Here we are at the last stop of our itinerary about Frederick II.
We are in Bari, in the periphery of its historical centre, where there's the castle. You're not aware of its presence until, going out from the street that runs along the Palace of Justice, you find it in front of you with its spare-shaped bastion framed by the trees that decorate the boulevard next to its walls. During the period at the university, I never stopped to appreciate properly how this image was majestic and made me open my eyes wide, leaving me speechless.
As some of the other castles seen previously, also this one was born on the ruins of a Norman castle and withstood some changes with the succession of centuries and sovereigns. The bastion I was talking before, for example, is the result of the changes made in the XVI century in order to defend in a better way the castle on the land side from possible canons and other fire guns attacks, exactly the same principle that we already met in the castles of Barletta and Trani.
In the moment in which, getting closer, you have a global vision of the castle, you have the feeling that the walls and the bastions at the corners function as a shield to the main and central core of the fortress, that is to say Frederick's keep, considered nowadays, as in the past either, the jewel of the whole structure. It's clear the difference between the style of the defensive walls in front of me and that one of the high towers, characterized by the stonework, the pointed windows and the oculuses, that I've learnt to recognise as Frederick's typical elements.
I cross the bridge over the moat and enter the spaces where there's the ticket office. I get ready to enter the keep. According to a legend, this castle also hosted Saint Francis from Assisi and right Frederick II tested the moral strength of the man tempting him with a woman, but with no success.
It doesn't matter how hot it is, it doesn't matter how blinding the sun is, you can't avoid to admire with your mouth open the work of art that the pointed portal is, masterly decorated. I always get surprise of how these sculptures have arrived to us after so many centuries and events. These are the architectural elements I love the most: they always give me the impression to be in front of something mysterious and far in time, almost magic. They're those shapes that you usually expect to find in fantasy and Arabic settings, in legends populated by different mythological creatures. Then, you cross the portal and feel like a medieval lady as you walk through the vestibule and just after the loggia with their decorated columns with detailed capitals. Here the Orient really put in something of itself, as among the sculptors there was the Oriental Ismael too, who signed his capital, that one on the left.
Beyond the loggia, here I am in the inner court. Once it was adorned with palm trees, but the feared red palm weevel made a disaster of them, unfortunately. In a room on the right, the first at hand just entered, there is a video in which it's told the history of the castle and as a guide there’s none other than our Frederick! Obviously is an ad hoc idea that may say nothing to someone, but that makes you smile when you've gone around in castles right on his footprints. In this room I find something familiar: an emblem representing a lion eating its tail, the emblem of Pappacodas. I' m surprise at the sight of the crest of the lords of Massafra, my town, and wonder for what unknown reason it's there. What relationship was there? The answer comes from Frederick himself from the video: this family had relationships with the queen of Poland, Bona Sforza, the daughter of Isabella of Aragon and an important character for Bari. Ended the video, it may be instinctive to exit the room and to continue the visit. No instead! Beneath this castle there's a treasure, the ruins of a previous building of the Byzantine period. Going in the back of the room and going downstairs, it's possible to see the archaeological site that shows a tank for the harvesting of rainwater and a furnace where they cooked clay for the production of tools.
Now I can go back in the court. From here you can access to a little church, to the rooms that host the cast museum, to the Swabian Hall and you can see a double staircase that brings to the upper floor, now closed because there are restoration works. But at Frederick's time, this staircase had just a medieval ramp. Bona Sforza wanted the current structure, following the standards of Renaissance. On the cornice, in Latin, you can read an inscription that proves these interventions.
It's a beautiful court, I'd go around and analyse it in detail if only the sun now so hot and blinding on the clear stone didn't make necessary to find a covered place, immediately.
So I enter the cast museum. Here there are the gypsum casts of some of the most beautiful sculptural elements of Apulia. Yes, they're full-size copies, but the nice thing of this place is that you've the possibility to see from close distance some sculptures that usually you see from far distance, such as capitals on columns, or the elephants that adorn the Cathedral of Bari, or Eraclio's head, the Colossus of Barletta, or the sphinx on the portal of Saint Nicholas Basilica.
After the rooms of the cast museum I find myself in front of another archaeological site. Do you remember that in the first room there was an archaeological site of the Byzantine period? Here there is another one: a church, with even graves and its original floor. Above there is the Swabian Hall. Inside there are crockery from the period of Isabella of Aragon and Bona Sforza, where they also found even some left-overs, the models of the castle of Bari, Barletta and Monopoli and an interesting photo exhibition that explains how the structure of the castle has been changed during the years, how it was treated badly, so to speak, during Napoleonic period, how it was used as a jail in the XIX century, it reminds a beautiful Italian garden that enhanced the moat before opting for an anonymous English lawn, which has a hard time in Apulian weather conditions, and restoration works to bring the fortress back to the splendour that it deserves. Once finished, the castle should become a big exhibition space like nothing else in Apulia.
GOOD TO KNOW
An important and useful thing to know is that the castle has been made accessible for the disabled with noteworthy attention. The structure has not only ramps, but also lifts wisely installed to make all the environments usable and apparently non invasive to the eye of the visitor. But that's not all.
The structure is getting equipped to give the possibility to appreciate the works of the cast museum also to blind people with casts realised specifically and captions in Braille alphabet. An added value that I couldn't put in evidence.
Ticket price: 3 euros
Opening hours: every day from 8.30 am to 7 pm
Closing day: Wednesday
And with this our itinerary to the discovery of the castles of Frederick II comes to an end. Along this tour I've discovered an educated man in Castel del Monte, a pride strategist in Barletta, an emperor in Trani and a lover in Gioia del Colle. I've enjoyed myself a lot making this project, I've learnt a lot about history, about architecture, about the history of art, and I've got surprised of how the different buildings could represent different aspects of this person so important for the world and for my region.