venerdì 29 luglio 2016

Frederick II and his castles: the Castle of Gioia del Colle

"Many many years ago, in a land between the sea and hills, there were a castle, a jealous king and a beautiful princess penned in a tower". 

How many tales may begin in this way. But the story of Bianca Lancia, the woman loved by Frederick II and mother of three of his children, isn't a fairy tale. A happy ending neither, but it represents one of the darkest and the most dramatic events that tradition links to the Stupor mundi. There aren't certain sources, but a chronicle of that time, the father of Bonaventura from Lama, tells this. Bianca Lancia, the emperor's young lover, lived in the castle of Gioia del Colle, pregnant with Frederick's son, Manfredi, when an accusation of betrayal questioned the paternity of the baby. The emperor, mad with jealousy, ordered to close the woman in a tower of the castle until she gave birth to the child. When he was born, the resemblance with the sovereign freed Bianca from any doubts. But the affront and the stain on her honour were unbearable. The woman made bring a dagger and cut her breast; then, she put it on a tray, where she laid down little Manfredi too and sent them to Frederick. Eventually, alone, she killed herself.

In reality things went differently, also because after Manfredi Bianca gave to Frederick another daughter, Violante. The imprisonment and the suicide of the noble woman are just a  black legend, from  which the castle of Gioia del Colle  arises enveloped in a curtain of Gothic fog. Brought back to its original splendour from restoration works along the XX century, the castle dominates right in the middle of the historical centre of the little town of Apulia. From a net of little streets you end out in the square where one of the two towers stands out, the Torre del Rossi. The façade and all the outer wall are covered by an elegant stonework, a decorative element which is typical of Frederick's buildings, imported from the Holy Land at the time of the fifth Crusade. You can find other features form the Orient, so much appreciated by the emperor, in the decorations inside. Crossed the Gothic portal, you enter the wide trapezoid-shaped atrium. 

From here you can see the other tower of the castle: the tower of the Empress. The name, as you can imagine, comes from Bianca Lancia's event, who, married on her deathbed by Frederick II, was in fact the empress, even for a very short period. It's important that the first place that you meet, just crossed the hall with a monumental wood-fired oven, was the jail of the castle. You need to go downstairs and to enter in a dark square room. Here it’s where the tradition says that Bianca was imprisoned. It's surprising, for a prison of that time, the presence of a comfort that just kings and princes could allow themselves: a stone toilet, once connected with a sewer system, is still perfectly preserved in a niche in the wall. Just this object makes one think that really noble people were imprisoned there. But something else refers to the character of Bianca. On one of the stones of the wall there are two half spherical bulges but their function is still unknown.  They are "Bianca's breast", sculptured in the stone to remember the sufferings of the empress.

If you want to dive in the atmosphere of a Medieval court, then you must leave the tower and reach the "throne room". It's a rectangular place, on the background there is a marble throne covered with bas reliefs  about the theme of the falcon; in the centre of the room a big fire place has its big display, richly decorated too. Marble benches along the walls  and a wide pointed arch that separated the space of the sovereign and high dignitaries from that of the beggars who waited on the benches.

Finally, it's worthy to visit the castle of Gioia del Colle to admire the collection of the National Archaeological Museum that is hosted in its rooms. Established in 1977, the museum collects evidences of the near site of Pauceti on Monte Sannace.

For information about visits: the Castle of Gioia del Colle

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