martedì 12 luglio 2016

Frederick II and his castles: Castel del Monte

If there’s a historic period that I prefer, it’s the one of Middle Ages, in particular linked with Apulian history, when it was governed by the very famous Frederick II, also known as the Stupor Mundi  or the Puer Apuliae. No surprise especially for this last nickname, as it seems that Frederick fell in love with Apulia when he visited it in 1221 ( and how could we blame him?) and saw this land rich in woods and rivers. Considering that the region was and still is  in a strategic position, it was not a surprise that in 1223 the sovereign moved the capital of his kingdom, the Kingdom of Sicily, from Palermo to Foggia. Let’s say it, this interesting man did a lot for Apulia: that was one of the most prosperous period of this territory. He stimulated the agri-food production with the spread of massarie regie, trade and communication inside the kingdom thank to a castle network. Here, castles, perhaps the thing of that period that has reached us that arouse most of fascination and interest, wrapped as they are in that aura they have inherited from their lord. Frederick II was a really interesting man: he loved science, mathematics, he knew six languages, he appreciated Arab culture with which he had the opportunity to confront and for which he had not little problems with the pope, he loved hunt with hawk and astronomy. All these “hobbies” have made someone think that some of his castles weren’t build exactly for defensive purposes, but there was an extra reason that isn’t clear yet. Without any doubts, the most mysterious one is Castel del Monte, isolated, perched on its hill. I think that anyone has in his/her mind the image of this castle, taken now a bit as the symbol of Apulia. But what makes it so particular?

I’ve always admired Frederick II. I could say that if I had the possibility to meet a historical character, most likely I would choose him. Alas, there’s no such an opportunity, but at least I can visit the places where he lived, as Castel del Monte. Being by nature a person who gets excited, especially when it’s about visiting new places, it’s easy to imagine how I was euphoric at the thought of seeing the castle.

In a distance the geometrical and a bit dumpy silhouette
While you get closer to the destination, reaching Andria, the euphoria leaves space, temporarily, to wonder when you see the geometrical and a bit dumpy silhouette of the building. I remember to have been a while with the nose on the window of the car staring at that vision. It may sound surreal, but you really feel the uncontrollable impulse to enter and to see what’s there, what mystery it hides.

Once inside, there are no furniture  to appreciate, but often the castle hosts some expositions. Right in this period, there’s an exposition about Fibonacci and mathematics and, I would say, that they couldn’t choose a better location, seen the mystery of number 8 that characterizes Castel del Monte. Actually, its structure is an octagon, with 8 towers, octagonal too, and on the curtains there are 8 mullioned windows per floor; inside 16 rooms, 8 for each floor, and most of the decorations are reproduced in series of eight. They suppose that this number has a spiritual meaning, but at the moment the mystery remains unresolved.

ph. by O.S.

The inner court has the same octagonal shape of the outer part. The eye goes up until it finds a way out in the opening, from which you can see the blue sky, in an octagonal shape either. Entering, you can visit the rooms. As I said before, they are 8 on each floor and are communicating but the first and the eighth. To go from a floor to another, you climb a spiral staircase, which is in just 3 towers. As for the other 5 towers, instead, in some of them there are some tanks for rainwater harvesting, whereas in others, surprisingly according to me, some bathrooms with latrine, basin and a small place whose function isn’t clear yet. It may be a dressing room, but they suppose that it could be used for ablution. Actually, it’s well known that Frederick II gave much importance to body care, one of Arab tradition very appreciated by the emperor. This is the element of the castle that impressed me the most: it’s not easy at all to find spaces for body care and hygiene in buildings of this period. But Frederick II was a step forward even in this field.

The inner court

The beauty of this castle doesn’t stop at the mere aesthetic aspect: this place represents the Puer Apuliae, his passions, his ideas, his politic  to give to Apulia the splendour it deserves.  Just think about the fact that the point where it’s placed was ideal for the communication inside the system of castles that the sovereign had created.

Well, it may be clear that for me Frederick II was not only a great emperor, but a man of many facets. That’s why this month will be dedicated to  the discovery of the castles (or some of them) of this famous network that we find in Apulia, also trying to discover something more about this historical character, so important for my region.

For further information about visits and booking, you can visit the official website of Castel del Monte                        

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