Castel Del Monte, The Crown Of Apulia

Castel del Monte, parked on a hill near Andria, in a very panoramic position offering unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape, is one of the most enigmatic sites in the world. It is a must-see for every Apulia-bound tourist.

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We are in 1200s… following the track left by a man who changed the history of Southern Italy –  Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. His passage here was more than just a joyful occasion.

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The castle’s main entrance.

The castle is part of a much larger network of castles, as Frederick built lots of them along the Adriatic coast. It is a monument to his reign, a perfect building for a perfect ruler. Viewing himself as the legitimate successor to the Roman Emperors of Antiquity, Frederick commissioned this stone crown for himself.

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The octagonal motif runs through the entire castle: it has eight octagonal towers, eight rooms on each floor, as well as an eight-sided courtyard in the centre. The octagon is the intermediate figure between the circle (representing the infinite sky) and the square (the symbol of the earth), hence the emperor was seen as the holy instructor of humanity.

The central courtyard.
The central courtyard.

Frequently examined, the castle hides an enigma. We are in the Middle Ages. Why would Frederick II (1194-1250) commission this architectural masterpiece, most probably around the year 1240, with that octagonal plan and all those specific astronomical and mathematical references? We don’t know it for sure. One of the surviving beliefs is that the castle and its geometrical figures derive from the application of the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, which harmoniously combines elements of buildings and nature.

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Some scholars say it served as a citadel, or, that the emperor used it as a hunting lodge. Its military function has been excluded, as it had neither a moat nor a drawbridge. In the halls you can still see some polychrome marble refinements, but nothing unfortunately remains of the décor that once pleased Frederick’s eyes.

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The majesty of the castle halls, where elements of Gothic, Roman, Arab and Norman style merge together in a perfect way into a union of cultures.

The presence of baths and fireplaces on both floors, as well as its fine decoration, suggest the castle might have been used as a residence. And yet again, some are convinced there was a link between the castle and the Templars. Anyway, it is a complex architectural work, which includes fine mathematical , geometrical, and even astronomical knowledge.

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Here Frederick spent a lot of time training his falcons and birdwatching. Numerous scholars were invited to his court to dispute scientific matters. Frederick inherited German, Norman, and Sicilian blood, but he was brought up the Sicilian way and loved the island very much. He lived and left lots of sites behind in Apulia, and used his imperial power to expand the Sicilian Kingdom into Italy.


To get to the castle, we drive away from the Adriatic shore and enter the Altopiano delle Murge. Apulia is the easternmost region of Italy. It is really beautiful, with about 800 km of coast and extraordinary landscape, which Frederick would lovingly call his garden.

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Frederick was called stupor mundi, the ‘astonishment of the world’. He spoke Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic, promoted science and literature through the Sicilian school of poetry which, as Dante points out, had a great influence on what was to become the modern Italian language. He also wrote lyrics himself, which has been preserved to the present day.

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Castel del Monte depicted on the reverse of the Italian one euro cent coin.
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Balcony overlooking the central courtyard.
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Panoramic views over the Murge stretching to the Adriatic.

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Beautiful halls covered by cross ribbed vaults held up by semi-columns in coral crushed stone.

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And marble pillars that outline the first floor rooms.


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The castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an outstanding example of the Middle Ages, though reflecting a different image of it. Here different cultures blend together harmoniously, making this site one of a kind and absolutely unmissable.

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Glorious Barletta

Apulia boasts very rich culture and history, and because of its mild climate, beautiful sea and countryside, with olive groves everywhere, it attracts lots of tourists, especially in the summer. Its beaches can rival those more famous of Italy’s other regions.

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Barletta, a town on the Adriatic coast, is a pleasant place to stay and stroll, and, like some other nearby towns, evokes a day when impressive castles were home to Frederick II (1194-1250), when instead of soaring tall and vulnerable, castles had to be built massive and squat.

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The beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, consecrated in 1267, was built on the former Neptune temple site. It houses tombs from the 3rd century BC, as well as the remains of 6th and 9th century basilicas.

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an unspoiled old quarter, via Duomo
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the Castle at night

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The Castle of Barletta is a must-see. Here, you get gorgeous views and a chance to visit one of the exhibitions held in the castle during the year.


Eraclio, the Colossus of Barletta, is a bronze statue of a Roman Emperor (perhaps Theodosius II). Most likely, FrederickII, who had commissioned excavations in Ravenna (where the statue was discovered in 1231-1232), had it transported to his southern Italian lands. There are several legends saying that the statue washed up on a shore after a Venetian ship sank on its way back from Constantinople in 1204, or was even dropped into the sea because of its weight. And, according to a local folk story I really like, Eraclio saved the city from the Saracens: he waited for them on the sea shore and pretended he was crying; when asked why, Eraclio answered he was sad, because Barletta’s inhabitants would make fun of him as he was the smallest. So the Saracens left the coast, fearing to face the giants.

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Corso Vittorio Emanuele

The 12th-century Basilica di San Sepolcro, a Romanesque church with Oriental influences and historic connection with the Holy Land.

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La Disfida di Barletta, in September, recounts some important events, when in 1503 thirteen Italian knights, led by Ettore Fieramosca, challenged and defeated an equal number of French knights. These events were later narrated by an Italian statesman and novelist Massimo d’Azeglio (1798-1866) in his book Ettore Fieramosca o La Disfida di Barletta (1833).

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La Festa della Madonna takes place every second Sunday of July. It’s a celebration in honour of the patron saints La Madonna dello Sterpeto and San Ruggero, with decorations and lighting throughout the streets, a religious procession, live brass bands, ‘le bancarelle’ (plenty of stands), street performers, a funfair and a firework display.



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The archaeological site of Canne della Battaglia, 9km southwest from Barletta, where the Battle of Cannae took place on 2 August 216 BC. The army of Carthage, under Hannibal, defeated a larger army of the Roman Republic. That was one of the worst defeats in Roman history.

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In the afternoon, Barletta’s street life slows as the temperature soars. The town comes back to life in the early evening, the right time to enjoy a treat at one of the numerous cafès. I personally favour Bistrò Daloiso, in piazza Pescheria, and Pasticceria Daloiso, in via Indipendenza, also open in the mornings for a gorgeous breakfast. The choice is overwhelming, and the quality is outstanding, pretty much like the background of its founder, a young award-winning pastry chef Antonio Daloiso.

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