Ever since the original Star Wars was released in 1977, fans have always been dreaming about living in that galaxy far, far away. While that may be just a little difficult, there are still the real-world locations that served as various worlds during filming, and they can be visited. In Galactic Backpacking, we explore these locations by country, looking at their histories and current attractions.
In this second installment of Galactic Backpacking, we take a look at Italy, one of the two countries that were used to portray Naboo in the prequel trilogy. It was in Italy where the real Theed Royal Palace stands, and where Padmé relaxed with Anakin at the Lake Retreat after visiting her family home in Theed.
Italy (Italia in Italian) is a southern European country, forming a peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea, covering an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 square miles). It is the 5th most populous country in Europe with 61 million inhabitants. And ever since the Roman Empire, Italy has been an important and influential figure in not only Europe’s, but even the world’s politics.
While the majority of the country is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the country shares borders in the north with France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. These borders are roughly formed by the mountains of the Alps. Also belonging to Italy are the islands of Sicily (the toe-part of the country’s boot-shape) and Sardinia, to the west and below Corsica. Other islands include Ischia (wellness resort with natural springs) and Capri (famous for the Blue Grotto), both near Naples and Elba, well-known as the first place of exile of the French Emperor Napoleon I after his forced abdication.
Italy is a very popular tourist destination; in 2010 it was the highest tourism earner in the world, and it’s the fifth most visited country in the world. The 40+ million visitors that come each year enjoy the country for its rich art, cuisine, history, fashion, and culture, but also the beautiful landscape, with beaches, rolling hills, and mountains. Italy also contains more World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world.
Official languages: Italian, but many speak English
Government: Unitary parliamentary republic
Time zone CET (UTC+1) in summer CEST (UTC+2)
Roads: Drive on the right / with toll roads
- Inland northern / central regions: Ranging from humid subtropical to humid continental and oceanic.
- Coastal area / South: Mediterranean climate.
Best time to visit the shooting locations: April/June, weather is good and nature is in bloom while the tourism season begins in July, so it is less busy at the locations.
How to get there & other useful links
Italy: The best way to reach the country is by air. There are a number of prominent international airports in all the major cities. Rome has three airports, but only two for commercial flights. Out of these the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (IATA prefix FCO) serves as the main hub for visitors from the United States and other intercontinental destinations. The other major international airport is Milano Malpensa Airport (IATA prefix MXP), located near the city of Milan.
Caserta: Many roads lead to Rome they say, so goes for Caserta and the royal palace. If you come from Rome, take the Autostrada A1 to Milan-Naples (Milano Napoli) exit Caserta nord. If you come from Naples take the Autostrada A1. By train you want to get out at the Caserta Central Station, which stops directly in front of the palace.
Lake Como/Tremezzo: Travel by plane to Milan and from there to Tremezzo by car (A9 Motorway – hour and a half trip) or train (one hour trip from Milan Central Station to Como S. Giovanni station and then a half hour more by bus for Colico (or Menaggio), and then stop in Cadenabbia).
Domestic destinations: While there are many domestic airports, it is advisable to travel by rental car or train.
Italian Travel Office
Milano Malpensa Airport
Leonardo da Vinci International Airport
Italian train operator: While the site is viewable in English, the destinations stay Italian, so use Roma (Rome), Napoli (Naples) and Milano (Milan) to find your stations.
Caserta Palace, official Facebook page
The Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Star Wars on Location Tour (Lake Como)
Villa del Balbianello at the website of the Italian National Trust
Caserta, Royal Palace
When construction started in 1752, the Royal Palace of Caserta became the largest palace, and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century. With its size of 45, 000 s.q.m. (484,376 sq.ft. or approx. 11 acres) and height of 36 meters (118 feet or 5 floors), it takes some time to explore. The building’s highlights include Sala del Trono (literally “throne room”, a large area used for reception and accommodation for important guests), the royal staircase, the Palatine Library, and the garden. The garden at the back of the palace is modeled after the park of Versailles and features many impressive fountains like the ones featuring Venus and Adonis, from Shakespeare’s poem. Due to the size of the park it can be advisable to take the shuttle bus to the back of the park to see the waterfall.
The Royal Palace in Caserta was chosen by George Lucas to be the interior for the Theed Royal Palace because he was looking for an Italian Renaissance appearance for the planet Naboo.
Various costume reference pictures that have been made against the palace walls have been since published in various guides like Dressing a Galaxy and online. The palace has also been used in various other movies like Mission Impossible III and Angels and Demons to double for the Vatican.
You enter the palace at an arcade that was also used in a promotional shot of Natalie Portman in her Queen Amidala costume. This arcade leads you to the most scenic part of the palace: the Royal Staircase. It is here where we see Queen Amidala walking down after she is captured by Nute Gunray and Rune Haako. Thanks to clever editing and camera work, the lion statues at the end of stairs cannot be seen in the movie.
