Built in 1240 by Swabian Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the impressive Castel del Monte has views stretching in every direction including the Murge and the Adriatic as far as the Gargano.
The last descendant of the Norman dynasty, Frederick was born in 1194 and orphaned at four. He inherited the Empire and Kingdom of Sicily and, at the age of 15, married Catherine of Aragon. Over a 30 year period the charismatic Emperor built/restored a system of 111 castles including 11 between 1241 and 1246 in Puglia and Basilicata alone.
Whether or not the geometrically perfect Castel del Monte, without a moat and embrasures, could function as a military defense remains in question but, with its undisputed strategic location, the imposing crown of stone sent the undeniable message of royal power to his people and enemies alike.
Frederick was interested in astronomy and there is speculation that the castle, which receives sunlight all day and has a terrace and courtyard with unobstructed views of the heavens, could have been used as an astronomy observatory.
Built from local stone 540 meters above sea level, the massive octagonal crown-shaped footprint, has two floors with 16 trapezoid rooms, eight on each floor. There are eight octagonal towers on the eight corners with winding staircases in three of the towers and cisterns to collect rain water in the other five.
Impressed with the Arab way of living, Frederick II (and his court) adopted their customs of cleanliness. Hence, very modern for its time, some of these towers have baths with toilets and washbasins.
Acquired by the Italian state in 1876, the castle endured serious damage from centuries of wind, extreme temperatures, and neglect. Restoration started in 1879 and continued for decades.
In 1966, Castel del Monte became an UNESCO World Heritage Site. I can’t help but think that Frederick II would be quite pleased!
More photos of Castel del Monte…
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