October 4, 2023

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The Extraordinary Design

The Imposing Castel Del Monte

4 min read

From a distance the 24 metres tall castle gives an eerie impression and wouldn’t look out of place in a drama mystery film, particularly when there’s lightning in the sky. Not least of all because of its splendid colours. Built from local limestone from different parts of the region, the castle can look anything from a greyish white to rose tinted depending on the time of day and weather.

The medieval castle built in 1240 is quite possibly the most famous in Puglia offering the visitor a unique and diverse sense of history. It is a proud 1000 metres round and is one of many castles built in Puglia by Emperor Federick II. Records indicate that during 1246 it was used as a prison, but a mere 3 years later, was the location of a marriage celebration between the emperor’s illegitimate daughter Violante and the Count of Caserta. In 1326 it was host to another wedding, this time to that of Hubert de la Tour, Dauphin of France, and Maria del Balzo. This conflicting use of the castle, from a prison to weddings, doesn’t end there however. Centuries later during the 1656 plague, it was a shelter to noble families of nearby towns and then from the 18th century it was rather tragically left deserted to become a ruin. Although there is no evidence to suggest how the castle was used between these periods, some of the rooms appear to have been planned as bathrooms, bedrooms and service rooms, perhaps for Federick II himself.

Thanks to the Italian State who took responsibility for a restoration project, the Castle Del Monte has long been brought back to life and now attracts a staggering 150,000 visitors a year. Once inside the castle, with its intricate and elaborate architecture, its uniqueness becomes evident. It is for this reason that in 1996, UNESCO included the castle on its world heritage list meeting the criteria of being a monument of universal value. The interior has a grand mix of Gothic, Romanesque and Classic architecture as well as columns of limestone breccia. The allure doesn’t end there. Taking a look around, as the story of the castle unfolds, you realise that there is a significant use of the number 8. There are 8 rooms on the ground floor each of trapezoidal shape that are situated around an octagonal courtyard. At each corner there are 8 towers also octagonal in shape. With this in mind, it’s easy to get confused about the parts of the castle you have already seen. But once you have your bearings again, the spiral stoned staircase that leads up to the first floor has large French windows that illuminates the room providing a scenic view over the surrounding and vast countryside.

It is the repeated use of the number 8 that leads to another theory of the castle’s purpose; that having been built as an octagonal, it either has a mathematical symbolism, or that octagons represent eternal life. As spiritual as these theories may be, no one can doubt the powerful presence of the Castel Del Monte.

It’s not only the architecture and varied history that provides plenty of discussion amongst its visitors. So do the rumours of ghostly sightings and noises. When approaching members of staff about such whispers that I’d read in an Italian magazine, they laughed nervously before admitting that there is some truth in the rumours. “Once the castle is closed to the public each day, some employees have said that they’ve heard footsteps coming from the floor above when there can’t possibly be anyone there,” explained a tour guide. It is also claimed that these footsteps can only be heard on the 17th of each month, the unlucky date in Italy.

Another tour guide retold a story in all seriousness. “I’ve heard that one evening a local decided to visit the castle in the moonlight. When he was walking around the castle, he had the impression that he wasn’t alone.” After a short pause seemingly to make sure he had my full attention, the tour guide lowered his voice and continued, “he stopped and had the strange sensation that he was being followed. He quickly turned around and caught a glimpse of someone dressed like a monarch in white robes before the figure disappeared towards the side of the castle.”

Despite these spine chilling rumours, the vast influx of visitors means the castle continues to be a strong attraction, and on a final note, the next time you have an Italian 1c coin in your pocket, it might be worth taking a closer look at it, because it ensures that this historical and magnificent castle in Puglia is remembered for eternity.

More information can be found on the castle’s official website http://www.casteldelmonte.org

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