Castel del Monte, Italy

A unique piece of medieval architecture

Castel del Monte (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Located in the region of Puglia, on southern Italy’s Adriatic coast, Castel del Monte is a renowned masterpiece of medieval architecture, erected in 1240 by Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen, who is considered by some to be one of the precursors of modern humanism. 

UNESCO World Heritage site (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996, this mesmerizing castle stands on a rocky hill which rises above vineyards, olive groves, forests and fields of orchids, dominating the idyllic landscape which surrounds it.

The Germanic emperor, who was known for his eclectic personality and culture, had the mysterious castle built at the top of the 540-metre-high hill to ensure that it would be visible from miles around.

A blend of elements (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

However, it seems that the enigmatic edifice wasn’t designed to be a fortress, since it has no defensive elements and there is a notable lack of a moat.

Under the snow (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Having written the first ever book on the art of hunting with falcons (De Arte Venandi cum Avibus, 1240), Frederick II may well have used the castle as a base for hunting and a school of falconry, especially given the proximity of the nearby forests.

Erected by Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Other theories suggest that it was used as a retreat for studying, a luxurious hammam or, given the Emperor’s passion for astronomy, an observatory from which to view the night skies, although these are all just theories and the castle’s true intended use is unknown to this day.

From above (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

One curious feature of the castle is that its construction revolves entirely around the number eight: from the layout and the shape of the building to the leaves and flowers sculpted on the doorways and volutes, everything is found in groups of eight.

Aerial view of the east portal (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Eight octagonal towers can be found around the outside of the eight-sided castle, one at each corner. The castle’s two floors each have eight rooms, with light entering the rooms through a total of sixteen windows, one for each room.

Window design (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

The windows on the lower floor are single-arched while all but one of the windows on the upper floor are double-arched; the eighth window, which looks towards the nearby town of Andria, is instead divided into three.

View from the courtyard (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

The octagonal courtyard is characterized by the contrast between the colours of the materials: coral crushed stone, limestone and marble. A slab which represents a parade of knights and a fragment of a human figure are the only remains of the courtyard’s original sculptures.

A symbolic significance (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Given the Emperor’s passion for Eastern cultures, the number eight might signify resurrection and new life, while the octagon – a mixture of a square and a circle – could symbolise the conjunction between the earth and the sky. 

Interior staircase (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Another of the Emperor’s great loves – mathematics – is evident in the precise geometricity of the castle. Its sixteen halls have a trapezoidal shape and the two floors are linked by spiral staircases which are located in three of the towers.

The ceiling (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

The ceiling of the castle features a ribbed cross vault which is held up by semi-columns in coral crushed stone on the ground floor and trilobite marble pillars on the first floor.

The ceilings of the remaining spaces feature pointed barrel vaults. The keystones are adorned with human, animal and plant motifs.

Anthropomorphic brackets (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Much of the castle’s original decoration was looted in the 18th century, however two anthropomorphic brackets in the Falconer tower, the telamones holding up the vault in one of the stepped towers and a fragment of the mosaic floor in a ground floor hall can still be seen.

A unique masterpiece of medieval architecture (1996) by Castel del MonteUNESCO World Heritage

Overall, this castle is an unusual and unique construction. 

Its location, perfect octagonal shape and mathematically precise layout, along with the harmonious blending of Northern European, Muslim and classical cultural elements is a unique reflection of the broad education and cultural vision of its founder, Emperor Frederick II.

logo pugliaUNESCO World Heritage

This exhibit was created by Pugliapromozione, the Puglia Region Tourism Board:

Credits: Story

More on the Castel del Monte and World Heritage:

Photos: Pietro Crivelli, Vanda Biffani, Matteo Pappadopoli, Carlo Elmiro Bevilacqua, Anthos53, Franco Cappellari, Nick Warner, Sailko, Chfono, Holger Uwe Schmitt and Giovanni L 90

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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