Castle del Monte

Castle del Monte -Puglia, Italy

Despite spending quite a bit of time in Italy, I had never been to Pulgia (Apulia); I honestly had no idea what to expect.  We had enjoyed seeing some of the other Norman castles built by Frederick II – Melfi, with it’s modern, top-notch renovation and impressive museum…imposing Lagopesole with it’s falcons still circling…we were excited to take on this famous “Octagonal Castle”.

Driving out of Campania and into Basilicata is really a gentle progression.  There are the same mountains and tress and streams….Hill Towns perched high above the greenery.  Driving from Basilicata into Puglia is an abrupt splash of cold water…well..perhaps, hot water…this was August, after all!  This was an unusually dry season and brush fires a common occurrence – I think it added to the contrast and starkness of Puglia (Apulia).  The landscapes changed – flatlands of amber and brown…here and there an olive grove or a tomato field.  Soon, the vineyards were rolling past…big, fat bunches of grapes hanging down, looking as if they should be snapped up in a photo and places on a wine label.  Had we not been on a highway, I think the temptation to grab a bunch right then and there would have been great.  More olives…and more olives…and more olives (!) I am told that all that brown does turn to green….but it is hard to envision.  Somehow, it makes the castle seem even more present on the approach – a great monument out of the stark dryness of the land.

Castle de Monte, perched up on the hill, jutting out from the flatlands certainly is impressive.  It is symmetrical and perfect and right out of a fairy-tale. 

Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194-1250) ordered the castle built in the year 1240 A.D.  Unfortunately, Frederick died before the castle was completed.

There is some debate as to the exact use of the castle.  Generally, it is thought from the layout of rooms (and bathrooms!) that it was used as a jail for the most part, and not a residence or fortress. 

Water is always important in the dryness of Puglia – a water collection system was designed on the roof, as well as in the courtyard.  On the interior, running all of the way around the foot of the interior walls, there were channels used to collect condensation; water would trickle down the cool marble.  The channels then directed the collected water. .

Most materials used for the construction were from the local area, with the exception of the highly ornate marble columns that hold up the roof.

When the castle was first built, the walls where surfaced with marble as well.  Over the years the marble fell off of the walls and/or was taken to be used as building material.   Things are still remarkably intact, including some of the enormous fireplaces (four of them).

Castle del Monte - Marble Columns   Castle del Monte - One of the Great fireplaces

Castle del Monte is an architectural gem and certainly lends a majestic authority to the vast lands of Puglia. 

It is an easy and fascinating drive from your home-base in Calitri: Driving Directions from Calitri to Castle del Monte


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