When you walk up the stairs you reach the next location: The passageway that featured the hologram conversation between Darth Sidious and the Neimoidians, who are told that Darth Maul will join them on the planet. You know you have found the right spot when you line up the two statues that can be seen in the background.
When you turn around you can see that you have arrived in the throne room as seen in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. While the desks and chairs were set dressing, the ornate floor decal and the large window mark this location. The large window is a great spot to channel your inner Padmé and watch outside to see the Trade Federation troops arriving on the doorstep.
Lake Como & surrounding area
Near the church of Tremezzo is the Tremezzo Public Garden. Here, at the edge of Lake Como, they filmed a scene that would end up being cut from the movie: The departure of Anakin and Padmé, who step into a gondola speeder driven by Paddy Accu, the caretaker of Varykino to go to the Lake Retreat. Nearby this location also stands the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, where cast and crew stayed for the duration of the shoot.
In between Tremezzo and Griante is the meadow used for the picnic scene. This was also where the Vanity Fair shoot took place. This site is a bit difficult to find considering that not much of the scene is actually real. Roughly said, the grass they sit on is real, and nothing else.
The Via San Martino, taking you from Rogaro to Griante, is the road that lies next to the meadow. The meadow itself is privately owned, and is best recognized by a small building with a caved-in roof and a lone tree in front. The GPS coordinates to the field are: 45°59’28.97″N, 9°13’41.01″O.
A hundred meters to the north is the other meadow used for the Shaak riding scene. Spot the mountain in the previous photo and you have found the right spot.
Villa del Balbianello, build in 1787, is a villa overlooking Lake Como and was originally built for the Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini, before it was bought by the explorer Guido Monzino who used it to store his collections acquired in his expeditions. When he died, he left the building to the Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano, the National Trust of Italy. Besides Attack of the Clones, the villa was also used in Casino Royal with Daniel Craig.
Visitors of the villa arrive by boat — with stunning views of the lake as an extra treat — but at a different dock than the one used by Anakin and Padmé. The dock seen in the film is an old docking area, protected with walls at the other side of the main building. Nowadays this docking area can still be seen, but is off-limits for those wanting to stand in the exact same spot as they stood at in the movie. The balcony of the first kiss between Anakin and Padmé, as well as were they get married at the end, is nearby and easily recognized since the only thing they changed in the movie was the removal of the background villages.
Villa del Balbianello is most often recognized as the Lake Retreat, but it was also the location where they filmed the deleted scenes of Anakin meeting Padmé’s family, including an exterior shot.
The scene in Padmé’s bedroom where Anakin watches the holograms of her youth, as well as the later scene with Anakin’s morning meditation, was filmed in the loggia that stands in the garden of the villa. However, the bedroom was a set, and the room has since been restored to its previous state. For example, the fireplace that you can see in the scene was built in front of a bookcase. What is still amazing and unchanged, though, is the balcony where Anakin meditates in the morning — this is a smaller balcony, not to be confused with the wedding balcony.
Another impressive feature of the villa is the garden, which can also be glimpsed in the deleted scene, when Padmé looks outside the kitchen window and sees her father Ruwee talking to Anakin.
What else to do in Italy?
When in Italy the following are must-see locations:
Rome – Many Roman-era buildings are here like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon. Vatican City, while an independent country, is located within the city of Rome.
Milan – Famous for shopping and the Milan Fashion Week, it also has many museums filled with work from Leonardo da Vinci.
Venice – In the north of the country, this city consists of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. The Church of San Barnaba was used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Pisa and the famous Leaning Tower.
Naples and nearby Mount Vesuvius with the ruins of Pompeii.
Florence – For its architecture.
Mount Etna – Located on the east coast of Sicily, is more or less a Star Wars location, considering the erupting volcano was filmed, in 2002-2003, and used to create the eruptions at Mustafar in Episode III.
Join us next time for a trip to Guatemala to try and find the hidden Rebel base!
Map courtesy of Eric Gaba from Wikimedia, adapted by Stefan Pfister.
Caserta Palace, exterior image by Tango7174
Honour Grand Staircase image courtesy of the official Facebook site of the Caserta Royal Palace.
Villa del Balbianello image by Aloa
Sander de Lange (Exar Xan) from the Netherlands does research for the Rogues Gallery feature in Star Wars Insider under the supervision of Leland Chee. He is an editor for TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub, he’s an administrator for the Star Wars Sourcebooks page on Facebook and has written the backstory for Niai Fieso through “What’s the Story?”. Recently he finished his Tourism Management study and he cannot wait to work in the tourism industry.