Rising from a tree crowned hilltop and commanding panoramic views in all directions, Castel del Monte was constructed in the middle of nowhere.
With no town to protect, mountain pass to contest or a river crossing to defend – the reason for the choice of its location is not obvious.
An official UN World heritage site that is renowned throughout Italy, featured on the reverse of the Italian cent coin and acknowledged by UNESCO as one of the worlds most interesting examples of medieval military architecture, Castel del Monte remains an enigma today.
Inspired by the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem it has associations to the occult and its architecture only deepens its mystery, as at the time of its conception the octagon was believed to represent the union of Heaven and Earth.
One of the many castles throughout Puglia that were erected by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the Second, – construction commenced in 1240 and was finished in 1250, unfortunately having died the same year the Emperor never saw its completion.
Possibly designed by the Emperor himself and certainly a blend of many influences that Frederick experienced in his travels, its beauty and grace blends Roman, Gothic , Norman and –Saracen features and building styles together.
Castel del Monte has a octagonal design, with 8 evenly spaced symmetrical towers, and separated by equal height and length walls.
It has just one entrance to the interior comprising 8 identical sized and shaped rooms on each floor, each leading from one to another in a complete 360° circuit around an interior octagonal courtyard.
Lacking a defensive moat, drawbridge or fortified gateway and with no turrets, battlements or fall back defensive position it is a highly unusual design for purely a military citadel.
Used as a hunting lodge, even a theatre and then as a prison for rebels by the Emperor Manfredo after his fathers death, the Castle later fell into decline.
Stripped over time of its sculptures, furnishings and even its beautiful interior marble cladding, Castel del Monte was abandoned to become a stronghold for local rebels and bandits who were terrorising the neighbouring regions.
Finally the local Government purchased it in 1876 for a nominal 25,000 lira from the landlord upon whose lands it stood, but work only commenced in 1928 on its restoration to a satisfactory state of repair.
Today, as for the last 800 years, the Castle still broods on the hilltop, attracting countless tourists and scholars still drawn by the paradox of its history, beauty and mysticism.
Being less than a 2 hour drive from either of our Villas – a good excursion would be to visit Castel del Monte in the morning, and then on the route home, to drive to the nearby town of Trani and enjoy lunch in one of the many restaurants fronting the towns harbor and marina.
The afternoon can then be spent strolling around Trani’s beautiful old town and exploring its fabulous Cathedral and the adjacent waterfront castle.
Returning to your Villa in the evening, chill out with a glass of wine beside the pool, before turning in for the night at the end of a fascinating day.