well as news regarding aspects such as events related to the royal family, to the gardener Graefer and his sons, who took care of the management of the garden, analyzing which were the plant species used since the time of the creation of the site, as reported in the botanical lists kept in the archives of the Reggia.
During the research, more than a thousand botanical species historically present throughout the English Garden were analysed, among which those present in the Bagno di Venere were identified.
The comparison between what emerged from the historical-botanical research and the census of plant species carried out during the on-site inspections made it possible to outline what the original specific composition of the garden was and thus define the correct approach to the restoration of the vegetation.
In particular, it was necessary to intervene on the extrados of the Criptoportico and on the external masonry, where the problems related to the complex interaction between architecture and vegetation were more evident. In collaboration with the professionals who deal with architectural restoration, structures, hydraulic component and geotechnical analysis, a thorough analysis was carried out to identify any possible interference between vegetation and architecture.
Therefore, the restoration project’s main objective is the resolution of the detected interferences, through the following interventions: creation of a new vegetated roof above the vaults of the Criptoportico, through the installation of a “green roof” type accumulation/drainage package which guarantees the correct disposal of rainwater, protecting the underground structure; consolidation of valuable tree specimens through differentiated solutions on a case-by-case basis; restoration of tree vegetation and undergrowth, based on what emerged from the historical-botanical research.