lunedì 18 luglio 2016

Frederick II and his Castles: the Castle of Barletta





Now, it’s the turn of the castle of Barletta, another of the famous forts of Frederick II that were part of castle network, which we talked about in the previous post.  For this visit I had the good company and guide of a friend from Barletta, a guy who transmitted to me the love for his town while he was accompanying me to the discovery of the historic centre.  Seeing a place through the eyes of those who live it and appreciate it, in my opinion, is the best way to discover it.

Back to the castle, nowadays it's the focal point of the life of Barletta, especially during summer.  Just think of that fact that it faces the sea and during the hot season a walk along the promenade is a 
rule.  

Leaving back the streets of the historical centre and overstepping the bell tower of the Cathedral, the vision of the fortress opens in front of you, solid and impressive, one of those buildings that just looking at them make you feel protected from everything.  As a buttress  to this power , there is the delicacy of the park that surrounds it. The green of the plants and the blinding sun of July highlight the clear stone which the castle is made of . A beautiful postcard that gives you back the  charge, which inevitably the heat takes a bit away.  
  


But, what we see nowadays it's not , unlike Castel del Monte, the same castle that hosted the Puer Apuliae, but the result of several works happened along the years to adapt the structure to the will and the need of the different lords who governed this area and to technological developments, especially in military field.    Actually, its travel toward its present shape  crossed centuries, from the 11th to the 18th.

Started by the Normans, who found hospitality in this castle during their pilgrims towards the Sanctuary of Archangel Michael in Monte Sant'Angelo, it gained importance thank to Frederic II, starting from 1194. If the Normans thought of a defensive building, our Frederick transformed it in a real realm for his court and, since 1228, periodically, stopped in Barletta.

Successively, with the Angevin dominion, then the one of the Aragons and finally the one Charles V of Hapsburg , the castle continued to change its aspect, putting off the old clothes to wear the new ones, adapting itself to his residents. So, from Medieval stronghold with high sighting towers it became a lower and dumpy fortress with its typical angular bastions, expressly thought to protect in the best way the central part of the building from cannon shots, and a moat where sea water flew, isolating and defending the castle perfectly.


After a due historical preamble, it's time to enter. As you cross the bridge towards the enter portal, the castle welcomes you, it seems to invite you to enter. Together with it, the  keeper makes everything to  let your hair down, explaining in details the way to visit the castle, paying attention to  the details that, otherwise, would be unnoticed. This is the case of the Angevin tower: the visit starts from the dungeons; once downstairs, as the keeper said to us, you mustn't follow  immediately the itinerary, but you must go left.   Here we are in the part of the castle where the Angious made built a water tank - where there still is some water - where previously there was a round Norman tower, of which you see the ruins.


 Now you can follow the route indicated  at the entry of the dungeons. This area was exclusively for military use: on each wall, which has a thickness that goes from 7 to 12 meters, there are  embrasures where cannons were placed.   But what leaves me surprised the most were the  blockhouses, some big rooms with a large dome with a hole in the centre. Their function was to delete the noise and the smoke produced by the explosion of a cannon shot. Just this is enough for me to be wowed. But it's walking across the room that you  get surprised like a child: the more you get closer to the centre, under the hole, the more the echo gets present and near.  It seemed to speak at the microphone!


Going back on the surface, it's time go up on the upper floors. From the inner court, a staircase brings you to the towers, from where you can see the sea and the harbour on one side, and Barletta, with the bell tower of the Cathedral above the houses of the historical centre on the other.   




























Up there you feel free: the smell of the sea, the wind that blows your hair leaving on it a  trace  of salt, make you forget everything. There's just you, here and now. The rest can wait... Until you remember that there's the rest of the castle to be visited and so, down again in the court.



At the moment, the castle hosts the Library, the Civic Museum, serves as  conference room and hosts some expositions. In this period, there's a photographic exposition about the rescue of Serbian soldiers put in action by the Italian Navy during the First World War. They're moving images, that put in evidence the horror of the war, that close up your throat in a mix of compassion and disapproval for human stupidity, but they're also the prove of the solidarity that marks Italian Military and you feel proud to be protected by people of this sort.  On the text that explains the fact, you read that this operation "represents the very first Italian humanitarian mission, managed by soldiers with the duty of stabilising and bringing peace and that put the basis for the friendship between Italy and Serbia".


And speaking of  the First World War, there's an anecdote  that proves the great resistance of the castle of Barletta.  Then, the Austrians took supplies right here.  Italy wasn't at war yet.  After the restock and being left, the communication of Italy coming into war arrived. Without losing time, the Austrians attacked the castle with some cannon shots, but it held and was thrown clear. Apparently, it performed and performs its duty even after centuries.   


The exposition occupies just a room. We must see the Museum. The highlight is the bust of Frederick II, which dates back the 13th century, that seems to be one of the few portraits of the emperor, besides those on coins. Legend says that it was found in a wood and was used as target to  practise  with rifles and this would be the reason why it is  a bit "bulletted".

It may be "bulletted", but anyway it keeps that fierceness and that frown as nobody else.
When I went out the castle, I felt like I  was back from a time travel. It has been like go across different historical periods in a couple of hours, from Middle Age to nowadays. Then, if I think that in that place that I visited as a tourist attraction people in past lived their days, everything gains a different aspect, more real, more authentic. It almost seems  that stones tell you a story, their story.

And also this castle has made its mark, different from that one of Castel del Monte, as it should be. It's a further demonstration that each of these castles has its own "personality".                

The price of the visit is 3 Euros. With the same ticket, it's possible to visit the famous  tavern of the challenge, which I'll talk about  in another post.


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